By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
In this week’s portion, we are introduced to the נזיר, Nazirite, a person who dedicates themselves to elevating their spiritual sensitivity and steadfastness. Chazal teach us that the Torah equates this period of one’s life to the lofty status of the כהן גדול, the High Priest!
The גמרא נדרים ט, the Talmud Nedarim 9b relates to us a fascinating story. “One time a Nazir came to the בית המקדש, Holy Temple, and I (Shimon HaTzaddik) saw that he had beautiful eyes, was handsome and beautiful hair arranged in curls. I asked him, ‘Why did you become a Nazir? After all, at the close of your cycle of being a Nazir, you must shave off all of your hair. Why would you destroy it?’
“The shepherd answered me, ‘I was drawing water from a well and I looked at my reflection and immediately (due to my extraordinary handsomeness) my evil inclination quickly overcame me and sought to expel me from a spiritual lifestyle into a hedonistic, lustful world!
“‘I said to myself: Wicked one, why pride yourself in a world that is not yours? One day you (physical body) will be food for the worms and maggots in your grave. I immediately vowed to become a Nazir, thereby making it imperative that I shave my hair!’
“Rav Shimon HaTzaddik immediately arose, kissed him and exclaimed, ‘My son, may there be many more like you, you being the exemplar of a true nazir.’”
There are questions:
1. If the man was worried about his beautiful hair, why didn’t he immediately shave it; why wait another thirty days, the smallest period of Nazir?
2. Why did he speak to himself in second person?
A Nazir has to observe three conditions: 1) not to eat or drink any product of a grape, 2) not to take a haircut, 3) not to become טמא, a state of spiritual imperfection, by coming in contact with any corpse, even one’s closest relatives.
What draws a person away from intellectual acuity and on the contrary arouses one’s desires is wine; therefore to instill a new focus on life’s goals, the Torah instructs the Nazir to abstain from all grape products. in this maner one’s focus is completely changed. One’s need for defining oneself by physical appearance is mitigated by letting one’s hair grow “wildly”. Lastly, by not coming in contact with a corpse, according to the משך חכמה one protects oneself from being in a state of melancholy; according to others, it prevents one for losing the expansive spiritual stature they just acquired due to coming in contact with their mortality, thereby causing one to focus on one’s physical limitations.
The question one can ask: isn’t the person going to either way be despondent due to the loss of a beloved relative, so why preclude the nazir from coming in contact with the deceased?
In life one can be motivated by either the awesome responsibility to follow Hashem’s rules, in order to benefit from Hashem’s beneficience or to subjugate their entire being to the will of Hashem. I don’t do it because I have to, but rather I do it for that is “me”, my essence, my reason for existence – it’s my inner drive from within! (פנימיות)
This idea is the fundamental underpinning of spiritual growth. Just by cutting off one’s hair at a time of great inspiration will not define the person’s essence; on the contrary, it could be but a fleeting moment of impulsive emotional stimulation. To create a reality of change necessitates time, thought, and active dedication to effect true change.
In order to truly galvanize oneself to enable for this process to be actualized one has to objectively view what one can aspire for, despite all of one’s biased opinions regarding their abilities. Yes, one has to declare in second person, “you” can accomplish great strides, you can dedicate yourself to an honest, selfless journey of spiritual development. Transcend your self-absorption and declare this world, my life, isn’t about me, it’s about totally forming a dynamic that “I only exist as an essential part of Hashem’s universe.”
Only by creating this dynamic, will one be gifted that Hashem will become a silent partner in actualizing this potential, for when one declares, I am for Him, He therefore will be there for me! This is why the nazir is equated with the status of the כהן גדול, the High Priest, having attained a lofty level of unequivocal commitment. In a state of invigorated spirituality, one can focus totally on their objective.