(photo credit: Courtesy)
In this week’s Torah reading we read about a unique observance: The rule of the
When we hear the term “Nazirite,” we imagine an individual who
abstains completely from worldly pleasures and lives a celibate, solitary and
self-mortifying life. But the Nazirite that the Torah describes is quite
The Torah speaks of a person who has taken upon himself
certain obligations for a period of 30 days: to abstain from wine, not to shave
or cut his hair, or to come near a dead body. At the end of this short period,
the Torah instructs the Nazirite to shave and drink wine, and permits him to
approach the dead.
The Torah’s attitude to such an individual is
ambivalent. On one hand, he is referred to as holy: “The crown of his G-d is
upon his head... all the days of abstinence he is holy.”
On the other hand, the Torah also refers to him as a “sinner”: "And [the Cohen]
shall atone for him his sin.” (Numbers 6:11) What is the meaning of this
ambivalent attitude? Does the Torah see abstinence from worldly pleasures as a
sin, or as holiness? In the commandment regarding the Nazirite, we see the
biblical approach to rehabilitation from the misuse of alcohol.
full of pleasure, joy and verve is the Torah’s ideal. In contrast with other
religions, Judaism does not idolize the Nazirite who abstains from social life,
nor does it look kindly upon one who brings suffering upon himself.
the contrary, the ideal person enjoys life, naturally within the bounds of
Jewish law, the Halacha. These limits offer him the ability to morally evaluate
his desires, and do not permit him to become uncontrollably driven by his drive
Sometimes, however, an individual sees that he is losing
control over his desires. He feels that he is being driven by his
In this sort of situation, the Torah suggests that he take
“time out.” For a month he abstains from wine and grooming, by not shaving or
cutting his hair. These 30 days of self-restraint will help him achieve balance
and return his ability to curb his passions.
Indeed, an individual of
this sort is “holy” – but he should realize that this is not the ideal
situation. Had he considered his actions, he would not have needed a month of
Had he controlled his desires, he could have continued to pay
attention to his grooming and enjoyed a glass of wine from time to time. This is
why there is an aspect of “sin” in the abstinence of a Nazirite.
many, many years the observance of the Nazirite laws has nearly completely
disappeared among the Jewish people. But the message of these laws applies today
If we enjoy life wisely, keeping our desires in check and
setting moral boundaries for ourselves, then our enjoyment will be complete and
proper, and we will lead Jewish, moral and enjoyable lives.The writer is
rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.