Table for Five: Nasso
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
All the days of his vow of abstinence, no razor shall pass over his head; until the completion of the term that he abstains for the sake of the Lord, it shall be sacred, and he shall allow the growth of the hair of his head to grow wild.
Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Freelance Rabbi, Scholar In Residence Aish/JMI
A vow of abstinence! Sounds so Middle Ages. A state that monks in a monastery take upon themselves. A life that is not in step with a contemporary world and a modern society.
The Nazir, in his aspiration to live a holy, priest-like life, vowed to abstain from wine, hair-cutting and contact with a corpse. This cocktail of prohibitions was designed to help the holy-seeking individual detach himself from his unholy impulses.
A vow of abstinence may seem archaic but selfish and destructive impulses aren’t. They are alive and well in every person and are the source of our insecurities, anxieties and disillusionment. We are all intoxicated by vanity, wealth, sexuality and more. Seen through this lens, the Nazir’s decision to detach himself from common practices that embody these impulses, doesn’t seem so evangelical after all. Giving up Chardonnay or Supercuts for a short time seems like a digestible sacrifice considering the reward.
And yet, this transient priest had to bring a sin offering upon completion of his term of detachment. The implication, according to some commentators, is that though the Nazir’s aspirations were holy, a life of abstinence is not fully in consonance with the will of G-d or the well-being of mankind.
You see, the Torah doesn’t glorify a life that abstains from life. Judaism doesn’t trumpet the elimination of impulses. It orchestrates the elevation of impulses. The Nazir was well intentioned but instead of abstaining, let’s vow to dedicate our energies to noble causes and higher consciousness. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon, Prominent Inspirational Speaker
We are souls contained by bodies, not bodies with a soul.
One of the Nazirite vows is to refrain from cutting or grooming his hair. Abstaining from any pleasure in this world is a denial of G-d’s goodness. Perforce, the concept of a Nazir is only germane in the case of someone whose drive for licentiousness may cause him to compromise his moral compass in order to teach us one of the most important concepts in Judaism – i.e.- we are the product of two parts, a body and a soul. Since the latter is a manifestation of Hashem and continues to exist even after our inevitable demise, where there is a conflict between body and soul, the soul takes precedence.
The Torah teaches us in several places that hair symbolizes the essence of beauty and vanity of the body – both for women and men. King David’s son Avshalom was notoriously preoccupied with his mane (see Samuel II, Chapter 18); and in tractate of Nazir, Shimon Hatzaddik praised a Nazir who undertook the commitment specifically to curb his own ego regarding his locks.
It follows that letting one’s hair grow wild, and then ultimately cutting it all off is a remedy to being too full of one’s own appearance. The fact that we are expected to go to such lengths to ensure that we keep our bodily urges in check does not mean Judaism is a religion that promotes self-flagellation, rather it highlights the fact that a Jewish soul is precious and is to be guarded at all costs.
Nicole Guzik, Rabbi at Sinai Temple
When being disciplined, it is almost impossible to see the merits of a punishment. No child or teenager ever says, “Oh, I understand why you are sending me to my room. Thank you for setting limits. This is important for my development.” If you do find someone that values punishment within the moment, please introduce them to me. That is someone I must meet.
Rather, the advantages of setting and enforcing limits cultivates the character of a person or society, over time. Accepting and obeying rules establishes the values that serve as building blocks for identity. You may refrain from eating particular foods because the separation frames your relationship with animals and the earth. You may reduce the amount of time indulging in particular activities because you allow more time for others. Establishing rules for children offers safety, routine, and room to grow. Adults are not so different. Saying no to one thing gives an opening to say yes to something else. And establishing a discipline around saying no safeguards one’s ideals, principles, and beliefs.
Stephen Covey teaches, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say “no” to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” What a difficult and meaningful dance: leading a disciplined life that protects the burning “yes” that shines within. May saying no help define your bright, vibrant, purposeful yes.
Rabbi Patricia Fenton, American Jewish University
Years ago, I saw the movie “Koyaanisqatsi,” a Hopi word translated as “life out of balance.” That phrase stayed with me. I’ve thought of it in the last few years, years marked by imbalance in our communities, nation, and world.
This week’s Torah portion introduces the nazir, who vows to abstain from grapes in any form, contact with the dead, and from cutting their hair. The rules of the nazir come just before the Priestly Blessing.
The Torah is silent about the nazir’s motivation. The root of the word nazir means to separate or dedicate oneself. What motivates a nazir to separate from the joys and the sorrows of community life, symbolized by wine and mourning?
Does the nazir’s hair signal a life out of balance, in which separation is needed to draw closer to God and/or to the self? Like the person afflicted with tzara’at, who leaves the camp while calling out “ritually impure!” (Lev. 13:45), perhaps the nazir’s long hair silently signals imbalance, a desire to protect others, and a need of help.
In God’s instructions about the priestly blessing, we learn how the priests are to bless Bnei Israel. All the children of Israel receive God’s blessing, those who have been separated from the community, those who have separated themselves, those in balance and those out of balance.
May God bless each of us, our nation, and our world with balance, with the ability to signal imbalance, and the strength to seek and receive help. Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Chaim Tureff, Rav Beit Sefer, Pressman Academy, director of STARS Addiction Recovery
“Say, can you see my eyes? If you can, then my hair’s too short.” I wonder if this famous line from the musical Hair is how the Nazir felt.
The Talmud tells us that the minimum requirement for a Nazir to not cut their hair was 30 days, but that it could last longer. So what is with this peculiar part of the Nazir’s requirement? Not drinking or coming close to a corpse is understandable but what is with the hair?
According to R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, since hair protects our body, symbolically, by growing hair, there will be spiritual protection from detrimental influences. The Nazir can completely devote themselves to Hashem.
The Sefer Ha Chinukh notes that by growing your hair it pushes one towards more spiritual matters while driving away the physical inclination. So, how do we balance this need to infuse spirituality into the physical world? That is the work that we are tasked with every day: illuminating a physical world fraught with impulsiveness, superficiality, and greed with spirituality.
Whether that is donating your hard earned money for tzedakah, saying a blessing over food, recycling that box, or showing patience for those around you, there are a myriad of things we can do to elevate this world. We don’t need to let our hair grow to do that, but as I did many years ago and look forward to doing again shortly with Locks of Love, donating your hair for those that need it, isn’t a bad idea!
With thanks to
Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon, Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Rabbi Patricia Fenton, and Rabbi Chaim Tureff
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