Tuesday, March 25, 2008


By Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The Torah details the laws which apply to one who makes a vow to be a nazir. He must refrain from drinking wine and eating fresh grapes and raisins, grapeseeds and skins. He may not shave his hair; rather he must let it grow long. A nazir may also not defile himself by coming in contact with a corpse. And when the term of his vow has ended, and the nazir wishes to revert to his former life, he must first shave off all his hair and then bring korbanos, offerings, to Hashem. In total, there are ten mitzvos pertaining to the nazir (Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvos 368:377).

The mitzvos which are enumerated in the parsha of nazir were given by Hashem in order to provide a means of self-sanctification for one who wishes to do so. The Chinuch (mitzva 374) writes that by abstaining from wine, one breaks his desires and humbles himself. (While one's main focus should be on spiritual pursuits, nevertheless one should not ignore his physical needs. Abstaining from wine allows the nazir to break his desires in a manner that is not detrimental to his health, Sefer HaChinuch, ibid.)

The Chinuch adds that this is also why the nazir must let his hair grow long. By not concerning himself with his appearance, he humbles himself. Similarly, the nazir shaves his hair completely at the end of his nazirus because there is no doubt that either, extremely long hair or totally bald distorts the appearance of man.

The Chinuch proves that the purpose for growing the hair is to subdue the yetzar hara, evil inclination from the following anecdote recorded in the Gemara (Nedarim 9b). "Shimon Hatzaddik (who was the Kohen Gadol) related that once a certain nazir appeared before him. The man had beautiful eyes, was very good looking and his locks were arranged in curls. Shimon Hatzaddik asked him: 'Why do you make a vow of nazirus, which necessitates that you destroy your beautiful hair?' (For he will be required to shave his head at the end of his nazirus.) The man replied: 'I was a shepherd for my father. Once I went to draw water from the well and gazed at my reflection in the water. My yetzer hara seized me and wished to drive me from the world. I said - Rasha (wicked one), why are you conceited in a world that is not yours, with one who is destined to be consumed by maggots and worms? I swear that I will shave you for the sake of Heaven.' "

The Steipler Gaon, HaRav Y. Y. Kanievsky zt"l observes that although the shepherd did not mention the sin that the yetzer hara was enticing him to transgress, nevertheless from his response to himself, we see that he was concerned lest he become conceited. Indeed there is nothing that can drive one from both this world and the next, other than ga'ava, haughtiness. As it is written: "It is an abomination to Hashem, all who are haughty in their heart (Mishlei 16:5)." Chazal also say that regarding one who is conceited, Hashem says: "I and him cannot live in the world together" (Sota 5a). The Shechina departs from a ba'al ga'ava and he is left to his own defenses to combat his yetzer hara and survive in this world.

The Steipler continues that when one is praised for his accomplishments, he is overjoyed. At times, he might let this joy "go to his head" and he begins thinking that he is deserving of honor. One must be wary lest he fall into the trap of haughtiness. We see how this shepherd trembled when he saw his handsome features and realized that it might lead him to ga'ava. He therefore took an oath of nazirus.

HaRav Yerucham Levovitz zt"l points out that growing one's hair can have the opposite effect and can lead to ga'ava as is evident from Shimon Hatzaddik's story. It all depends on one's intent. One may become obsessed with his appearance and become conceited. Hashem despises such a person. On the other hand, if one lets his hair grow so that he appears disheveled, he will be humbled. Such an individual is Kadosh L'Hashem, holy to Hashem. Moreover, the hair itself becomes kadosh. This is meant literally - the law states that it is forbidden to derive pleasure from the hair of a nazir. Thus, the status of the nazir's hair is similar to the status of Kodashim (articles sanctified for the Beis Hamikdash).

This is the lesson of the nazir. We must realize the significance of humility. In addition, the nazir teaches us that we have the ability to elevate and sanctify ourselves. If by abstaining from wine and letting one's hair grow, a nazir is sanctified, all the more so, one who sincerely undertakes to improve himself and tackle his desires and bad character traits, is Kadosh and beloved to Hashem.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson and reprinted here with permission