This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Shoshana Snow
Bamidbar 6:6 describes a nazir as kadosh: “All the days of his nezirut he is kodesh to Hashem.” Rashi (Vayikra 19:2) defines kadosh as separate, specifically from inappropriate sexual behavior: “Be separated from arayot and from aveirah, as wherever you find a fence regarding ervah, there you find kedushah.”
The Ramban however, finds this explanation unlikely because the Torah has just finished listing all the prohibited sexual relationships. Rather, Ramban believes that this commandment prohibits being a “naval b’rshut hatorah,” literally one who is disgraceful or disgusting with the permission of the Torah. He posits that it is possible for one to fulfil all 613 commandments while leading a disgraceful life that is not in line with Torah values. Ramban cites eating and sex as permitted activities that can easily become self-indulgent.
ולפי דעתי אין הפרישות הזו לפרוש מן העריות כדברי הרב,
אבל הפרישות היא המוזכרת בכל מקום בתלמוד, שבעליה נקראים ‘פרושים’,
והענין – כי התורה הזהירה בעריות ובמאכלים האסורים, והתירה הביאה איש באשתו ואכילת הבשר והיין, א”כ ימצא בעל התאוה מקום להיות בסובאי יין בזוללי בשר למו, וידבר כרצונו בכל הנבלות, שלא הוזכר איסור זה בתורה, והנה יהיה נבל ברשות התורה! לפיכך בא הכתוב, אחרי שפרט האיסורים שאסר אותם לגמרי, וצוה בדבר כללי, שנהיה פרושים מן המותרות.
According to the Ramban then, the Nazir is kadosh because he separates from even permitted physical pleasures.
Ramban’s understanding of kedushah and its relationship to nezirus is further developed through his commentary in Parshat Naso. The Ramban explains that the reason a Nazir brings a korban chatat at the completion of his nezirus is because the nazir is leaving his spiritual life and returning to an impure materialistic life (6:14)
וכדכתיב “כל ימי נזרו קדוש הוא לה'”, והנה הוא צריך כפרה בשובו להטמא בתאוות העולם
The Ramban firmly argues that physical pleasure leads to self-indulgence and takes a person farther away from God.
The Rambam however, has a different perspective on nezirus and kedusha. In the fourth perek of Shemoneh Perakim (4:9), the Rambam explains that a person should partake in physical pleasure, albeit moderately. In general, the Rambam believes that one should work to be moderate in all of her behaviors. If one has an extreme behavior such as greed, he should strive towards the opposite extreme, in this case, being immensely charitable, in order to find a middle ground between the two extreme behaviors. It is in this light that the Rambam understands the purpose of the nazir. Through becoming a nazir and developing extreme behaviors of abstinence, one can hopefully become a more moderate person, and temper behaviors such as greed and gluttony. The Rambam therefore believes that the purpose of the chatat is to atone for the sin of asceticism. He argues that asceticism is not an inherent value of the Torah, but rather was necessary in this instance because the person had to combat improper behaviors. The Rambam frowns upon asceticism, and believes that the mitzvot are there to ensure that we remain disciplined and lead moderate lives that are not controlled by our desires.
We are then left to answer two questions. Is nezirus honorable or a last resort? And more importantly, what role does physical pleasure play in our relationship with God and mitzvot? By taking a simple look at the pesukim and the amount of time the Torah dedicates to Nazir it does not seem that this a mitzvah that the Torah looks down upon. Nevertheless, the mitzvah of nazir is not obligatory and therefore is clearly not expected of all people. Referring back to kdoshim tihiyu, the Haemek Davar explains that he agrees with the Ramban about the importance of separation from even permissible things. However, the Netziv includes a caveat that Ramban did not include, where he stated that the pasuk continues, אל כל עדת בני ישראל to highlight that each person’s values and boundaries will be different. Even though everyone should be striving towards separating from physical pleasures, it is up to each person to define her own boundaries and figure out how to incorporate these values in her own life. Relating this back to nezirus, perhaps we do not all need to rush and become Nezirim, but take the messages of nezirus seriously nonetheless. In line with this idea, the ohr hachayim (6:2) identifies two different kinds of nezirim, one who is motivated by a desire to resist sin, and one who becomes a Nazir for less noble purposes, highlighting how while for some nezirus is a way to better serve God, for others this does not end up being the case. Ultimately, the choice to become a Nazir was up to an individual. For some commentaries it is a highly righteous choice, and for others it is less positive, but it is clear that the Torah wants us to think critically about our relationship with physical pleasures and materialism. It is a theme that comes up in Nazir, as well as other places, and it is a critical component of serving God properly. One must stay focused on her path of torah and mitzvot, and the Torah brings this point home through the discussion of Nazir.
Shoshana Snow (WBM ’19) is a rising junior at Queens College, studying neuroscience.