Time for Introspection – Parashat Naso
In this week’s parasha, Naso, we read about a unique and interesting idea that merited much commentary, and if we examine its significance, we can discover new and fascinating facets to it that will provide us with food for thought. We refer to the mitzvah, the commandment, of “nezirut” (monasticism). Based on what is written in the parasha, man can take nezirut upon himself for a period of time. This is expressed in three behaviors that he must adopt during the period of nezirut: no drinking of wine, no haircuts or shaving, not coming close to the body of a dead person. At the of the period of nezirut, which is usually thirty days, the “nazir” has to bring specific sacrifices to the Temple, and after that he is permitted to do the three things he had restricted himself from doing. Usually, we understand the term “nezirut”, monasticism, as abstention from enjoyment. This is familiar to us from many other religions and cultures, in which a monk is a person who withdraws from family and community life and lives an ascetic and solitary life.
The Biblical monk is far from this. He does not isolate himself nor does he abstain from enjoyment. The “nazir” does not refer to monasticism but rather to royalty. The Torah emphasizes that the term refers to him having a “nezer of God on his head”, his long hair is a holy crown on his head. It is interesting to discover that there is another person instructed by the Torah to behave similarly: the Kohen Gadol, or High Priest. He too has a “nezer” on his head, called the tzitz: he must refrain from drinking wine and he is forbidden from getting close to a human corpse. Is there a connection between the nazir and the priesthood?
The nazir does not necessarily come from the tribe of priests. He can come from any part of the nation. But apparently, that is the exact reason for the existence of the nezirut. There could be a situation in which a person wishes to transcend his life, to become a Kohen with a sacred role. But he cannot become a Kohen because he does not come from the right tribe. The solution offered by the Torah is this: voluntary priesthood. A person has the option of taking upon himself the lifestyle of the Kohen Gadol, distancing himself from impurity, from sensory overload, and place the “nezer” of holiness on his head.
The nazir is the person who chose for himself, for a short period of time, to be a virtual Kohen. For this time, he is busy getting closer to goodness, deepening and internalizing sacred values. To do this, he is cautious about drinking wine, which could distract him and drag him into a stupor. To do this, he must also be cautious about touching a human corpse since the encounter with death is an encounter with what is missing, while he is busying himself with repair and construction. For this reason, he also grows his hair and turns it into a crown. At the end of the period of nezirut, the nazir comes to the Temple and offers sacrifices. One of them is the hair that he grew during the time of nezirut. The hair is cut and put in the fire. Thus, the nazir expresses his desire to sanctify himself.
Today, it is not recommended to take nezirut upon oneself since nezirut does end without bringing sacrifices to the Temple, and since the Temple does not exist, a person who takes nezirut upon himself nowadays becomes a nazir for the rest of his life.
However, the content still exists. Many times, we feel the need to put aside a period of time to transcend our routine and sanctify ourselves. The rush of life can affect our composure, our ability to look at our lives and the goodness we can take from it. Therefore, if we adopt the idea of nezirut and dedicate a period of time every so often for introspection, to ask ourselves why we are here and where we are headed, we could learn important lessons, and make our lives loftier and more significant.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Site