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In this week’s Torah portion of Naso we discuss the status of a nazir. A nazir separates oneself from this world in 3 ways; he or she cannot cut their hair, drink wine or any grape products and cannot come in contact with the dead. An average nazirus [period of being a nazir] is thirty days. The Torah states, “Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them: A man or woman who sets oneself apart by making a nazirite vow to abstain for the sake of the Lord” (Bamidbat 6:2), and Rashi asks there, “Why is the section dealing with the nazarite placed in juxtaposition to the section dealing with the sotah? To tell you that he who has once seen a sotah in her disgrace should abstain from wine, because it may lead to adultery (Sotah 2a)…Too keep himself aloof from wine for the sake of Heaven. (Nedarim 9b, Sifri Naso 1:84.)”
The nazir is separating oneself from worldly matters for formidable reasons, for the sake of heaven; for example, in order to not fall into sin. Yet the Gemara in Taanis 11a says, “Shmuel said: Whoever sits in observance of a fast is called a sinner, as it is inappropriate to take unnecessary suffering upon oneself. The Gemara comments: Shmuel holds in accordance with the opinion of the following tanna, as it is taught in a baraisa: Rabbi Elazar HaKappar the Great says: What is the meaning when the verse states, with regard to a nazirite: “And he will atone for him for that he sinned by the soul [nefesh]” (Numbers 6:11). But with what soul did this nazirite sin? Rather, the nazirite sinned by the distress he caused himself when he abstained from wine, in accordance with the terms of his vow. And are these matters not inferred a fortiori (kal vachomer)? And if this nazirite, who distressed himself by abstaining only from wine, is nevertheless called a sinner and requires atonement, then with regard to one who distresses himself by abstaining from each and every matter of food and drink when he fasts, all the more so should he be considered a sinner.”
The Torah says a sacrificial atonement has to be brought by the nazir if he was in contact with the dead and ruined his first nazirus (see Rashi in Nazir 19a that says that a nazir is really liable as soon as he began to abstain from wine but he only is allowed to attain his atonement when he messes up and has to start all over again.) The Torah specifically states, “The kohen shall prepare one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering and atone on his behalf for sinning on his soul, and he shall sanctify his head on that day” (Bamidbar 6:11).
The Daas Zekeinim explaining what exact sin the nazir has done saying that “sinning on his soul” (מֵֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטָ֖א עַל־הַנָּ֑פֶשׁ) is similar to the language used in Shoftim 20:16, “All these could sling a stone at a hair-breadth and not miss.” (כָּל־זֶ֗ה קֹלֵ֧עַ בָּאֶ֛בֶן אֶל־הַֽשַּׂעֲרָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א יַחֲטִֽא). The Targum says it means “he changed from;” in this case he changed his soul and prevented it from drinking wine. This is similar to the drasha brought by Chaza”L, ‘who distressed himself abstaining from wine.’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Daas Zekeinim is explaining this pasuk based on the gemaras in Nazir and Taanis which say that a nazir deserves an atonement for just abstaining from what he was once permitted. This isn’t a sin per say but it still is deserving of an atonement because he is going against the norm and what he has been accustomed to. Why is this a problem, especially in lieu of the fact that Rashi pointed out earlier that he is doing this for the sake of Heaven, to not indulge too much in worldly matters, and to stay away from sin? Also, wine is known to be something which can cause much harm or inappropriateness, like what happened by Noach and Lot. So it would seem that what a nazir is doing is a very positive thing; so why is he deserving of an atonement even if he did not mess up on his nazirus?
It would seem that forbidding something which G-D permits to you is a problem because you are changing something which you are allowed to have. The reason why this is a problem deserving of an atonement can be understood from the words of the Mesillas Yesharim and Orchos Tzadikim.
