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The Sin of the Nazarite

06/13/2022 09:45:02 AM


Rabbi Ranon Teller

In parashat Naso, we learn about the Nazarite. Those who want to take a break from civilization to work on their spiritual journey, may take on extra vows of abstention - no wine, no grapes, no shaving, and no haircuts.

Many religions and the spiritual systems encourage retreat from this world - Buddhist monks, nuns, priestly vows of abstinence. Our rabbis have a disagreement about the value of separating one’s self from the community and abstaining from worldly pleasures. The disagreement is about on the conclusion of the Nazarite period of abstinence. When it’s over, the Torah says that the Nazarite is required to bring a sin offering to the temple.

The question is: why is the sacrifice required? What did the Nazir do wrong?

Some rabbi say that the sin is about the return back to civilization. After spending this sacred time away from the community in a powerful, holy retreat, it’s sin to return back to civilization and resume to their former material life.

Other rabbis say that the sin is about taking time away in the first place. Judaism demands engagement in this world. The ideal is to maintain a pious life with all the challenges and distraction with living civilization.  

My rabbinic opinion is that sin offering is required because of the choice to separate one’s self from the community. Firstly, in Pirkei avot, the ethics of our ancestors, it says explicitly, “Don’t separate yourself from the community. Secondly, the optimal form of prayer requires a community of at least 10 people. Praying on your own is OK, but the ideal form of prayer and Jewish living is in community.

A story is told about Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the founder of Orthodox community in 19th century Germany. At the end of his life, he gathered his students around him to speak to them on his deathbed. He said, “take me to Switzerland”. His students were surprise and asked him. “Reb Hirsch, of all places, of all last requests, why do you want to go Switzerland?” He explained, “Very soon I will be in the next world, standing before God. And in that moment, I will be asked many questions and I’ll have good answers for most of them except one. What will I say when God asks  – “Reb Shimshon, did you see my Alps?”

God doesn’t just want us to follow the rules. God wants us to partake in the wonder of this world. God gives us everything and God wants us to receive it fully and appreciate all of the wonders of this world.

And when we separate ourselves from the Glory of this world, we are not living the ideal. Judaism is about the struggle to live a pious life in this world without the need to separate ourselves. That’s what I take away from the requirement of the nazarite sin offering. Yes, we understand the need to take break once in a while to work on ourselves, but it’s still not the ideal. The sin of the Nazerite’s isolation requires a sin offering upon return to God’s vision of receiving all the gifts that God gives to us.

Ribono shel Olam, our living and giving Source of all, help us to appreciate the wonder and beauty of this world. My we appreciate the earth and everything in it. May we appreciate the beautiful souls that we encounter in our community, in our lives and in our homes. And while we enjoy all the God gives, may we become more aware of the Divine Spirit and the guidance of mitzvot that God gives; to love each other, love ourselves, and to love God and appreciate God’s gifts.

Mon, September 25 2023 10 Tishrei 5784