Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )
Bamidbar, 5:2: “Speak the Children of Israel, and you will say to them, ‘A man or a woman when he makes a vow to be a Nazir to Hashem.”
Rashi, 5:2: Dh:“…why is the Portion of Nazir next to the portion of Sotah? To teach that whoever sees a Sotah in her disgrace, will separate himself from the wine, as it brings to immorality.”
The Torah Portion of Nasso outlines the Mitzva of Sotah and immediately follows with the Mitzva of Nazir, whereby a person refrains from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and coming into contact with the dead. Rashi, citing the Gemara in Sotah1, explains that the Sotah involved herself in immoral behavior and suffered the humiliating process of the Sotah as a consequence. Very often, the catalyst of such behavior is drinking too much wine, therefore, a person who sees what happens to the Sotah, may be motivated to want to avoid her mistakes, and therefore he or she becomes a Nazir who is forbidden to drink wine.
However, the Gemara in Nazir2 brings a story that teaches a different reason for why a certain individual became a Nazir. Shimon haTzaddik (the righteous) said: “My entire life I never ate the guilt offering of an impure Nazir other than once (when he was convinced that this individual accepted upon himself the Nezirut laws strictly for the sake of Heaven). Once I saw a Nazir come from the South (to Jerusalem offer his sacrifice) and I saw that he was very handsome, and his hair was beautiful. I asked him, ‘My son, what prompted you to destroy this beautiful hair of yours’ (as is required in the ritual of bringing the Nezirutsacrifices at the completion of the period of Nezirut)? He told me, ‘I was a shepherd and I went to the well to draw water for my sheep. I saw my reflection in the water. I saw that my yetser hara (negative inclination) was getting a hold of me and was attempting to drive me from the world (because of arrogance). I said to my own negative inclination: ‘You wicked one, why do you get so excited about my beauty which is destined to one day turn into dust and worms. I swear that I will shave off my hair for the sake of Heaven.’ Shimon haTzadik concluded: “I immediately arose and kissed him on his head and blessed him, “My son, may the number of those who take Nezirut vows such as yours multiply in Israel. About people such as you it is written: ‘… a man or a woman who utters a Nezirutvow to dedicate himself to Hashem.3”
In this story, what motivated the young man to become a Nazir? Feelings of arrogance that came about because of his beautiful hair. Because of these feelings, he became a Nazir in order to grow his hair and then cut it and offer the accompanying sacrifices. Yet, according to the Rabbinic teaching cited by Rashi, a person becomes a Nazir not because of arrogance, rather due to feelings of lust to engage in immoral behavior. How do we understand this incongruity?
The Chiddushei Lev4 notes a similar discrepancy with regard to the Mitzva of Sotah which can help us answer the question about the Nazir. Rashi5, citing the Midrash, writes that a person only gets involved in immorality because of a ruach shtut (a spirit of insanity). The commentaries write that this refers to a spirit of desire that leads a person astray. Yet, the Talmud suggests a different cause for immorality: “Rebbe Chiya Bar Abba says in the name of Rebbe Yochanan, ‘any man who has haughtiness will in the end stumble in forbidden relations with a married woman. Again, there seems to be a contradiction between the causes of immoral behavior that can lead to the tragic case of the Sotah – is it lust or arrogance?
The Chiddushei Lev answers that the direct cause of the sin of the Sotah is lust, but that the root cause of being lustful is arrogance. He explains that when he a person is arrogant, he believes that he is deserving of anything he wants, and therefore, he is willing to break boundaries to get what he thinks he deserves. The Chiddushei Lev cites a Midrash6 in this vein that relates a story of a married man who wanted to act immorally with another woman, but his plans were foiled. His wife rebuked him that most men are happy if they are married, but he was greedy for more, and the cause of that greed his arrogance.
In the words of the Chiddushei Lev: “Since it is the way of a man to only lust after things that according to his opinion, he is deserving of and he can thereby attain them, if the man was not an arrogant person, then he would not desire to act immorally with the wife of another man, since he would feel that he is not deserving of more than he has, as is the case with most men who are satisfied with their wives and do not look for more.”
It is possible to apply the same approach to the contradiction in Nazir. We asked that the Talmud in Sotah teaches that a person becomes a Nazir because of feelings of lust, whereas the Talmud in Nazir cited the instance of the young man who became a Nazir because of feelings of arrogance. In truth, both negative traits can cause a person to sin and therefore a person may be motivated to become a Nazir because of lustful feelings or arrogant feelings. However, based on the principle of the Chiddushei Lev, the underlying cause of his lust is in fact his arrogance, because that attitude leads him to believe that he has a right to all kinds of pleasures.
This idea can possibly help us understand why Shimon HaTzaddik suspected that every Nazir he knew was not acting for the sake of Heaven with the exception of this young man. Perhaps we can suggest that he was focusing on the trait of arrogance which is the root cause of just, hence by striving purely to humble himself, he would thereby also control his lusts. However, most people become Nazirs because they are scared of the consequences of becoming too lustful, and while this is a commendable attitude, it does not address the underlying cause of the lustful feelings – arrogance. Consequently, such a person may try to be a Nazir but may be swayed from acting totally for pure motives by his underlying feelings of arrogance.
We have learnt that sins involving immorality often have at their root feelings of arrogance, when a person has the attitude that he deserves every kind of pleasure. By focusing on humbly appreciating what he has, he can begin to address the root cause of immoral behavior.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Sotah, 2a.Nazir, 4b.
- Bamidbar, 6:2.
- Chiddushei Lev, Nasso, pp.17-18.
- Bamidbar, 5:12.
- Bamidbar Rabbah, 9:3.
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