I'LL DRINK TO THAT
Rabbi Yehoshua Brotsky
One of the most perplexing laws in this week's Torah portion is that of the Nazir. A man or woman, inspired by the opportunity for spiritual growth, vows to abstain from wine and other intoxicating substances.
One of the most perplexing laws in this week's Torah portion is that of the Nazir. A man or woman, inspired by the opportunity for spiritual growth, vows to abstain from wine and other intoxicating substances. Although this vow may last for an extended period of time, the norm was to refrain from these common pleasures for the duration of one month. What is confusing is the view of some commentaries that a Nazir is actually considered to be somewhat of a sinner, a fact which explains the law that at the end of his vow of abstinence he is required to bring a korban (offering) to atone for forbidding upon himself these pleasures.
Let us analyze the possible scenarios in which one would accept upon himself the laws of Nazir. The commentators point out that the placement of the laws of a Nazir immediately after those of a Sotah is not haphazard. If a woman is accused by her husband of committing adultery, but he cannot produce witnesses to prove his claim, he must bring his wife to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) where the Kohen (priest) forces her to drink bitter waters. If she indeed was guilty of adultery, then her stomach will immediately explode from the bitter water. Any person who witnessed this act would be compelled to vow abstinence from all intoxicating drinks. Separation from these liquids would prevent a state of lewdness that might result from excessive amounts of alcohol.
With this in mind, it would seem quite certain that one who becomes a Nazir should most definitely be commended for his initiative in preventing such things from happening. So the question is clear: How can we view a Nazir as a sinner? If we analyze the purpose of wine and the reason why its powers were created, we may be able to solve this mystery.
When Noah left the ark with his family as the lone survivors of the flood, the first thing he did was plant a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). A miracle occurred and beautiful grapes instantly grew, perfect for the making of wine. At that point, Noah could have taken the wine and recited some kind of Kiddush or blessing to Hashem for having saved him from the flood. Instead, overcome with depression over the desolate world that lay before him, Noah drank until he became drunk. This drunkenness led to the horrible sin that was done by his son Cham. Had Noah chosen the right path, it is said that he could have been the Mashiach (Messiah) and brought the world to its ultimate redemption.
Every substance on earth can be used either for perversion or for spiritual growth. By a Nazir abstaining from wine, he is admitting that he is incapable of overcoming his desires. He cannot use the gift of wine for its proper usage and therefore vows to abstain from it completely. True, he has recognized his weakness, but it would be a higher level if he could work to overcome it!
It is interesting that the Haftorah continues the theme of the Nazir by recounting the story of Samson. Unlike the previous scenario, Samson entered the restraints of a Nazir in a completely different setting. He was known as a Nazir Olam, a Nazir for life. Even before he was born, Samson's mother had been instructed by an angel from heaven to abstain from wine and intoxicating beverages to prevent any alcohol from entering the baby's body.
We may ask, how was Samson forced to accept the strict laws of a Nazir without first being given the free choice to test his restraint against improper use of alcoholic beverages? We must say that Samson was not lacking the ability to use wine properly. Since the sin offering is only brought upon the completion of the designated period of abstinence, Samson, being a Nazir for life, would never be required to bring the offering to atone for his sin. Rather, he was designated even before birth to act as a special servant of Hashem and fulfill His holy plans of defeating the enemies who opposed the Jewish people.
We should all strive to attain the high level of kedusha (sanctity) that a Nazir reaches, while at the same time not creating a need for a subsequent sin offering.
Rabbi Yehoshua Brotsky, an educator in New York, is married to Elisheva Ginian of Atlanta.
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