Unfortunately we live in a generation that is rife with cynicism, and especially when it comes to observing others practicing specific religious strictures, we are oftentimes very quick to presume that they have some form of ‘agenda’ or that there are doing so for appearance sake alone.
We are told in today’s daf (Nazir 4b) how Shimon HaTzaddik refrained from eating of the Asham offering of a Nazir who had become spiritually impure because he suspected that in such a case – where a Nazir became impure, offered a sacrifice, and recommitted to being a Nazir – the individual continued to being a Nazir merely in order to maintain their prior commitment, and not because they sincerely wished to do so.
However, we are then told that Shimon HaTzaddik once met someone who challenged this impression: ‘This one man, who came to me from the South. He had beautiful eyes and a fine countenance, and his locks were arranged in curls. I said to him: “My son, what did you see [to become a nazirite, which would force you] to destroy this beautiful hair?”. He said to me: “I was a shepherd for my father in my town, and I went to draw water from the spring, and I looked at my reflection [in the water]. And my inclination quickly [rose] against me and sought to drive me from the world. I said to [my inclination]: Empty one! For what reason are you proud in a world that is not yours, as your end is to be maggots and worms [when you die]. [I swear by] the Temple service that I will [become a nazirite and] shave you for the sake of Heaven.” When I heard his response, I arose and kissed him on his head, and said to him: “May there be more nazirites like you in Israel.”’
Interestingly, while not necessarily obvious from the biblical passages about the laws of Nazir (see Bemidbar 6:1-5), what this account suggests is that the commitment to become a Nazir is a physical and spiritual endeavour, adopted by individuals who wish to reduce feelings of hubris (nb. see the Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 374 who further explores this theme).
Yet whether or not this is the true reason for this practice, what is clear from this story is that the spiritual sincerity of ‘this man who came from the South’ left a deep impression on Shimon HaTzaddik, and whether or not his interpretation of the function of the Nazir practice was correct, Shimon HaTzaddik was incredibly inspired by his temimut – which we may describe here as his ‘spiritual innocence’.
As I mentioned, we live in a generation that is rife with cynicism, and especially when it comes to observing others practicing specific religious strictures we are oftentimes very quick to presume that they have some form of ‘agenda’ or that there are doing so for appearance sake alone.
Admittedly, and as borne out by the remarks of Shimon HaTzaddik, this may well be the case in the majority of instances. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that, once in a while, there are those who adopt certain practices – including practices that we find unnecessarily strict – for spiritually innocent reasons, and that while we may not choose that path, we should be able to be inspired by the commitment of those who have chosen to do so.