Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Shedding Your Old Self Nazir 18 and Too Hard, Too Easy Nazir 19 Psych and Daf

Shedding Your Old Self Nazir 18

On this daf we compare the shaving of the Nazir to the shaving of the Metzora. In actuality, there are three shaving rituals in Biblical Judaism: Metzora, Nazir and the initiation of the Levites (Mishna Negaim 14:4.) (There is a fourth, if you count the custom of Upsherin.) Sefer Hachinuch (174) explains that the common thread in all three of these rituals is to signal a rebirth, as a newborn infant who is relatively hairless. The Levites inaugurated a new plane of existence in service of God, while the Metzora’s purification signals a healing and a renewed commitment to spiritual and resultant physical health. The Nazir as well concludes his program of self abnegation with a healthier balance and perspective on indulgence versus participation in life.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Derech Mitzvosecha Giluach Metzora) notes that there is a difference between the shaving of the Nazir and the other two. The Nazir’s hair is described by the Torah as holy, as well as actually incorporated in the sacrifice (Bamidbar 6:5 and 6:18.) It seems that the Metzora and Levites shed their hair as something to discard, while the Nazir’s hair is revered. He attributes this to the symbolic and mystical function of hair. As we have discussed in Psychology of the Daf Nazir 9, hair is an emanation from the head (intellect), and represents emanations from God. Like hair, God’s emanations are relatively lifeless, that is devoid of His full essence and power, in comparison to the originating source. All things in the world, good or evil, pure or impure, still owe their existence to God. However, some emanations are more alive and more connected to God. The Nazir’s holy hair, and for that matter, his attempts at abstention balanced by a new and appropriate engagement in the world, represents tapping into and receiving God’s emanations in the highest form. This is why his hair is venerated. The metzora and incumbent Levite sheds his hair to shed his old engagement in the world toward a newer, more Godly connection.

Nazir 19 Sometimes Too Hard, Sometimes Too Easy

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph repeats the often quoted exhortation of Rabbi Elazar HaKappar:

דְּתַנְיָא רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַקַּפָּר בְּרַבִּי אוֹמֵר מָה תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר וְכִפֶּר עָלָיו מֵאֲשֶׁר חָטָא עַל הַנָּפֶשׁ וְכִי בְּאֵיזוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חָטָא זֶה אֶלָּא שֶׁצִּיעֵר עַצְמוֹ מִן הַיַּיִן וְקַל וָחוֹמֶר וּמָה זֶה שֶׁלֹּא צִיעֵר עַצְמוֹ אֶלָּא מִן הַיַּיִן נִקְרָא חוֹטֵא הַמְצַעֵר עַצְמוֹ מִכׇּל דָּבָר עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה

As it is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Elazar HaKappar, the esteemed one, says: What is the meaning when the verse states with regard to a nazirite: “And make atonement for him, for he sinned by the soul” (Numbers 6:11)? And with which soul did this person sin by becoming a nazirite? Rather, in afflicting himself by abstaining from wine, he is considered to have sinned with his own soul, and he must bring a sin-offering for the naziriteship itself, for causing his body to suffer. And an a fortiori inference can be learned from this: Just as this person, in afflicting himself by abstaining only from wine, is nevertheless called a sinner, in the case of one who afflicts himself by abstaining from everything, through fasting or other acts of mortification, all the more so is he described as a sinner. According to this opinion, Rabbi Yishmael holds that since the woman afflicted herself by abstaining from wine she must bring a sin-offering, even though, due to her husband’s nullification, she did not actually become a nazirite.

וְהָא בְּנָזִיר טָמֵא כְּתִיב וַאֲנַן אֲפִילּוּ נָזִיר טָהוֹר קָאָמְרִינַן קָסָבַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַקַּפָּר נָזִיר טָהוֹר נָמֵי חוֹטֵא הוּא וְהַיְינוּ טַעְמָא דִּכְתִיב בְּנָזִיר טָמֵא הוֹאִיל וְשָׁנָה בַּחֵטְא:

The Gemara raises a difficulty with Rabbi Elazar HaKappar’s dictum: But this verse, labeling the nazirite a sinner, is written with regard to an impure nazirite, and we are saying that even a pure nazirite is a sinner. The Gemara answers: Rabbi Elazar HaKappar holds that a pure nazirite is also a sinner. And this is the reason that the statement that a nazirite is a sinner is written in reference to an impure nazirite rather than a pure one: Because he repeated his sin.

There are different interpretations as to what it means that he repeated his sin. The simple peshat is that he should have taken extra care to prevent this from happening. Or possibly now that he is stuck extending his Nazirhood much longer, his original sin of abstention is made worse, because even if he was able to engage in this activity with full purity of heart, and without resentment, by now, it is almost impossible not to resent it, He should have foreseen this before he undertook this vow. (Apropos to this, on Amud Beis we learn about Queen Helene who vowed to be a Nazira for seven years, and unfortunately had to repeat it, at least once maybe twice, for either 14 or 21 years. We will see more about that tomorrow on Daf 20. However, it would seem that she acccepted the disappointments and repetitions with humility and grace.)

Ein Eliyahu on Ein Yaakov offers a different twist on this teaching. He says, by the very fact that he did not not succeed in completing the Nazirus without the mishap of being exposed to a corpse shows that he did not have the correct intention, and therefore was not fully accepted by God and his efforts were undermined. There is this concept in Jewish philosophy known as, “he did not receive (Divine) assistance” ״לא מסתייעא מילתא, (see for example Bava Metzi’a 85b, Sanhedrin 14a, Kesuvos 60b and Chulin 5b.) Sometimes, it is important to make efforts, but also to recognize that if the efforts run into numerous roadblocks, it is a sign that one is not receiving divine approval. And it follows to reason, that if one is successful and things go smoothly, it is a sign of Divine assistance and approval. There is a an ancient Chinese concept of Wu Wei , which might be considered as a combination of equanimity that we discussed in Psychology of the Daf Nazir 15, and also this idea of not trying too hard. It is a form of acceptance and flowing with things, while working in the reality.

However, if sometimes if things seem too easy and you find yourself too energetic, perhaps it’s because you are being driven by the Yetzer Hara. I have not seen this stated explicitly, though something close to this is stated in Ahavas Chessed II:10. Regardless, it feels intuitively true.

When I was still a young Bochur in Yeshiva, I overheard a discussion amongst the older more respected bochurim at lunchtime. The “hock” was, is it a mitzvah or is it not a mitzvah to clean up the lunch table. No one was arguing that it was a rule in the Yeshiva and it was “the right thing” to do. The question was, is it a mitzvah or just something you have to do for manners, like not to pick your nose. I took a risk and budded into the conversation with my thoughts.  It was a social risk as I was much younger, but what I told them earned their grudging respect, and the beginning of admittance into this echelon. I said, “Clearly, since you folks have a tremendous Yetzer Hara not to do this, and not to clean up, it must be that it is a big mitzvah.“ If we get too engaged or too excited about a so-called machlokes l’shem shamayim, we should be wary. If there isn’t much Yetzer Hara pushing against us, we must wonder if somehow the Yetzer Hara wants us to do it.

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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