Parshas Nasso (5770)
One of the most fascinating concepts in the Torah is that of the Nazirite - a person who accepts upon himself a vow of nezirus, whereby he pledges to adopt a state of holiness and to practice abstinence from worldly pleasures for a certain period of time.
The most famous Nazirite of all time was the biblical Samson. Remember the guy with the long hair and the muscular body, who pushed those two huge marble columns, causing the entire stadium to topple on to all those bad Philistines?
He might have been portrayed in the movies as Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger rolled into one, but in reality Samson was a very holy man. That's what Nazirites are – real holy people – and all the additional restrictions they take upon themselves, such as letting their hair grow and refraining from wine and grape products, are supposed to reflect a state of holiness and elevation that they have adopted for a certain period of time.
So what does all this have to do with us today living in North America in the twenty-first century?
Surprisingly, more than we think. You see, whether we realize it or not, the fact is that each and every one of us was raised by our own parents as a Nazirite!
I mean, think about it …. what are the three restrictions that the Torah requires for someone who adopts a "Nazirite lifestyle"? (a) A Nazirite is forbidden to drink wine; (b) A Nazirite has to let his/her hair grow; and (c) A Nazirite must stay far away from dead bodies. [See Parshas Naso, Numbers 6:1-21]
The commentaries explain that wine represents sensual, hedonistic pleasure. Hair, says Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, can be considered as insulating the skin and reducing receptiveness to outer influences, so that allowing the hair to grow would then express the idea of keeping oneself isolated from the negative influences of the outside world. And death and dead bodies remind one of the lack of freedom of his physical nature, and how we are compelled by the forces of nature.
By refraining from these three things, the Nazirite is sheltering himself from overindulgence in physical pleasure, corruptive influences from the outside world, and from death and dying, which give us the scary and morbid feeling that we're all going to die someday, so we might as well do whatever we feel like doing now, while we're still alive.
Well, isn't that the same thing our parents did for us (I hope) when we were little kids? They didn't let us drink wine and other types of beverages; they did all they could to shelter us from all the corruptive and immoral influences in the world (e.g. no late-night television or R-rated movies, etc.); and we were not exposed to any scary or morbid scene (such as a horror movie) which might in some way destroy our childhood innocence. Our folks wanted us, as children, to have unlimited potential, free from any environmental factor that might hinder our ability to grow and mature in a sociologically healthy and morally proper way.
Then, as we grew older, we were granted the "privilege" of drinking whatever we want, viewing whatever we want, and exposing ourselves to all types of things that can corrupt us. And all those beautiful childhood dreams were now blurred by the various activities and influences that serve to distort our perception of who we really are.
That "inner child" (you'll forgive me for the psychobabble) that dreams of great things and has unlimited potential, is called the neshamah, or soul. It is who we really are – because what we really want to be and long for is who we really are.
The problem is, though, that we have stuffed ourselves with all types of over- indulgences, and have let influences outside of ourselves change the way we think and feel.
Maybe we have become “intoxicated” with our careers and have put our families on the back burner. Maybe we have filled our minds with images and fantasies from the media and elsewhere that have distorted our sense of reality and have caused us to lose touch with all the wonderful things we do have. Maybe we have stopped dreaming about life and its endless possibilities, and instead have become stagnant and fatalistic, viewing life as death postponed.
Sometimes in life it’s good for us to pull back a bit and do the "Nazirite thing". You know …. stop drinking the intoxicating beverage, let the hair grow, and stay away from death and the negative, unhealthy feelings of despair it brings with it ….. and start experiencing life as it was meant to be. Like Shabbos, for example. Shabbos is a time to shift the focus of our lives from “what we do” to “who we are”. A time to enjoy the reality of our lives, not the Hollywood version.
This is the message of the Nazirite that G-d wrote in His wonderful Torah over 3300 years ago, and its inherent lessons still hold true today.