Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 31 May 2014 / 2 Sivan 5774

Parshat Nasso

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

In this Parsha the Torah discusses the subjects of the Sotah, or suspected adulteress and the Nazir, the individual who, for a minimum of thirty days, refrains from wine and all grape products, lets his hair grow and does not come into contact with the deceased, even members of his own family. Abarbanel cites the Talmudic statement that the reason the subject of Nazir follows the subject of Sotah is that “One who sees the disgrace of the suspected adulteress will vow to abstain from wine, since it is wine that can bring one to adultery.” Abarbanel states that this reason seems insufficient. Since the Nazir has to bring sacrificial offerings either at the end of this period or if he did become ritually impure due to accidental contact with a deceased individual, this whole section should have been included in the book of Vayikra where all the sacrificial offerings are detailed.

Abarbanel answers that this is actually the most appropriate point to discuss the subject of Nazir. The previous parshiot represent the progression of the spiritual purification of the nation. Starting with the construction of the Tabernacle, the Torah has divided the nation into the Kohanim, the Levi’im and each of the tribes under its individual banner. The nation is further purified by the separation of those afflicted by tzara’at and other forms of ritual impurity, and in this Parsha there is the implied separation of the illegitimate child of a proven adulteress. This sets the stage for the Nazir, who represents an even higher level of personal spiritual purification. His level of sanctity differs from the Kohanim in that it is not inherited nor is it permanent. It is entirely voluntary. Furthermore, he has the additional restriction of not cutting his hair which is not shared by the Kohanim.

Abarbanel explains that the word Nazir is rooted in the concepts of ‘turning away’, ‘distancing’ and ‘vigilance’. It is also related to the word for ‘crown’ since the Torah explicitly states “…for the crown of his G-d is upon his head.” His first obligation is to refrain from wine and, as an additional precaution, all grape products, since intoxication can obviously interfere with proper judgment and prevent him from attaining the goal of cleaving to G-d. The second obligation, to refrain from cutting his hair, symbolizes that since the head is the repository of all the wisdom and intelligence that G-d has granted him, he must refrain from removing even a part of a single hair emanating from that head. Additionally, just as a king is recognized by the crown upon his head, so too the unruly hair of the Nazir is his crown of sanctity. To fortify that striving for a higher level of spiritual purity the unruly physical appearance serves to minimize the natural tendency toward exaggerated emphasis on our physical appearance. His third obligation is to refrain from all contact with the deceased. This puts him on an even higher level than the Kohen who is permitted to come into contact with his deceased close relatives. Abarbanel states that a verse in the prophet Amos is also an indication of this heightened spiritual level: “I established some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazarites” — an indication that a Nazarite is on an even higher level than a prophet.

The language of the Torah itself attests to the difficulty of accepting these obligations. At the beginning of the section, the Torah states, “A man or woman who shall dissociate himself by taking a Nazarite vow of abstinence for the sake of G-d…” The Hebrew word which is here translated as ‘dissociate’ is the word ‘pela’ which literally means ‘wondrous’ or ‘astounding’. Abarbanel explains that this vow is truly astounding and unusual. Finally, the heightened spiritual level implied by the vow of the Nazarite is also indicated by the fact that one of the sacrificial offerings that he is required to bring at the conclusion of his commitment is a transgression offering to atone for his ‘transgression’ of giving up his status and returning to the world of physical desires.

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