March 29, 2023

Nazir 15

When detailing the laws of the Nazir, the Torah informs us that the prohibition to drink wine (which, given the context of this statement is then understood to refer to all the Nazirite prohibitions – see Nazir 14b) applies to כֹּל יְמֵי נִזְרוֹ – ‘all the days of being a Nazir’ (Bemidbar 6:4). As the Gemara informs us at the end of yesterday’s daf (Nazir 14b), this comes to teach us לַעֲשׂוֹת יָמִים שֶׁלְּאַחַר מְלֹאת כַּיָּמִים שֶׁלִּפְנֵי מְלֹאת – ‘[that we should] make the days after completing the time-commitment [of being a Nazir] like those before completing the time-commitment [of being a Nazir]’, which is explained in a Beraita quoted in today’s daf (Nazir 15a) to mean that, ‘a Nazir who has completed their time-commitment [of being a Nazir] is [nevertheless] forbidden to shave, or drink wine, or come in contact with the dead [until they perform the concluding Nazirite ritual of bringing a sacrifice]’.
But why, especially given the extensive discussions in Massechet Nazir about the time-commitments of a Nazir, doesn’t a Nazir automatically switch back to being a non-Nazir immediately after the completion of the 30-day (or more) Nazirite time-commitment? Why, must they wait to perform a ritual to allow them to return back to ‘normal life’?
This itself is a question which stretches beyond the laws of the Nazir. For example, we are told (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 299:10) that we should not perform a ‘melacha’ after the end of Shabbat until we verbally express some form of ‘Havdalah’ – distinguishing formula (eg. by saying ‘Hamavdil bein Hakodesh U’Vein HaChol’). But why? Why must we wait to perform a ritual to allow us to return back to ‘normal life’?
I believe that a good answer to this question is offered by Mrs. Elana Moskowitz (see who writes that, ‘Havdalah is more than just an indicator of the week’s fluctuating spiritual temperature. As its name suggests, Havdalah, rooted in the word l’havdil (to differentiate), is about celebrating contrasts. Contrasts are an integral part of life. Light and dark. Hot and cold. When we juxtapose contrasting mediums, they inform each other. The bright morning sky appears all the more dramatic when contrasted with the penetrating blackness of night. A skyscraper’s soaring altitude seems even taller when juxtaposed with a three-story home…By enumerating the contrasts we encounter in life, the Gemara is teaching us the spiritual work of Havdalah: reflecting on the contrasts Hashem built into creation… [Moreover], contrasting mediums do more than just inform each other; they’re an agent for appreciation.’
On this basis, I believe that for the Nazirite endeavour to be meaningful, it must be distinguished – both in time and deed – from a non-Nazirite lifestyle. In so doing, both the ability to temporarily be a Nazir, and the ability to return to ‘normal’ life, is thereby appreciated. And in the same spirit, we begin and end Shabbat with a ritual (i.e. Kiddush and Havdalah) to help us appreciate and protect Shabbat so that it continues to stand in contrast with the other six days of the week.
I’d like to end by reflecting the fact that while it is currently cold and rainy where I am, we often don’t appreciate what we have until it is contrasted with other situations and circumstances. As of now, almost 5,000 people have died as a result of the horrific earthquakes in Turkey and Syria that occurred over the past 36 hours, while tens of thousands have been injured and more have lost their homes.
Clearly, this is a terrible humanitarian disaster which I believe should stir within us two emotions. Firstly, we should feel empathy, which should prompt us to consider what we can do to assist those in need. And secondly, if we have a roof over our head, we should feel grateful.
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