Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana
bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
parasha series is dedicated
honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
Parashat Naso, the Torah discusses a number of unique halakhic subjects,
including the case of the nazir,
which begins "If a man or a woman assumes a special nazirite vow (neder
nazir), to separate himself
to God" (v. 1).
would a person choose to accept these nazirite vows? What is the reason for the three
specific prohibitions which apply to a nazir? What is the purpose of this period of
abstention? Does the Torah want
people to undertake it? Why must a
nazir offer a sin-offering at
the end of the vow?
this shiur we shall take a closer look at the parasha of the
nazir, with a view to finding answers to the above
I. Meaning of the Word
Tanakh, the root "n-z-r" is used with two different meanings. One refers to separating oneself, as in
"They shall separate themselves (ve-yinnazeru) from the holy things of
the Israelites" (Vayikra 22:2); "Shall I weep in the fifth month,
separating myself (hinnazer) as I have done for these many years?"
(Zekharya 7:3). The other
meaning is a crown, as in "the golden miter, the holy crown (nezer)"
(Vayikra 8:9); "I took the crown (ha-nezer) that was upon his
head" (II Shmuel 1:10).
the parasha of the nazir itself, the word is used in both
If a man or a woman assumes a special nazirite vow, to separate himself
(le-hazzir) to God,
He shall separate himself (yazzir) from wine…
He shall not make himself impure for them when they die, for God's crown
(nezer) is upon his head.
both meanings come together in defining the nazir: the nazir
separates and distances himself from a number of elements characterizing this
world (wine, haircuts, impurity).
At the same time, he grows and approaches sanctity; his head is graced,
as it were, with the crown of spiritual status and sanctity.
II. Prohibitions Applying to a
Nazir and the Reasons for Them
us now examine the prohibitions that the nazir accepts upon himself. We shall try to understand the reason
for them, and connect them with the purposes of the nazirite vow – separation
and striving for holiness.
nazir must observe three prohibitions:
drinking wine or consuming grape products
contact with a dead body
shall abstain from wine and brandy;
he shall not drink wine vinegar or brandy vinegar; nor shall he drink any liquor
of grapes; nor shall he eat moist or dried grapes. And throughout his nazirite days he
shall eat nothing that is made from the grapevine, from kernels to husk.
Torah here (vv. 3-4) does not stop at a prohibition on wine, but broadens it to
include anything that is made from any part of the vine.
being the case, the Torah could have stated at the outset, "He shall eat nothing
that is made from the grapevine;" this would have made the general principle
clear. However, the Torah lists the
particulars. Moreover, the Torah
chooses wine to introduce the list, and only afterwards includes the other grape
vinegar and brandy vinegar
made from wine
grapes and raisins
and skins (i.e., parts usually discarded)
review of the order of these products shows that the Torah lists them from the
closest to wine to the furthest from wine.
This indicates that the essence of the prohibition concerns wine, while
the other prohibitions are auxiliary.
the Ibn Ezra explains:
reason for [the inclusion of] wine vinegar and liquor and grapes [in the
prohibition] is as a fence, to distance a person altogether from
manner in which these prohibitions are arranged – from wine down to the parts of
the fruit that are usually discarded – represents one fence after another. The fact that the Torah itself surrounds
this prohibition with so many layers of prohibition indicates that the matter is
of fundamental importance. Thus, we
deduce that the prohibition of wine, for a nazir, is critical. What is the reason for
at the beginning of his commentary on the subject of the nazir (v. 2),
explains why it follows that of the sota, the woman suspected by her
husband of adultery, who participates in a procedure to clear her of any
suspicion and restore domestic harmony:
is the parasha of the nazir juxtaposed with the parasha of
the sota? To tell us that
anyone who observes the sota in her disgrace will abstain from wine,
which leads to adultery.
is Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nasi's opinion on Sota 2a; by citing it, Rashi shows
his view: drinking wine leads to frivolity, loss of control, and the possibility
of a person ultimately ending up committing adultery; thus, the essence of the
neder nazir is abstinence from
Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) elaborates more fully:
"Neder nazir" - …to distance himself from
lusts, and he does this for the sake of God's service, for wine corrupts one's
thinking and one's service of God.
abstinence from wine is meant not only to distance a person from the possibility
of adultery, but also to avoid a state of frivolity, which could lead to a
variety of transgressions and which adversely affects a person's Divine service.
to these commentaries, becoming a nazir means separation or abstinence,
aimed at distancing the person from transgression. The nazir avoids drinking wine
and brandy, which cause inebriation and may lead to sin. However, from the Ibn Ezra's explanation
we see that there is more involved here than just keeping oneself from sin. There is also the element of acting "for
the sake of God's service."
