The final words of the Mishna (Nazir 1:7) in today’s daf (Nazir 8a) raise an important question about finding the right balance between religious practices and personal health. Specifically, we are told that if someone says הריני נזיר כמנין ימות החמה – ‘I am hereby a Nazir according to the number of days of the solar year’, that rather than this meaning that they are a nazir for 365 days, it means that they count 365 times the 30-day minimum Nezirut period (i.e. 10,950 days=30 years).
Having stated this, Rabbi Yehuda then informs us: מעשה היה כיון שהשלים מת – ‘that such an incident once happened where someone committed themselves to be a Nazir for this period of time, and when they completed the period of their Nezirut they died’.
Reflecting on this statement I believe that there are numerous ways we can interpret what Rabbi Yehuda is saying here. One way – which is an approach reflected by various commentaries – is that the commitment by this person to be a Nazir for this prolonged period of time extended their life. As such, ‘when they completed the period of their Nezirut they died’.
Alternatively, we could read this as teaching us that over this 30-year period this individual became weaker and weaker, and that being a Nazir for such a prolonged period of time diminished this person’s life.
Of course, if this person died at the exact moment that their Nezirut ended, and at an age and state that this would be unexpected, we may conclude the former. However, if they didn’t die at that exact moment, or if they died at an age and stage where death is more likely, we may well conclude the latter. Simply put, the Mishna itself doesn’t tell us enough information to know how to interpret it.
Still, while recognising that this may be a unique case where something supernatural occurred, I believe that Rabbi Yehuda’s observation serves to remind us that when we choose to adopt or increase certain religious practices, this must be done with an awareness and sensitivity to our overall physical and mental welfare, and that a committed Jewish life is a healthy and well-balanced Jewish life.