פרשת נשא - Parashat Nasso
Our Approach to Nazirizm and Abstinence
Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl
דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַפְלִא לִנְדֹּר נֶדֶר נָזִיר לְהַזִּיר לַה'
Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: "When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves to Hashem…"
In Hebrew the word "יַפְלִא" seems to share its root with the word "פֶּלֶא" – wonder, and therefore has a positive ring to it, but it is common knowledge that our sages have disputed on the subject and I would like to refer to the Ramhal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and his input on the matter in his book Messilat Yesharim [the Path of the Just), where he treats "נְזִירוּת" - Nazarism and "פְּרִיֹשוּת" – abstinence as synonymous: "…and if you say: 'On what basis do we continually add prohibitions?, Our Rabbis z"l have said: 'Are the Torah's prohibitions not enough, that you come and prohibit yourself from other things? For what our Rabbis z"l have, in their wisdom, deemed appropriate to prohibit and safeguard from, they have already prohibited and safeguarded against, and the rest they have left alone because they deemed it worthy of being permitted rather than prohibited. So why should we now make new decrees that they have not deemed worthy of decreeing?'… The answer is that abstinence is certainly needed and obligatory, and our Rabbis have warned us about it, as the Torah says: "קְדוֹֹשִים תִּהְיוּ" – "you shall be holy", you shall abstain. They also said: "Whoever sits in fast is considered holy, so much more so than a Nazir."
And if you were to ask that, if so, if it is indeed required and obligatory, why did our Rabbis fail to decree it, as they have decreed other reservations and regulations, the answer would be because our Rabbis did not decree any decrees unless the majority of the public is able to follow it, and since the majority of the public cannot be pious, suffice that they be righteous. But the remains of the People who wish to reach intimacy with the Creator, and to bestow their favor on the masses that depend on them, deserve to follow the laws of the pious that others cannot follow, and these are the orders of abstinence, for that is G-d's choice, and since the entire nation cannot be on one level, because the People are on various levels according to their understanding, at least rare ones can be found to fully prepare themselves, and through those who are prepared, the unprepared shall also be favored by the love of the Creator and His Divine presence." And for those who are worthy of this, should they be strict in every situation? The Ramhal sums the answer up in the following manner: "You therefore learn that whoever decides to be truly pious must consider all his actions in light of their implications, and their associated conditions according to the relevant time, society, subject and place, and if abstinence leads to an outcome of more Kiddush Hashem and more Divine satisfaction than the action, it is better to abstain than to act. Or if one action be seemingly good, but in implication or conditions is bad, and one action be seemingly bad, but in implication is good, the decision is made according to the end and implication, which is the true fruit of the action, and these things are not decreed, but the heart understands and the mind sees it true, because the details are endless and cannot be explained, 'For Hashem gives wisdom; out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding'." If we sum up the words of the Ramhal, it seems that the general public walks the path of the righteous, whereas unique members of society walk the path of abstinence.
We must remember what the path of the righteous the Ramhal speaks of is. It is the person who maintains a measure of caution, agility and cleanliness, that whoever reads about them, will discover how many of us still have much to learn about them. That is to say, that before we turn to taking upon ourselves strict decrees that are not common practice, we should examine closely whether we are strictly observing all the obligations we are obligated to by law – for instance, have we entirely rid ourselves of Lashon Hora and other obligations associated with refraining from gossiping? Do we properly observe the Mitzvah of "love your neighbor"? Are we praying and studying Torah as we should be? Did we learn all that we need to know about the details of all the laws and Halakhas the Ramhal elaborates on in his book, and many others, for that matter? Only when we have completed this task may we turn to look for stricter decrees that are not obligatory by law.
Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl is the Kfar Etzion rabbi and heads the marriage project at Tzohar.