Shimshon Refael Hirsch discusses this point:
avoidance of anything that is made from grapes will be a constant warning for
him. As a nazir, he has a
great mission – to repair his thoughts and his feelings. Therefore, he is obligated to maintain
the clear head and equanimity required for this service.
the days of his nazirite vow, no razor shall pass over his head, until the days
during which he separates himself to God are completed; it shall be holy, (and)
he shall allow the locks of the hair of his head to grow
Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 10:10) connects the prohibition here (v. 5) of
haircuts with the prohibition of drinking wine:
does God command the nazir not to cut his hair? Because cutting his hair enhances his
appearance… while growing hair is a sign of sorrow and mourning. Therefore, God says, "Since this
nazir has prohibited wine for himself in order to keep himself away from
licentiousness, let him grow his hair long, so that he will become untidy and
will be pained by it; then, his evil inclination will not overcome
again, according to this midrash, the essence of the neder nazir is abstinence from
wine. The prohibition of cutting
hair is added in order to reinforce the separation from adultery.
Seforno and Alshikh adopt a similar view: the Seforno (v. 5) explains, "He
thereby casts aside any thought of physical beauty and styling of his hair;"
while the Alshikh states, "Lest his evil inclination rise
to these commentators, the prohibition on haircuts comes to reinforce the
concept of separation. Cutting
one's hair symbolizes one's involvement with physical beauty, and the
nazir must separate himself from such interests so as not to fall prey to
the evil inclination.
this explanation is difficult to understand in a number of respects. Firstly, why is cutting one's hair more
problematic than having long hair?
After all, one could argue exactly the opposite: that long hair is an
adornment. Indeed, we find support
for this claim in the case of Avshalom (II Shmuel
in all of Israel there was no one so greatly praised as Avshalom for his beauty;
from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
And when he shaved his head — for
it was, at each year's end, that he would cut it, for it was heavy on him;
therefore he would cut it — he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred
shekels by the king's weight.
verses here seem to suggest that Avshalom's long hair was part of his special
attractiveness, and it was this beauty that led him to excessive pride, and
eventually to rebellion.
Radak comments (v. 25):
prior to the story of his rebellion against his father, [Scripture] describes
what led him to it: because he was handsome, and there was no one like him
throughout all of Israel. And he
prided himself on his looks and his hair, and thought that none of David's sons
was as worthy as he to reign, and he rebelled.
addition, the verses in the parasha of the nazir do not describe
long hair as something distasteful; rather, it is depicted as something that
endows the person with holiness: "It shall be holy (and) he shall allow the
locks of the hair on his head to grow long" (v. 5). Rashi understands the holiness as
pertaining to the hair itself: "'It shall be holy' – his
difficulty is that concerning the next prohibition – that of contracting ritual
impurity by touching, carrying or being under the same roof as a corpse – the
Torah notes that such impurity adversely affects "God's crown upon his head,"
i.e., the sanctity of his hair:
And he shall not make himself impure for his father or for his mother or for his
brother or for his sister, when they die, because God's crown
(nezer) is upon his head…
(9) And if any person dies by him suddenly,
and he has defiled his nazirite head…
… and he shall shave his head on the day of his purification; on the
seventh day he shall shave it… and (the kohen) shall make
atonement for him on that day for having transgressed for the dead, and he shall
sanctify his head on that day.
when the period of the nazirite vow is over, the nazir brings an
offering; afterwards, he ceases to conduct himself as a nazir. The Torah states explicitly, "Thereafter
the nazir may drink wine" (v. 20).
