Nazir - Holy or Sinner?
הרב מרדכי גרינברג
R. Moshe Chayyim Luzzatto (Ramchal), in his classic mussar work Mesillat Yesharim (ch. 13), points to apparent contradictions in Chazal's evaluation of "prishut" [self-denial]. Some statements praise self-denial, while others criticize abstinence. On the one hand, they prohibit fasting unnecessarily, saying, "Is that which the Torah prohibits not enough for you that you seek to prohibit other things?" (J. Nedarim 9:1) Similarly, they say that a person will have to give a reckoning before G-d for all permitted food that he saw and avoided eating. (J. Kiddushin 4:12) On the other hand, they say, "Anyone who fasts is considered holy, all-the-more-so for a nazir!" (Taanit 11a) The Ramchal cites many other sources supporting each of these seemingly contradictory sides of the issue.
The Ramchal's conclusion is that a person has to carefully weigh and measure whether each of the worldly things that he wants is really necessary for him or if it is just a luxury. He summarizes the issue as follows: "This is the rule. Anything that is not necessary for worldly needs - a person should refrain from. However, something which is necessary, for any purpose - if a person refrains from it, he is a sinner. This rule is clear, although the particular application of this rule is subject to one's judgment ... Each instance has to be evaluated on its own."
This rule, that refraining from worldly pleasures has to be evaluated based on each person's needs, is implied in the laws of the nazir. If a nazir is defiled by the sudden death of a person, he has to bring a sin offering, to atone for having sinned "al hanefesh." (Bamidbar 6:11) Our Sages ask: Regarding which "nefesh" did he sin [since the defilement was sudden and unavoidable]? R. Elazar Hakapar says, "Because he abstained from wine [and thus sinned against his own soul]." (Nedarim 10a) This explanation is difficult, since it now seems that every nazir should have to bring a sin offering! Why is it only required of a nazir who became defiled?
The Netziv (Ha`amek Davar) explains that becoming a nazir and abstaining from physical pleasures is worthwhile in order to achieve the spiritual pleasure of "dvaykut" [clinging] to G-d. However, when a misfortune occurs to a person, requiring him to halt his nezirut, it is a sign from heaven that he is not fit to be a nazir. It turns out, then, that this particular person abstained from the pleasure of wine for naught, since such abstinence was not appropriate for one on his level. He therefore requires atonement. We see, then, that one person who becomes a nazir is considered holy, while another person who does exactly the same thing is considered a sinner.
Similarly, the Kuzari writes (3:1) that when the Divine presence was felt in Israel, there were people who would abstain from worldly matters in order to achieve spiritual heights. However, now that there is no prophecy and true wisdom is difficult to attain, one who becomes a nazir only brings upon himself suffering and sickness, both spiritual and physical, since he cannot cling to the "Divine light" in this manner.
Rav Kook, zt"l, also writes (letter #73) about those who have not achieved a high spiritual level, yet undertake a lofty manner of service through fasting and self-denial. He says that as long as their hearts remain empty, they will not accomplish anything, neither for themselves, nor for their generation.
Regarding this kind of issue our Sages taught us: Whether one does a lot, or a little - so long as his intentions are directed towards G-d. (Berachot 5b) All your actions should be for the sake of G-d! (Avot 2:12)
קוד השיעור: 3779