Commentary for Naso

30 May

In this week’s parshah we learn the laws of the Nazir. A Naizr is one who swears a specific oath to “set him/herself apart for The Lord (Num. 6:2).” A Nazir is required to follow a series of very stringent rules, including not combing, cutting or otherwise removing his or her hair, not going near a dead body (even if it is that of a close relative), and abstaining from not just wine but from all manner of grape products (and, according to some modern authorities, all alcohols as well). In exchange for these restrictions, one who takes a vow to become a Nazir is “consecrated to The Lord” throughout his or her term as a Nazir (Num. 6:8).

When taking an oath to become a Nazir, a person can specify how long they intend to be a Nazir for, ranging from thirty days to the rest of his or her life. When a person completes his or her term as a Nazir, he or she is required to bring several offerings to the Temple, including, surprisingly, a sin offering.

It seems baffling that someone completing a term of service to God would need to bring a sin offering to celebrate the completion of this term of service during which they lived with a higher level of piety than usual, and it is a question that has bothered rabbis for years. It also seems odd that if there is some sort of sin involved, that someone who makes a vow to become a Nazir for life should be exempt from making this reparation offering despite serving a longer time as a Nazir than one who makes the vow for a limited period.

One important concept in Jewish ritual thought is the idea of “ma’alin bekodesh”- we increase in matters of holiness (and never decrease). Looking at it from this perspective, it is clear why a Nazir ending his or her term must bring a sin offering: as atonement for lowering him or herself from a higher level of service. The Torah understands that no one is perfect and thus it allows a Nazir to only serve a limited term if he or she so desires, but the underlying message of self-improvement encouraged by this principle is clear: throughout our lives we must learn more and do more to keep moving ourselves closer to God.

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