Thursday, June 13, 2019

Who Was a Nazirite?

One of the areas covered in Parashat Naso is about the Nazirite. This is a man or woman who opts to avoid the vices of wine and grape products, eludes any contact with the dead and does not cut his/her hair.

The Biblical verse (Numbers 6:7) informing that a Nazirite may not come in come in contact with the dead, states as follows: “He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because the consecration of his God is upon his head.”

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, of blessed memory, Dean of New York’s Yeshiva Torah VoDaath, noted that when the Torah describes (Leviticus 21:1-3) the deceased family members with whom a Kohen (priest) may come in contact, the list is more expansive. “God said to Moses; Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them: a dead person he shall not become impure among his people; except for his relative who is closest to him (his wife), to his mother, and to his father; to his son, to his daughter, and to his brother; and to his virgin sister who is close to him, who has not been until a man; for her he shall make himself impure.”

Why, asks, Rabbi Kamenetsky, when the Torah describes those for whom the priest may come in contact with the dead, the list includes parents, spouses, children and siblings, yet when the Torah lists those for whom the Nazirite may not defile himself or herself, the list is limited to parents and siblings?

Rabbi Kamenetsky offers a brilliant insight. Being a Kohen is not an optional status for a young man, as it is determined at birth purely by lineage. A Nazirite, however, is a voluntary vow that an individual chooses to make. What type of person swears off wine, haircuts and contact with the dead? An idealistic, somewhat ascetic young person! As such, there is no mention of children and spouses because the Nazirite has not attained a point in life where they have married and had children. Rabbi Kamenetsky cites a verse in Amos (2:11) and a Talmudical passage (Nedarim 9b) as support for his thesis.

The ability to alter one’s life drastically, as is seen by the actions of the Nazirite, cannot be accomplished by someone established in years. Rabbi Kamenetsky understood that the youth are more prone to make drastic changes and adopt idealistic actions such as that of a Nazirite.

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