Friday, May 25, 2007

A Muse: Naso 2007

In Numbers 6:1-21 we read of the laws of the nazirite. A nazir (consecrated or separated) may not drink wine, grapes, wine vinegar or raisins. He mustn’t cut his hair or beard and must avoid graves, corpses, even of family members.

The status of Nazir is complicated because on the one hand he is “holy unto the Lord” but at the same time he has to bring a sin offering. Which is it - is he holy or is he a sinner? Clearly there is ambivalence regarding the status of a nazir and this wasn’t lost on our sages. Rabbi Samuel Hakappar understood the sin to be that in taking on the vow, the nazir denied himself those pleasures allowed and encouraged in our Torah. Rabbi Eliezer on the other hand argued that being a nazir wasn’t a sin unless he defiled himself. Only then was he to bring the sin offering.

Either way one wishes to view the reason for the nazir’s penalty, all agree that the nazir is an extreme life style. Even according to R’Eliezer, while being a nazir may not be a sin, nevertheless the outcomes virtually assure the need to bring a sin offering. Extremism is discouraged in our tradition and he who chooses to take an oath to live in the extreme is violating our tradition even if he is holy to god.

There are times when we feel the need to assume extreme and inflexible positions either in our domestic relationships, business or in politics. The Torah portion is underscoring the need for caution. While our motives may be holy, the outcome may place us in a position where we need to seek expiation.