Spirituality in Pleasure – Naso 5783

D'var Torah | Numbers

A line of thought suggests that the Nazirite – the fellow who forswears cutting his hair, drinking wine, and coming into contact with the dead (Numbers 6:3-6) – is attempting to draw close to God. Becoming a nazir was a vehicle for adding godliness to the lives of those who were not born to the priesthood. If this were so, then the sacrifice that attends the conclusion of his period of abstemiousness should not include a sin offering (Numbers 6:11). Voluntarily drawing closer to God is surely not a sin and should not be treated as such!

One Talmudic authority takes up this very question. Rabbi Elazar Ha-Kappar says that the nazir did indeed commit a sin: denying himself the pleasure of drinking wine: “He caused himself distress by refraining from drinking wine” (Ta’anit 11a). On Rabbi Elazar’s view, God created a wondrous world filled with ample delights available for human beings to enjoy. Rejecting these pleasures is not a statement of self-control or spiritual achievement but a fundamental rejection of God’s goodness, blessings, and love. Consequently, the nazir must bring a sin offering.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Nazir 4a) seems to concur. Shimon Ha-tzaddik is the first sage mentioned in Pirkei Avot. Although we have little information about him, it appears that he was the High Priest at the beginning of Greek rule in Israel and that it was he who welcomed Alexander the Great. The text reports that he was averse to accepting any sin offering by a nazirite, except for one. A particularly attractive shepherd had beautiful curly hair. Shimon Ha-tzaddik asked him why he chose to become a nazir and obligate himself to cut off his hair at the end of the period of separation. The answer, that he was trying to protect himself from the evil inclination, is less important that the question. Shimon Ha-tzaddik was appalled by anyone who wanted to sacrifice something delightful.

Expressing spirituality does not require self-denial but appreciation of the beauty and pleasures of life.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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