By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber
In this week’s Torah reading we are introduced to the “Nazir.” A Nazir is someone who accepts upon him/herself to conduct him/herself with extra holiness for a certain amount of time, no less than thirty days consecutively. During the period of time which one is a Nazir, he/she must refrain from three things: Drinking wine or consuming any grape products, getting a haircut and becoming impure from a deceased person. (There is a set of complex laws as to how a person is contaminated spiritually by a dead human being.)
While ordinarily we do not find the Torah discouraging participating in such activities (with the exception of Kohanim, the priestly tribe, who are also ordinarily forbidden from becoming contaminated by the dead,) the Torah prescribed this “program” for one who is seeking a “spiritual boost.” Refraining from spiritual contamination from the deceased adds an element of purity, and the other segments nurture a spirit of holiness. Refraining from drinking wine exercises self-restraint from pursuing one’s temptations. (The prohibition against other grape products is just to serve as a precaution.) Abstaining from getting a haircut, encourages less indulgence in beautifying one’s self. One who accepts upon him/herself this set of rules has earned the respectable title of a “Nazir” for the duration of which it is in practice. The Ibn Ezra (6:7) brings an opinion that the word “Nazir” is derived from the word Nezer which means a crown. Why is the Nazir graced with a crown? The Ibn Ezra says as follows: “And you should know, that all human beings are slaves of their worldly lusts, and the true king who has a royal crown on is head is anyone who is free from the lusts.”
I once heard this idea illustrated nicely by Rabbi Yisroel Belsky as follows: Imagine a slave of a decent man. As respectable as the master may be, being a slave to another person is inherently a degradation in his status as a person. His choices are not his own, he must follow his master’s orders at all times of day, no matter how difficult the assignments may be. A step lower would be being the slave of a young teenager. Such a master is bound to not always have the best of judgements, and will certainly order the slave around at times in an immature way. But a slave is a slave, and the slave must obey whatever the master commands of him, even if he is mistreated and ordered to do embarrassing tasks. A grade lower would be a slave to an infant. The slave must run around changing diapers and wiping the child’s nose. This master will have his slave play with him in the dirt, roll around on the floor and be forced to obey orders issued by someone young enough to be his son. The next step is to be a slave to a dog. His master doesn’t even talk to him. He must get up at the sound of a bark and run to fulfill the wish of his master. He sleeps out in the dog house and is busy fetching bones and playing doggy games. And then, we have a slave to a chocolate bar. As the slave passes by the chocolate bar, the chocolate bar issues the command “Eat me!” And the slave, who is powerless against his master, takes a deep bow and says, “Yes master, I shall fulfill your order without delay.”
A Nazir is crowned with kingship as he breaks the yoke of this master and assumes the role of being his own master, subjugating his lusts to his control. He is not dictated to by his lusts any more, rather he becomes the one to control his lusts instead. He does not give in to the orders the wine gives him to be drunk or to his natural desires to beautify himself with cut hair. We are all slaves to one thing or another. We have different worldly desires which we are so used to fulfilling without giving it a second thought. For all intents and purposes we are enslaved to that thing. We no longer feel a choice as to whether we should follow through with what we desire or not, we obey the lust like a faithful slave who does not even consider that he could choose otherwise. While it may not necessarily be advisable for us to take upon ourselves to be an actual Nazir, we too can work on freeing ourselves from our own slavery in our own ways. If we choose one area which we will not subjugate ourselves to our lusts, and let ourselves choose at times to refrain and disobey our instincts, we will have extracted ourselves from a lowly master and we can start leading life with true freedom.
Very inspiring. Strengthens me to be more aware of outside pressures urging me to do things I should not. Even being aware of reacting to others who try to push my”buttons.”