Nasso 5777

The nazirite vow: ideal or criminal?[1]

וזאת תורת הנזיר ביום מלאת ימי נזרו…והקריב את-קרבנו ליקוק כבש בן-שנתו תמים אחד לעלה וכבשה אחת בת-שנתה תמימה לחטאת…
This is the law of the Nazir, on the day that he completes his nazirite-vow…He will bring as his offering to Hashem: one unblemished, year old male lamb as an elevation offering and one unblemished, year old female lamb as a sin offering…[2]

The Torah describes[3] the idea of someone who decides to become a Nazir. This is someone who for a specific amount of time, as a means to get closer to spirituality, vows to refrain from certain pleasures and activities. Specifically this refers to refraining from consuming wine and grape products, not trimming any of their hair, and avoiding ritual impurity from the dead (even close relatives). The most famous Nazir was Shimshon (Samson)[4], and some even say[5] the prophet Shmuel (Samuel) was a Nazir. The nazirite period can be as short as thirty days[6] and as long as a lifetime. The Torah explains the process that occurs after the nazirite period is over. The person has to go through a series of steps before returning to normal life. Included in this is the requirement to bring several offerings.

One of the offerings they are required to bring is a sin offering. The Ramban asks[7]: why does the Nazir have to bring a sin offering? Sin offerings are usually reserved for people who unwittingly committed severe crimes[8]. The Torah describes a Nazir as being a holy person[9], dedicated to the service of Hashem. What was his sin[10]? The Ramban initially says the reason for the sin offering isn’t explained anywhere. The problem is the gemarra explicitly says[11] why a Nazir is considered a sinner. It’s because he caused himself unnecessary suffering by refraining from worldly pleasures[12]. He chose to refrain from that which was permissible to him, and the Torah holds him accountable on some level for this. How could the Ramban ignore the gemarra? What the Ramban is referring to is that the gemarra clarifies this statement as only applying to a Nazir who became ritually impure[13]. What about a Nazir who never became impure, who completed his nazirite vow? This is what the Ramban means when he says that there is no explanation given anywhere why a Nazir brings a sin offering[14].

Some suggest[15] that really refraining from wine is a sin. However, becoming a Nazir is considered a big mitzvah. Someone who does a big mitzvah cannot be called a sinner. Regardless, there is still an element of sin there, that’s why he has to bring a sin offering[16]. This is unlike someone who became spiritually impure, he’s known as a sinner. Others suggest a different approach[17]. Someone who refrains from wine is considered a sinner, but not when they do it for the sake of being a Nazir. Avoiding the pleasures of life without reason is unjustified, whereas becoming a Nazir is considered a lofty goal. Someone who became ritually impure has their Nazir status cancelled out. It comes out that retroactively they refrained from wine without a purpose. That’s why they’re considered a sinner.

The Ramban is going with the second approach. According to this approach, there’s no gemarra that explains why a Nazir who never became ritually impure has to bring a sin offering[18]. So what is the reason? The Ramban says that the Nazir is on such a lofty level, it would have been fitting for him to remain at this level forever. He needs atonement for reverting back to the status he used to have. What can we take away from this Ramban? It’s true, someone who reaches a high level cannot necessarily stay there. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean they have to lose what they gained. A person can’t stay inspired forever. However, it would be a waste to let that inspiration dissipate without any lasting impression. During every Yom Tov a person can reach very high level; they can be inspired to improve. That intensity tends to wear off after a few days, and that’s normal. The goal is to take what you gained from those days and make sure it doesn’t go to waste. This is the lesson from a Nazir.

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on a shiur given by Rabbi Elimelech Reznick in 5773

[2] Numbers 6:13-14

[3] ibid verses 1-21

[4] Judges 13:5

[5] Nazir 9:5

[6] ibid 1:3

[7] Numbers 6:14

[8] See Kerisos 1:1 for a list of sins that require a sin offering (excluding the korbon Pesach and milah)

[9] Numbers 6:8

[10] The Ran to Nedarim 4b s.v. חטאת חלב says that the offering isn’t really for atonement for any sin, but doesn’t give an explanation what the purpose really is

[11] Nazir 3a; Nedarim 10a; Bava Kamma 91b

[12] The Rambam in Hilchos De’os 3:1 and in Shemoneh Perakim Chapter 4 seems to take on that this is always the case. However, see Moreh Nevuchim 3:8, 38, 54. Also see http://dafyomi.co.il/nedarim/halachah/nd-hl-004.htm for a list of explanations how this can be the halachic conclusion from the gemarra when Abaye in Nedarim 10a puts this view in a “shita”, and the halacha never follows a shita (Ran to Sukkah 7b)

[13] The verse the gemarra uses to deduce his sin is Numbers 6:11, which refers to a Nazir who unwittingly became ritually impure, breaking his vow

[14] This isn’t a completely clear explanation as the gemarra in Nedarim loc. cit. says explicitly that a Nazir in either case is a sinner for refraining from wine; it’s just the one who came in contact with the dead is worse

[15] Tosafos to Bava Kamma loc. cit. s.v. אלא שציער

[16] Tosafos don’t say this, and they are really coming to answer a different question. However, Rabbi Reznick implies this is the outcome of Tosafos’ opinion

[17] Shita Mekubetzes ad. loc. who brings Mahari Katz quoting Rav Yosef

[18] See note 11

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