Commentary for Naso

29 May

In this week’s parshah, we learn the laws of the Nazir. A Nazir is one who makes a personal vow to abstain from shaving, cutting his or her hair, consumption of grapes or grape products, and becoming ritually impure through contact with a corpse, for a period of time specified in the vow. The Torah tells us that by taking a Nazirite vow, one is elevating his or her level of holiness, and that “the crown of his God is on his head (Num. 6:7),” and yet, strangely, when the period of his or her vow comes to an end, a Nazir is required to bring a “sin-offering” to God. This is extremely counter-intuitive. After all, how could it be wrong to do something that brings us closer to God and doesn’t hurt anyone else?


With the limited drinking options of the ancient world, the change between consuming grape products and not consuming grape products was a very drastic one. While the idea behind taking the vow and the end result of it was to bring yourself closer to God, it was still a very jarring change. There was no built-in period to wean off of grape products, but rather a Nazir was required to stop cold-turkey from the moment the vow was made, and when people start something out by jumping into the deep end, they don’t always manage to swim.


Any change of lifestyle is going to be difficult, whether it is something as basic as trying to eat healthier or something as extreme as converting to a new religion (it is for this reason that conversion to Judaism takes over a year). By taking on such a change so quickly and so strongly as to make a vow using God’s name, a Nazir is deliberately putting himself or herself in a very difficult, potentially unhealthy situation, and thus is required to bring a sin-offering, even if the experience has been a completely positive one. While God certainly wants us to do whatever we can to better our relationship with God, God would heavily prefer that we not put ourselves in danger to do so.

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