by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Naso (70)This week's sedra has a variety of new laws in it. Laws of the Sota (woman suspected by her husband); of the Nazarite; the Priestly blessing; the offerings of the tribal Princes on the days of the dedication of the Tabernacle.
Let us look at the law of the Nazir.
6:8 All the days of his abstinence he is holy to Hashem.
9: If a person should die near him suddenly and contaminate his Nazerite head, he shall shave his head on the day he becomes purified; on the seventh day shall he shave it.
10: On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young doves to the priest to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
11: The priest shall make one a sin offering and one an elevated offering, he shall provide him atonement for having sinned regarding the person and he shall sanctify his head on that day.
for having sinned regarding the person: Rashi: That he was not careful regarding the impurity of the dead person. Rabbi Elezar HaKapar said 'since he abstained from wine.'
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi presents two opposing views of the Nazirite vow. The first opinion says that the man who took upon himself to refrain from wine and from coming into contact with the dead was remiss and sinned by not being careful and thus he became impure. But we are told that the death happened suddenly, unexpectedly, so how could this be considered a sin; it was an accident that he was nearby? The answer is that nevertheless he should have been super-careful. It was he who decided he wanted to be a Nazir, no one asked him to take on this responsibility, so it was also his duty to be extra careful about such things.
The second opinion (Rav Elazar HaKapar), says the sin was that he became a Nazir to begin with. The Torah does mandate such a restrictive life, so he shouldn't have done so on his own. He was depriving himself of one of the pleasures of G-d's world, drinking wine.
A Question: What is the basic dispute in the interpretation of our verse between these two opinions?
What word do they interpret differently?
UNDERASTANDING THE DIUSPUTE
An Answer: The word "person" (In Hebrew 'nefesh') is understood differently. The first opinion says 'nefesh' refers to the dead person's body. Rav Elazar says it refers to the Nazirite himself - he sinned against himself.
A DEEPER LOOK
This depute reflects a deeper difference in world outlook. Rav Elazar says that pulling away from this world - this G-d-created-world - is not a good thing to do. The Jew should learn to live in this world, enjoy it and at the same time guard himself against sinful excess. It is enough to keep the Torah's commandments; we have no need to add to the Torah's restrictions.
The first opinion says there may be individual's who feel the spiritual need to elevate themselves even higher than the Torah's basic demands, and vowing to be a Nazirite is one way to do this.
INTERPRETING THE TORAH'S VIEW
Actually the Torah's wording leads to this confusion. In one place the Nazirite is called "holy" ("kodesh") (verse 8). Yet in our verse it says he sinned.
Can you explain this so that there is no real contradiction between "holy" and "sinned"?
A SUGGESTED ANSWER
An Answer: I would suggest that the word "Kodesh" here be understood in its most basic meaning. That is "separated." ( Engagement to a woman is called 'kiddushin' because the couple is separated from other people in their eventual marriage.) In fact the Nazir is separated from the rest of the community in his behavior (he probably doesn't go to simchas, etc.) and is separated even from his family at times of tragedy; he may not come close to dead relatives at their burial.
So he is separated from others but this is not the Torah's way. One should be "meurav im habrios" integrated into society. Live with others in their times of joy and times of sadness. G-d's Torah has enough restrictions for everyone.
Yet the Torah nevertheless does describe the case of the Nazirite and does not forbid this. Why?
A DEEPER UNDERTANDING
Perhaps, because the Torah understands that not all men (and women) are equal. Such spiritual striving does exist within certain people. So even here the Torah attempts to allow but limits this phenomenon.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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