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  • Writer's pictureGabbai

Naso – Reverse Hotel California

The following words of Torah were delivered by Dr. Russell Harding on Shabbat, 25 May 2018:

Of the 18 Mitzvot in Parashat Naso, ten concern the nazir. Two are obligations, including growing hair and shaving and cutting hair at the end of the nazir period. Eight are prohibitions, not to: drink wine; eat fresh grapes; eat raisins; eat grape seeds; eat grape skins; shave hair during the nazir period; become tamei from a corpse. The verses explain the procedure:

“Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: If a man or a woman shall clearly utter a vow, the vow of a nazir to abstain for the sake of Hashem, he is to abstain from wine and aged wine, he may not drink wine vinegar or aged wine vinegar, nor may he drink anything infused with grapes and he may not eat fresh or dried grapes.” (Numbers 6:2-3).

What does it mean “to abstain for the sake of Hashem?” Shimon HaTzaddik, High Priest in the early second commonwealth, is quoted as saying: “A man came to me from the south with beautiful eyes, and good looking, and with his locks arranged in curls. I said to him, “My son, why have you seen fit to destroy this beautiful hair [of yours by becoming a nazir and having to shave it off]?” He said to me, “I was a shepherd for my father in my town and I went to draw water from the spring and I gazed upon my reflection [in the water. I realised for the first time how handsome I was.] Then my yetzer hara surged over me and sought to banish me from the world. I said to it: ‘Good for nothing! Why are you conceited in a world that is not yours, where your end is to be food for worms and maggots! By the Temple service, I shall shave you for the sake of Heaven!’” I [Shimon HaTzaddik] stood and kissed him on his head, and I said to him, “May there be many nazerim like you in Israel! It is about [a nazir such as you] you that Scripture says: If a man or a woman shall clearly utter a vow, the vow of a nazir to abstain for the sake of Hashem” (Babylonian Talmud Nazir 4b, Nedarim 9b)

The shepherd had become concerned at the hold the physical world held over him. He decided to show to himself, to others and to Hashem that his good looks were unimportant. This is what it means to become a nazir – to abstain from those elements of the physical world which are spiritually damaging.

It is not permissible to offer a vow that if some state-of-affairs comes about then I shall become a nazir. It is not only disrespectful to nezirus but also is an attempt to force the hand of G-D. However, to vow to be a nazir unto Hashem is to elevate oneself spiritually and to sanctify oneself is praiseworthy and admirable. The word nazir means literally one who is crowned – The Crown of his G-D is upon his head…he is holy to G-D (Numbers 6:7-8).

A standard nezirus period is 30-days. It can be longer, but not shorter. If no period is specified, then it is 30-days. At the end of this period, the nazir brings three Korbanot – a male lamb for an olah (a tribute offering to Hashem); a female lamb for a chatas (a sin offering) and a ram for shelamim (a peace offering) – and has his hair shaved.

The commonly asked question is – if a nazir is so holy, why does the s/he offer a sin offering at the end of the nazirus period? Rav Dessler (1892 – 1953) answers this with the commonly cited answer that:

Everyone who sanctifies himself here below is sanctified from above. The person who denied himself wine and endured the discomfort of refraining from cutting his hair in order to guard himself against sin is considered by G-D to resemble the High Priest… On the other hand, we find that the nazir is called a sinner because he denied himself wine. (Bamidbar Rabba 10:11 and Nazir 19a)

Rav Dessler does not consider these to be contradictory, but rather that they operate on different levels. If a person is concerned that s/he may be swept away by his/her physical desires, s/he should minimise his/her physical pleasure as much as possible. This was noted by the Rabbis regarding physical desire – “Gratify it and it is hungry; starve it and it is satisfied (Sukkah 52b).” Statements in support of abstention apply at this level. The ideal is that, having put unmanageable physical desire behind us, a person should taste the pleasures of this world so that G-D can be blessed with gratitude for the pleasures He provides.

We should not, however, have too much of a good time in this world. Rav Simcha Zissel z’l (1824–1898) wrote that the world is a very expensive hotel. In this hotel one may experience many pleasures, but one may have to pay for them with very precious currency – the currency of the spiritual world which is eternal.

We are used to paying for overindulgences in this world. We get hangovers if we drink too much, we become overweight if we eat too much, we lose our money if we gamble. G-D gave us Mitzvot which help us to avoid over-indulgence and to help us to pay our way in this world and accumulate spiritual capital for the next world. What we are not used to is paying for under-indulgence in this world – failing to appreciate what Hashem has given us; failing to recognise Hashem as the giver of gifts for our enjoyment. There are no Mitzvot which pay for this in this world. The payment for this comes due in the next world. It is a spiritual price and the coupon rate is extremely steep.

We missed such an opportunity recently. Chagim were given to us by Hashem for joy and for celebration in this world. Shevuot, specifically was given for rejoicing for the gift of the Torah. There is no Shevuot in the next world. Our Shevuot services were sparsely attended; the Hallel designed specifically for us to express the joy of the day, was muted; there was little study and rejoicing in the Torah. It shouldn’t have been this way. It was a missed opportunity in this world that could have produced spiritual capital for the next world. That opportunity was traded for a disproportionate focus on this world; a world that is not ours. The opportunity cost of this will be paid in the next world.

Rav Simcha Zissel, quoted by Rav Dessler, suggests that the way ahead is for individuals to unite to achieve a greater cause. For Jews, that cause is transmitting Torah to the world through our words and our actions. No one of us alone can merit heavenly aid. But by joining together and each of us committing ourselves to the utmost of our talents and abilities to transmitting Torah values to the world, we may find that we enjoy heavenly benefits in this world, while our spiritual capital grows in the next world. Only in doing this can we hope to have a Jewish community in Wellington dedicated to the transmission of Torah in this world. We are currently joining together to build. But we are building buildings – beautiful annexes to the expensive hotel in a world which is not ours.

Rav Dessler concludes that a person who acts solely in his/her own interests may find that the material benefits obtained in this world make him/her a taker and severely reduce his/her spiritual stature. That is why this world is an “expensive hotel.” It gives us the benefits of this world, deferring the payment to the next world at a higher price in a higher valued currency. However, a person who devotes him or herself to dissemination of Torah will find that his or her giving will always exceed his/her taking. Benefits amassed from this world will be absorbed by efforts to make a great project a success and will build spiritual capital for the world to come. That person is the one who is happy in this world and the world to come.

May we dedicate ourselves, as the nazir, to Hashem and in so doing merit happiness in this world and the world to come.

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