However, the Torah does not say: thereafter the nazir may cut his
hair – because this has already taken place. The hair is offered along with the
peace-offering. The shaving or
cutting of hair is given heavy emphasis in the verses, and it represents part of
the process of ending the neder
And the nazir shall shave his nazirite head at the entrance to the Tent
of Meeting, and he shall take the hair of his nazirite head and place it in the
fire which is under the peace-offering sacrifice.
we see that the hair of the nazir is a very significant element of his
vow: it is called "holy" and "his God's crown"; impurity affects it
specifically; and the shaving of it occupies a central place in the ending of
his neder nazir – to a much greater
extent than the resumption of drinking wine.
addition, if we take another look at verse 5, addressing the prohibition of
haircuts, we see that the Torah itself does not suffice with saying, "No razor
shall pass over his head", but rather adds that he must grow "the locks of the
hair of his head." In other words,
this is more than just a prohibition against cutting his hair; there is some
significance to the nazir having long hair.
is the reason for growing his hair long?
The Abravanel and Rav Hirsch contend that his long hair sets him apart
from other people; the former explains,
hair is called "nezer" because, just as a king is recognized as such by
the crown on his head, likewise the nazir is recognized by virtue of the
great amount of hair on his head, like a crown.
the hair unimpeded expresses isolation and introversion… He seeks to be alone and to delve into
himself… He wants to do some
spiritual, moral work of self-education.
Rav Hirsch, long hair represents a barrier between the nazir and the
society around him, thereby allowing him to be alone.
However, it would seem that the hair is not only a means of separating
from society, but rather something with its own inherent sanctity. The Abravanel explains: "To show that
all the knowledge that God placed upon his head will be pure; it will never be
lost to him." According to this
explanation, the hair is part of the head, and a person's head contains the
knowledge that God has bestowed upon him.
The prohibition against cutting his hair expresses the proper use of
Divine knowledge, with no corruption.
Bachya adopts a Kabbalistic approach to explain the sanctity of the
is prohibited to shave it because a person's hair is his strength, as Shimshon
says (Shoftim 16:17): "If I shave it, my strength will leave me." Hair has no end, it grows throughout a
person's life… and all of this hints to branches of the Name and to Its
plantings and Its powers, which are minute, internal experiences, and they are
like fiery threads that spread in all directions, and which have no end… Therefore, he is commanded to grow [his
hair] and is warned not to cut it, "for his God's crown is upon his head," and
if he cuts the hair of his head, which is like the plantings, it will be as if
he has cut and severed the Name from Its outgrowths.
is the clearest expression of constant growth and diffusion. For this reason, hair symbolizes God's
constant creation. Growth of one's
hair represents a connection with the power of infinite creation. Cutting hair, on the other hand, means
halting this power; it creates a barrier between the power of creation (God) and
the "branches" – all of His creations.
Therefore, growing his hair serves to connect the nazir with God,
thereby imbuing him with special powers (as recounted in Shoftim
concerning Shimshon). Cutting the
hair severs this special power, since it separates God – Who creates and bestows
it – from man.
summary, the prohibition against cutting hair may be understood as part of the
command to separate, meant to prevent the nazir from sinning. However, since the Torah describes his
long hair in positive terms and grants it a central place in the process, we
conclude that this prohibition (or, more accurately, the positive requirement
that he grow his hair long) brings the nazir closer to sanctity and
connects him to God, such that his hair truly becomes "his God's crown… upon his
All his nazirite days for God, he shall not come into contact with any dead
He shall not make himself impure for his father or for his mother or for his
brother or for his sister, if they die, for God's crown is upon his
nazir is distanced from impurity (just as he separates from certain
physical actions in order to distance himself from transgression). However, this distancing from impurity
is primarily a means of approaching and attaining holiness. The nazir may not become impure
because "God's crown is upon his head" (verse 7), namely his hair, which in turn
is described in the previous verses as "holy."
verse 8, the Torah says, "All his nazirite days he is holy to God." Rashi explains: "This refers to
[maintaining] the holiness of the body so as not to become defiled by the
dead." The nazir becomes
holy; in this state he cannot allow himself to become defiled.
Separation to Holiness
summary, we have examined the three prohibitions that apply to a nazir
and found that each involves some dimension of separation (from transgression or
from impurity). At the same time,
each also reflects a dimension of drawing closer to
is interesting to note that at the beginning, the Torah does not describe the
nazir as "holy." Therefore,
as we read about the prohibition against wine, the issue of separation makes a
stronger impression. The
prohibition against haircuts starts with the feeling of further separation, but
then we are told, "It shall be holy; he shall grow the locks of the hair of his
head," such that the growing of his hair connects back to holiness – as indeed
becomes apparent in the following verses.
