Can Someone Be a Nazir in our Time?
A Chassidic story tells of a simple man who went to see the saintly Rabbi Aaron Zatzal, the Rebbe of Karlin. The man told the Rebbe of his great anguish, caused by the fact that he did not have a revelation of Eliyahu HaNavi. Upon hearing this, the Rebbe smiled and asked the man: “Who told you that you’re worthy of receiving a visit by Eliyahu HaNavi?” The man almost became angry: “What kind of question is that?” he asked. “It’s obvious that I’m worthy of it, since I conduct myself like a Nazir: I don’t shave, I don’t drink wine, and I never go to funerals!” The Rebbe continued his questioning: “And who told you that a Nazir merits the revelation of Eliyahu HaNavi?” The man immediately replied, “It’s obvious that he does! We see it with the valiant Samson, who was a Nazir. The spirit of Hashem began to stir in him, which means that he merited the revelation of Eliyahu.”
The end of this story does not concern us. However it is certain that the thinking of this simple Jew – who believed that he was a holy Nazir because he refrained from shaving, drinking wine, and going to funerals – should make us think, for really what is a Nazir? What does his holiness consist of, and does the concept of a Nazir as described in our parsha apply in our time? On the verse, “You shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), the Ramban gives an explanation according to what the Sages said (Yebamot 20a), namely that it consists of restraining (lehitnazer) and distancing oneself from certain things, even non-prohibited things, and to sanctify oneself “in what is permitted.” This means that in our era as well, and for each of us, there are things that are truly permissible, things that carry no prohibition whatsoever and are in no way forbidden. They consist of neither transgressions nor sins, yet they encompass the area of pleasure, things that we can easily live without, for they really change nothing. It is precisely concerning such things that Scripture says, “You shall be holy.” Even if these things are permissible, you – a Jew – are not to engage in them if you really want to serve G-d and elevate yourself a little above this material world. Instead, distance yourself from them and sanctify yourself even in things that are permitted.
This is the nature of the Nazir. Who does not cut their hair? Just about everyone gets their hair cut when it becomes cumbersome. Furthermore, we know from books of Kabbalah that hair is compared to kelipot (forces of impurity), which evoke sin. It is therefore obvious that they must be removed by cutting, especially when they create problems for placing Tefillin on the head, as mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim. It states that it is forbidden to place the head Tefillin on a thick tuft of hair. Yet what should a man do if he wants to sanctify himself, to become a Nazir? He refrains from cutting his hair, and for 30 days he lets them grow, thus deciding to become a Nazir devoted to G-d. In this way he sanctifies himself in what is permitted; he distances himself even from things that are allowed. Consequently, his nature does not reside in the fact that he does not cut his hair, but rather in the holiness and the distance between himself and permitted things. His intention is not to refrain from cutting his hair, but rather to separate and sanctify himself with great holiness.
There is more. As we know, drinking wine makes a person cheerful, as the verse states: “Wine that gladdens the heart of man” (Psalms 104:15). The Sages have also said, “There is no rejoicing except with wine” (Pesachim 109a). It is therefore obvious that a person can become joyful by drinking wine. By drinking wine, he can arrive at serving the Creator with greater joy, and is there anything loftier than joy? We know that all the rebukes addressed to the Children of Israel came about because they “did not serve the L-RD your G-d amid gladness and goodness of heart” (Deuteronomy 28:47). We therefore see that joy is a great principle in serving Hashem, and we received the commandment to serve G-d in joy.
However the Nazir sanctifies himself by what is permitted. He avoids drinking wine, and he even separates himself from the vine in order not to arouse any desire to drink wine. This means that he serves Hashem in joy without drinking wine, but instead by studying Torah, for “the orders of the L-RD are upright, rejoicing the heart” (Psalms 19:9). We find this idea alluded to in the word nazir, which is formed by the letters of the word ner and the letters yud and zayin. Ner (“lamp”) – these are the mitzvot, for “a mitzvah is a ner [lamp] and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23) – and the letters yud and zayin have the same numerical value as the word tov (“good”). Now tov refers to the Torah, for there is nothing good other than Torah (Perkei Avoth 6:3). This means that the Nazir sanctifies himself by performing mitzvot and studying Torah.
Furthermore, who among us does not know that escorting the dead is a great mitzvah? This mitzvah is among those whose fruits are eaten in this world, while the principle is reserved for the World to Come (Peah 1:1). If the deceased has nobody to take care of him, if he has no heirs, the mitzvah is dozens of times greater. However the Nazir, once again, sanctifies himself in what is permitted and does not allow himself to become impure for a corpse. He does not participate in a funeral, but instead elevates himself with supreme holiness.
Consequently, in our time each person can also resemble a Nazir. However this does not mean that he is already a Nazir and deserving of its rewards if he refrains from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and participating in funerals. Absolutely not! These are only meant to teach us that the essential thing is to “sanctify yourself in what is permitted,” meaning that we must become holy by distancing ourselves from permitted things as well. Let us inflict a little damage to our cravings for material things, all while broadening the extent of our holiness. Then we will truly be like a Nazir devoted to Hashem.