Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Vow Like No Other

Jews are not ascetics. In fact, according to Jewish philosophy, the Jew’s job is to take the physical and draw out its spiritual nature. One can’t do that when trying to avoid the physical.

And yet, for some people, the physical is too great a challenge. Desire as they might to connect with God and the Divine, they find themselves brought down by the physicality around them. This feeling is at the heart of asceticism, when one tries to cut one’s self off from the physical world in order to connect more forcefully with the spiritual.

Recognizing these human impulses, God commanded Moses to instruct the people regarding the laws of the Nazarite.

Any man or woman who vows to consecrate him/herself as a Nazarite must abstain from:

1) All fruit of the vine (wine, grapes, raisins, even wine vinegar): While often used for sanctification (kiddush), wine also has the power to unleash a person’s baser instincts.

2) Allowing a razor to touch his/her head (no haircuts): Hair, for both men a women, is a symbol of vanity.

3) Contact with (or physical closeness to) a dead body: Seeing death can be an emotional liability that may lead one to focus on one’s own mortality, and thus one’s own physicality.

The time frame of this vow must be a maintained for a minimum of 30 days, but can be extended for months and years. When a Nazarite completes his/her designated time, he/she must bring a sin offering to the Holy Temple (in addition to some other offerings). One opinion as to why this is so is that it is necessary for the Nazarite to recognize that his/her desire for asceticism and for adding prohibitions that deny the physical side of life, is unhealthy and antithetical to Torah living.

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