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Nazirites and Nunneries

by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

  

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The mightiest man in the Bible was, of course, Samson. He took on the most savage of beasts and leveled a stadium with his bare hands. In the end, Samson was undone by a haircut--Delilah cut his hair and he lost his strength. Why should such an innocuous event have sapped his strength? The answer is that Samson was a Nazirite. And as such, the sacred vow of the Nazirite precludes him from cutting his hair, coming into contact with the dead, and drinking wine.

At the end of a person's Nazirite period there were certain atonement offerings he needed to bring to the Temple. The Talmud asks why should a Nazirite, who essentially has taken upon himself voluntary curbs and prohibitions beyond the letter of the law, be required to seek atonement? What sin did he commit? One Talmudic opinion suggests that the fact that he denied himself the pleasure of drinking wine is considered sinful.

Do we need to divorce ourselves from society in order to be holy?
Now the question is why is it wrong to deny oneself anything? Just because the Creator allows us to enjoy the fruit of the vine, is it wrong to decline? Will I really be held accountable for every product that bears a Kosher certification which I choose to do without? Just because a popular ice cream was recently approved by the Kashrut authorities, am I a sinner for sticking to sorbet? And if I haven't yet made it to that fancy kosher restaurant in Manhattan, am I desperately in need of some atonement?

The answer, it would appear, has more to do with attitude than with blatant iniquity. What is the right way to live? What should be our approach to G-d's creation and the material world? Do we need to divorce ourselves from society in order to be holy? Should we reject anything that isn't wholly spiritual because we fear it may interfere with our piety?

We follow neither rejectionist nor escapist theologies
There are ideologies which preach celibacy and revere those who sequester themselves from the daily grind of worldly activity. They see the body as unclean and marriage is a less than ideal concession to human frailty. Then there are some who climb mountains to escape to the spiritual realms. The heavens are far more blissful and beautiful than the crass street corners and alleyways of city life.

Judaism sees it differently. We follow neither rejectionist nor escapist theologies. We embrace and engage G-d's world. Of course, there are clear guidelines, even rules and regulations. But within the Torah framework we should work with the Almighty's universe. "In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth." Earthiness, too, is part of His vast, eternal plan. That plan is that earthly beings, men and women, should invest their time, energy, wealth and wisdom to infuse G-dliness into the material realm.

A yeshivah is not meant to be a monastery but a school which will teach and train our students to add spiritual value within the material world
Every Mitzvah we do achieves just that. We take the physical and transform it to the spiritual, not by breaking it or running away from it, but by confronting it and molding it into something sacred and purposeful.

"Jews have no nunneries," goes the proverb. A yeshivah is not meant to be a monastery but a school which will teach and train our students to add spiritual value within the material world. So the Nazirite, who in his quest for heightened spirituality, found it necessary because of his own moral weakness to distance himself from that which the Creator has permitted us, is somewhat sinful after all. And his attitude does indeed require some atonement.

Judaism calls upon us to live a higher, otherworldly life within this world. Rather than allowing the emptiness of a society to bring us down, we are challenged to assertively insist on changing our society for the better.

By all means drink the wine; but make sure you make Kiddush and say L'Chaim!
 


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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » Joshua, The Judges
Chassidism » Chassidic Concepts

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Kashrut
Laws of Kosher (Jewish dietary laws).
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.