Among the topics discussed in this week's Torah portion is the Nazir, a person who abstains from eating or drinking grapes or grape products, from cutting hair, and from becoming tamei (ritually impure) through contact with the dead.
Among the topics discussed in this week's Torah portion is the Nazir, a person who abstains from eating or drinking grapes or grape products, from cutting hair, and from becoming tamei (ritually impure) through contact with the dead. Interestingly, the laws pertaining to a Nazir are juxtaposed against those of a Sotah, a wife suspected of adultery. Rashi, the famous 11th century French Torah commentator, writes that these two sections are placed next to each other to teach us an important lesson. If we were to ever see a Sotah in her degradation, then we should accept upon ourselves to become a Nazir, to abstain from drinking wine, since the consumption of wine could eventually lead us to also engage in immoral behavior similar to that of the Sotah.
This juxtaposition sheds light on the primary purpose of the Nazir's status and the motivation to adopt its restrictions. The Sotah follows her physical inclinations with little regard for the Torah's values. In stark contrast to the Sotah is the Nazir, who has surrendered his physical needs and has acted on his desire to achieve a closer relationship with Hashem. The two are mirror opposites - the Sotah values physical pleasures over all else, whereas the Nazir's desire for a greater connection to the Divine is paramount. Rashi intimates that the mere sight of a Sotah could prompt a person to disregard the yolk of Heaven and make a similar mistake. To escape the yetzer harah's (evil inclination's) trap, the Torah mandates that a person who sees a Sotah should abstain from physical activities that could dull his spiritual impulses. Instead, the witnesses should stimulate their souls by engaging in activity that raises a person's level of kedusha (holiness). The Nazir's external prohibitions consequently become a vehicle to attain tremendous kedusha and become closer to Hashem, a goal which we should all strive to achieve.
The proximity of the mentioning of the mitzvah of Nazir to the recent holiday of Shavuot is interesting in the following sense. As we have just celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we can look at the Nazir as a parable for our lives and priorities. Much like the Nazir, we should value the spiritual and strive to cultivate a closer relationship with Hashem. The period surrounding Shavuot, as we prepare to receive and bask in the world's greatest gift, is an especially ripe time for us to nurture our relationship with Hashem with the zealousness of the Nazir. The example of the Nazir's singular purpose to become holy and close to Hashem by withdrawing from the physical world is powerful medicine against the sickness of materialism and physical pleasures which today are worshipped for their own sake. May the Nazir's selfless devotion to Hashem motivate us to elevate the spiritual so that the physical is the servant of the soul, and not visa-versa.
Jay Eizenstat is a second year law student at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.
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