Naso 5770: The Vows of the Nazirite

This week, among suspected adulterous women and counting the Levites we have the following:

1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2. Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazirite, to separate themselves for the Lord; 3. He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, nor shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. 4. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is produced from the grape vine, from the seeds to the grape skin. 5. All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled, during which he separates himself for the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 6. All the days that he separates himself for the Lord he shall not come near a dead body. 7. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because the consecration of his God is upon his head. 8. All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.[Numbers 6]

The Nazirite makes a public oath apparently, and then for a period of time he or she is then prohibited from doing and touching certain things. The Talmud clarifies a bit more. There are three types of Nazirite. The first is a limited time Nazirite. This is a person who disciplines themselves for a given period of time. According to the Rabbis, if that time is not specified, then it is a default period of thirty days. The second type is someone who decides to be a Nazirite for the rest of their life and the third is the rare case of one who is born a Nazirite and lives a life of a Nazirite for the entirety of their life. The Haftarah of the week concerns the first and the third one:

2. And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bore not. 3. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman, and said to her, Behold now, you are barren, and bear not; but you shall conceive, and bear a son. 4. Now therefore beware, I beseech you, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing; 5. For, behold, you shall conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head; for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.[Judges 13]

The child the woman give birth to she names Samson, who did not have magical hair as many believe but was consecrated as a Nazirite, a holy person to God when his hair was not cut. Interestingly, Samson’s mom also was a Nazirite during her pregnancy. This might hint at why women are specifically mentioned as Nazirites when it is so rare for them to be specifically mentioned in other mitzvot. It was a vow of thanksgiving to consecrate yourself to the lord as a Nazirite. In ancient culture, where proclivity in children was a lot of one’s status in society and family , women in particular may have had reason to thank god for a child, and this must have been it.

I do not completely understand why of all things the prohibitions were not to cut one’s hair, or stay away from anything that is grape or intoxicant. The staying away from a corpse is a little more understandable, as it is the same idea as it is for a priest and the High priest:

11. Neither shall he go to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother[Leviticus 21]

Thinking about it, Intoxicants also are mentioned in terms of priests:

8. And the Lord spoke to Aaron, Saying: 9. Drink no wine nor strong drink You, and your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, that you will not die; it shall be a statute forever. [Leviticus 10]

In a sense, The Nazirite takes on a holiness comparable to a priest, and must avoid death the same way a priest does. Except for extraordinary conditions, these three are prohibitions that are not basic needs like food or shelter. Yet this is a practice of the past, can we understand it in the present? The answer comes from asking other questions. How do we take vows and have the discipline to do something with them? We find that taking a vow is actually rather easy, it just needs a statement.

MISHNAH. ALL THE SUBSTITUTES FOR THE NAZIRITE VOW ARE EQUIVALENT TO NAZIRITE VOWS. IF A MAN SAYS, ‘I SHALL BE [ONE].’ HE BECOMES A NAZIRITE. [IF HE SAYS.] ‘I SHALL BE COMELY, A NAZIRITE, A NAZIK,2 A NAZIAH2 A PAZIAH. HE BECOMES A NAZIRITE. [IF HE SAYS.] ‘I INTEND TO BE LIKE THIS,’ OR ‘I INTEND TO CURL [MY HAIR].’ OR ‘I MEAN TO TEND [MY HAIR].’ OR ‘I UNDERTAKE TO DEVELOP TRESSES,’ HE BECOMES A NAZIRITE.[Nazir 2a]

Much of the first part of the Talmud tractate on the Nazirite is about the oath itself. It is exceptionally easy, and with key words one locks themselves into various types of Nazirite vows. While admittedly not reading the Gemara for the entire tractate, I think it is clear there is a message here: it is easy to make a promise. One can phrase a promise many different ways, but still end up promising something. In the case of the Nazir it is a promise to God to do an act of devotion. In this case it is three things that most people can actually do without endangering their life. It is not a full fast of thirty days, for example, which would cause harm. It may be difficult to avoid grapes, to look unkempt for a month but it is possible without any harm to the person. As in the case of Samson’s mom and later Hanna, Samuel’s it is harmless enough that even a pregnant woman could do it. Indeed keeping away from any alcohol or diseased dead bodies might actually be good for the fetus.

Therefore it is also easy to keep this promise. For many of our promises that is also true. Making and keeping promises are easy. The third of the three disciplines is again not difficult under normal circumstances. Most people don’t handle dead bodies on a regular basis. The Torah itself is clear that sometimes bad things happen. A nazirite might be caught in a war, and end up with dead bodies all around them, making it impossible not to touch a dead body. So there are procedures for essentially starting from scratch, removing the hair involved from the original oath, and repeating the entire oath from the beginning. This gives us an very important lesson: if we fail in our oath, we are not punished but given another chance to do so again. Unintentional mistakes are unavoidable, and when we make promises, we might break our promise from circumstances beyond our control. What are we to do? Get up from our mistake, Apologize, clean ourselves off from our mistake, and try again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that. While it is not a vow, I did make Shlomo’s drash a major discipline in my life. And as those who have followed this for while know. I am scrupulous in getting something written every week. I’ve skipped only a few times, and that was due to a lack of Internet connection in the Galalpagos Islands or in deepest darkest Africa. Otherwise, I’m always getting one of these out.

Except for the last few weeks.

For that time period I could not write a single word. While I have been very busy, there have been times in the past I was a busy and still got this out, so lack of time is only an excuse. I’ve realized what was wrong in Nazirite terms because I touched a metaphorical dead body. My ideas and writing died when touching it. So while I’ve been trying to write, I keep having miscarriages of ideas and nothing gets written.

It happened this week as well. But reading the text, I realized the old advice I gave as a computer tech support guy is still the most sage: Reboot.

9. And if any man dies very suddenly beside him, and he has defiled his consecrated head; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it.[Numbers 6]

Cut off the desecrated hair, clean yourself, and a few sacrifices later, the Nazirite starts the whole process over again. So, as hard as it is to do the reboot. I’m going ahead and writing this week. I’ll give the oath here that has been my life for nine years now: I want to write Shalomo’s Drash to my dying day. I’m not stopping even though I contemplated it many time. I’m going to write and write forever. It’s my dedication to God, to study Torah and give my insight to everyone else. If they care to read it is up to them, but I have done the writing.

I may falter very once in a while, but in the spirit of a nazirite, I will merely stop, clean up, and start again. I’m still human, and can make mistakes like everyone else.

So thank you, I’m here to stay. period.

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Trainer, App developer. Author. Artist. Proprietor of makeapppie.com and Host of Slice of App Pie Show

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