The prohibition against become impure through contact with the dead is
most clearly linked to the nazir's status of
three prohibitions may be viewed as a progression:
Prohibition against ritual
may be that the Torah presents the prohibitions and their significance in this
manner in order to teach us that the neder nazir includes both separation and
growth in holiness; i.e., that during the period of abstinence the nazir
undergoes a process. First he
separates himself, distancing himself from things that may lead him to sin. In the wake of this separation he draws
closer to holiness, and becomes a person who is holy and close to God. (Obviously, in practical terms, the
nazir is obligated concerning all three prohibitions right from the
start, and all three include something of the original dimension of
this perspective, although the neder
nazir includes an important element of separation, the main and ultimate
objective in undertaking the separation and abstinence is to grow in
holiness. The dimension of holiness
involved in the nazirite vow is further emphasized in the parallel between the
nazir and the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, as set forth in the
Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 10:11):
who sanctifies himself with his own earthly efforts will be sanctified from on
High. This [nazir] – since
he abstains from wine and afflicts himself by not shaving his head, so as to
distance himself from sin, therefore God says, "I consider him like a Kohen
Gadol. Just as a Kohen
Gadol is prohibited from contracting ritual impurity through any dead person
(even his close relatives), likewise a nazir is prohibited to contract
ritual impurity through any dead person.
Just as it is written, concerning the Kohen Gadol (Vayikra
21:12), "for his God's crown of anointing oil is upon him", likewise concerning
the nazir it is written, "for his God's crown is upon his head." Just as, concerning the Kohen
Gadol, it is written (I Divrei Ha-yamim 23:13), "Aharon was separated
to be sanctified as the holy of holies", likewise the nazir is called
holy, as it is written (v. 8): "All his nazirite days, he is holy to God."
neder nazir allows a regular
Israelite to achieve a level of sanctity that approximates that of the Kohen
Offerings Brought by the Nazir
overall view of the parasha of the nazir shows that the Torah
describes the nazir in positive terms, as a holy person. Thus we are most surprised to discover
that he is required to bring, along with a burnt-offering and a peace-offering,
a sin-offering at the end of his period of separation (v. 14). What sin has he
different answers have been proposed; we shall review them
Existence as Inherently Sinful:
of the commentators maintain that the fact that the nazir brings a
sin-offering testifies to the fact that this restricted existence is
problematic. According to this
view, a nazirite life is deficient; a person is not meant to impose all kinds of
prohibitions on himself or afflict himself. This view is expressed in the Gemara
said: "Anyone who maintains fasting is called a sinner."
held like this Tanna, for we learnt in a baraita, "Rabbi Elazar Ha-kappar
be-Rabbi says: 'What does the verse mean by
"And he will atone on him from that which he sinned to a life" (v. 11) — against
whose life did this one sin?
Rather, he pained himself [by refraining] from wine.'"
is this not an a fortiori argument: if this one, who pained himself only from
wine, is called a sinner, one who pains himself from everything [by fasting],
all the more so!
gemara presents the nazir as sinning against himself by
withholding a perfectly legitimate pleasure. Alternatively, the nazirite vows are a
sin against the body, even though the soul is thereby spiritual uplifted, as the
Toledot Yitzchak explains (v. 11):
may answer that on one hand he is holy, while on the other hand he is a
sinner. In terms of his soul, he
his holy – for the soul is made more perfect through separation from the desires
of this world, but the perfection of the body lies in not being separated from
the desires of this world to an extreme, but rather by living in moderation:
eating and drinking, consuming meat and imbibing wine as proper for the body's
wellbeing. Thus, in terms of the
soul, the nazir is called "holy," while in terms of the body he is called
claim that there is no problem per se with living as a nazir, but there
are inevitable side issues:
to this view, the neder nazir is
taken on in the wake of sin; it is this that requires atonement. This
explanation is found in Rabbi Anshelomo Ashterok's Midreshei Ha-Torah:
"He has sinned through his soul, since his evil inclination overtook him, such
that he had to abstain from wine." Thus, the sin-offering reflects the
completion of a cycle of repentance.