The Mesilas Yesharim in his section on Kedusha, chapter 26, says “Behold, for the man sanctified with the holiness of his Creator, even his physical deeds become actual matters of holiness. A sign of this is in “the eating of temple offerings”, which our sages of blessed memory said: “the priests eat and the owners obtain atonement” (Pesachim 59b)… But for the Holy man who constantly clings to his G-d, whose soul treads freely among true thoughts in love of his Creator and fear of Him, behold, it is considered as if he is walking before G-d in the Land of the Living, while still here in this world. Such a man is himself considered as a tabernacle, a temple and an altar. This is as our sages said (Gen. Rabba 62:6)… For the Shechina (divine presence) dwells within them just as it dwelled in the Temple. Due to this, the food they eat is like a sacrifice offered upon the fire of the altar, for certainly it was a great elevation for those things to be offered on the altar, since they were offered before the Shechina… So too, the food and drink which the holy man eats elevates that food or drink as if it had actually been offered on the altar… and “[if a man wishes to offer a wine libation upon the altar], let him fill the throat of the Torah scholars with wine” (Yomah 71a). This does not mean that Torah scholars were craving for food and drink, G-d forbid, that one fills their throats like one stuffs a glutton. Rather, the matter is according to the intent I explained. That Torah scholars who are holy in their ways and in all their deeds are actually just like the Temple and the altar, for the Shechina (divine presence) literally dwells upon them as it did in the Temple. Thus, what is offered to them is as offered on the altar, and the filling of their throat is as the filling of the basins.” We see how a righteous person can take something mundane, even wine, and make it holy when being used with proper intentions, and this Nazir wants to lose that potential opportunity by abstaining from wine?! Putting oneself in that potential missed opportunity deserves an atonement! (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Furthermore the Orchos Tzadikim in the Gate of Happiness discusses the pros and cons of drinking, and by the advantages he says: “From all of these citations we can know the praise of wine when it is drunk according to the measure of the wise who drink a specified amount — so that the intelligence may be stronger than the wine and not the wine be stronger than the intelligence, and who drink at a set time, together, and not with those barren of knowledge, vain and empty. For wine adds deep wisdom, a tree of life for those that hold it. And wine adds wisdom to the intelligent person but doubles the folly of the fool. It revives the love of a friend but stirs up the enmity of a foe. It opens the hand of the generous and hardens the heart of a miser. And thus should be the manner of one who drinks wine. He should use the wine as a healing for his worry and thus strengthen himself in Torah to study it with joy, for when a man is plunged in grief he cannot study and even judges of courts of law, when they are grieved, cannot give a clear judgment. Grief also disturbs the concentration of the mind on one’s prayer. Also, when a man is plunged in pain or grief he has not the strength to fulfill the request of someone who is speaking to him or is asking him for a favor. And it is written : “In an acceptable time have I answered you” (Is. 49:8). Therefore, an intelligent person should direct himself in drinking wine in this manner — that he should remember not to drink too much so as to be compelled by his condition to neglect his work and his affairs. And, moreover, he must guard himself from drinking so much that he neglects his study of the Torah and his prayers, or until he becomes too frivolous and lightheaded. And he should not drink to the extent that he reveals his secrets or the secrets of others. And if you will drink in this moderate measure, wine will not become loathsome to you. Even on Holidays and Festivals, of which it is written : “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 12:18), one should not prolong his drinking more than is proper, as it is said : “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart” (Ibid. 28:47). From this you learn that we have not been commanded to rejoice in a manner that the Creator of all is forgotten. For it is impossible to serve the Lord, may He be Blessed, out of lightheadedness, or laughter, or drunkenness.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Ultimately there is a balance that must be made when it comes to indulging in worldly pleasures, especially drinking wine. We cannot deny that Hashem did create a concept of a nazir, as there is a whole portion about it in the Torah and a whole masechta dedicated to it in the gemara. Therefore it must be permitted, and possibly needed, for some people to best stay out of trouble; however we see from here that it is not the ideal situation. One should preferably use drinking wine and other worldly matter for the sake of Heaven, to serve Him optimally, as Hashem intended for us in this world. For this reason, a nazir, even if he is abstaining for only thirty days and even if he did not break his nazirus, really is in need of atonement.
We see from here how much we must appreciate what Hashem gives us in this world and to use it wisely because that is what Hashem wants us to do.