Parshat Naso by Ari Hart
The Nazir’s Sin
Is the nazir a role model or a societal failure? Is taking the vow to be praised or shunned? And why does the nazir have to bring a korban chatat, a sin offering, at the end of his time as a nazir?
That last question, the question of the chatat offering, is a powerful key to understanding the very essence of the nazir. The mefarshim understand the korban in different ways. Two of the most important shitot, that of the Ramban and the Rambam, are as follows:
1. The Ramban holds that the nazir needs to bring the korban chatat because he is committing the sin of ending his nezirut. The act of becoming a nazir was a positive one: he left behind the excesses and trappings of the world and entered a more separate, elevated way of life. The return to his normal status is in some sense a fall, a sin he must atone for.
2. The Rambam on the other hand writes in the Mishneh Torah (Deot 3:1) that a person should not say to himself: “Since material desires lead a person to sin, I will avoid these physical pleasures like wine, meat, and sex.” The sin of the nazir is that he forbid himself what the Torah permitted in the first place! He is sinful because he was not able to manage his own behavior, leading him to resort to an extreme. The nazir must do penance for this act.
Last year Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz shared with me a third possibility that I liked very much. Perhaps the nazir’s sin is as follows:
The nazir sees a world of temptation and corruption, a scary world he does not want to be sucked into. So, he says “I will have no part of that – I will not corrupt myself in that way!” And he puts in place mechanisms to maintain his own purity and correct behavior. However, what has he actually accomplished? Has he changed any of the things that bothered him about the society? Has he helped others to overcome the temptation and corruption? No. Therein lies his sin.
Today, many of us see things that corrupt our world. Policies, organizations, ideas, etc… And many of us respond by abstaining from those things, by staying away, by davka being not them. That is a step, but the message of the nazir is that it is incomplete. If our activism consists merely of defining what we are not: what we don’t like, what we don’t agree with, what we don’t support, than it is in some sense sinful. We must seek and engage with solutions and not just sit back, removed from the problems. Our own moral purity is worth very little if we have not had any affect on the greater whole. This is the message of the nazir.