on Other Mitzvot
to this view, the observance of the nazirite vows is at the expense of other
things that a person should be doing (Meshekh Chokhma, v. 14):
reason for the sin-offering that a nazir must bring is because he cannot
perform some of the commandments, such as [contracting] ritual impurity for the
sake of [dead] relatives, which is a positive commandment. Likewise, he cannot recite
Kiddush and Havdala over wine. If he acted with dedication, then he is
good and praiseworthy, but nevertheless he requires
the Nazirite World
to this view, it is the cessation of the neder nazir that is problematic. Some commentators maintain that nazirite
abstention is positive (in keeping with the opinion of Rabbi Elazar, further on
in the gemara in Ta'anit 11a), since the Torah describes the
nazir as "holy." Therefore, in their view, the sin-offering comes because
of the cessation of the nazirite restrictions and the return to the mundane life
of this world (Ramban, v. 14):
to the simplest understanding of the text, this person sins when his period of
nazirite separation is over, for he is now separated from his special sanctity
and Divine service. He should
really have abstained forever and remained a nazir, holy to God, his
whole life… Therefore he needs
atonement as he once again exposes himself to the impurity of the desires of
Abravanel puts it this way: "Because he forsakes a life of sanctity and
separation, and chooses to return to physical desires."
IV. Nazirite Life and Human
neder nazir creates a situation of separation, with a view to attaining a
greater level of sanctity. This is
a complex situation. On one hand,
it is clear that the desire to attain greater holiness is positive – i.e., the
objective is clearly praiseworthy.
On the other hand, God created man with a physical body, not as an angel,
with the intention that he live a physical life, not a spiritual life only. He must aim to give expression to the
greatness of his soul specifically through the connection to his body and
everything related to the material world.
In this way, the connection to holiness is far more significant: even the
material world and its forces are thereby connected with
nazir separates himself from certain things in order to succeed in
attaining a greater level of holiness.
While this entails assuming additional prohibitions, he is actually
making life easier for himself in some ways. By means of these prohibitions, he
avoids the need to deal with the complexity of sanctity within the life of this
world. This position is
problematic. Perhaps the
sin-offering is brought for the shortcomings of human complexity, which
sometimes leads a person to allow one aspect to dominate the other. Sometimes the body dominates,
interfering with the aspirations of the soul; sometimes the soul is inspired to
the extent that it desires to be severed from the body. The neder nazir is born of the feeling that
the body is dominant, and that it must be reined in.
It continues with the period of
abstinence, during which time the nazir cuts himself off from certain
activities pertaining to the body, and strengthens his spiritual side.
Both of these situations are
defective, and both require a sin-offering.
when the period of separation is over, the nazir returns to the
complexity of man's ordinary situation.
What will happen to him now?
Will he return to a state in which his body dominates his soul? If so, that constitutes sufficient
reason for a sin-offering, as the Ramban and Abravanel explain.
that is not the only possibility.
It may be that the holiness of the period of nazirite separation will
continue to influence him, so that he will live his ordinary life in a better
and more perfect way.
Bachya offers the following explanation for the significance of the sin-offering
brought by a nazir:
have already noted, concerning a nazir, that he has exceeded [regular]
qualities and cleaved to the essential Upper Mercies, and now he seeks to leave
his situation of holiness. He seems
to be distancing himself and seeking to remove himself – heaven forbid – from
that level that he has attained.
Therefore the Torah requires him to bring a sacrifice, but not for
atonement… Rather, the purpose
of his sacrifice is to bring close the powers and to unite and to draw them
from the flow of the Source; the [regular] qualities will be filled up, and
after that he will return to his original pleasures. Thereby the offerings that he is
commanded to bring consist of a burnt-offering, a peace-offering and a
though the period of his nazirite abstention is over, he retains his holiness…
And since he has ascended (in
holiness) and not descended, he should not fear that his evil inclination will
tempt him, even though he may drink wine.
to Rabbeinu Bachya, the sin-offering must be seen in context: it is one of three
sacrifices that a nazir brings in order to allow him to live a normal
life while retaining the level of sanctity that he has attained during the
period of separation.
being the case, the nazirite process expresses human complexity – the fact that
man is composed of body as well as soul, and the fact that sometimes there is an
imbalance in their equilibrium. By
the end of his period of separation, a nazir is meant to return to the
human state of complexity and live in it in a more refined and perfected
by Kaeren Fish