Parashat Naso 5784

13 June 2024 – 7 Sivan 5784

Rabbi Warren Elf


In this week’s Sedra, Naso, we have a variety of topics, including the laws of the Nazirite and the priestly blessing, both in chapter 6.

The sedra continues the numbering of the Israelites in Sedra Bemidbar and the section dealing with duties of the families of the Levites. Our sedra starts with the census and duties of the Gershonites and Merarites, having looked at the Kohathites already. It then looks at laws of holiness and the ordeal to be faced by a woman whose husband alleges that she has been unfaithful.

Chapter 6 deals first with an individual (man or woman) who chooses to take the vow of a Nazirite to separate themselves for the Eternal One. It is not clear who would take this vow, or why or for how long. It appears to be someone who wants to dedicate themselves and their lives to God for a particular period. During this period they would abstain from wine and intoxicating drink and anything containing grapes. They would also let the hair of their head grow untrimmed throughout the period of their Naziriteship. They should also avoid contact with the dead, even of a close relative, otherwise this defiles them and ends their consecration to God.

Anyone whose consecration is defiled in this way has to repurify themselves, shaving their head on the seventh day and bringing a sin offering on the eighth day. Then they rededicate themselves to God with a guilt offering and start their period of consecration as a Nazirite all over again.

Although this appears to be a worthy endeavour and a good vow to make, in this section of Torah, it is not referred to elsewhere and we have no idea how many people chose to become Nazirites and dedicate themselves to God for a period of time. There is no specification as to the period of time that the vow would apply for (30 days seems to have been a common period of time referred to in a variety of places and 40 days was suggested at one point as the maximum – possibly linking in with the 40 days Moses was up Mount Sinai?) but however long someone pledged to keep the vow, it was expected that they would complete the full term.

In Rabbinic times, many authorities did not approve of people taking the vow of a Nazirite for a variety of reasons and this level of piety or asceticism was not encouraged. The term Nazir is sometimes linked to the word Nezer, meaning crown, but although the restrictions on the Nazirite resemble those expected of the High Priest (especially no contact with a dead body) and they were dedicating their life to God for this period of time, being a Nazirite was not seen as making one more special, possibly because they were removing themselves from the community in some way.

I think it is interesting that the verb for taking a Nazirite vow can as be interpreted as either ‘abstaining from’ or ‘dedicating oneself to’, which feels a bit like is the glass half empty or half full (not with alcohol of course, in the case of the Nazirite).

There are cases of lifelong Nazirites but the conditions were not the same for them. Possibly the most noteworthy was Samson, whose mother abstained from alcohol and his duty was to have his hair untrimmed throughout his life. He certainly didn’t have to avoid contact with dead bodies! Samson was God’s Nazirite from the womb and the story of his birth is the traditional Haftarah for this week.

The section of our sedra dealing with the Nazirite ends with the offerings that the Nazir should bring on the completion of the period of their vow. They needed to bring a burnt offering, a sin offering and an offering of wellbeing, along with the meal and libation offerings to accompany them. The fact that they needed to bring a sin offering for completing the period of their vow suggests that it is making up for something, possibly that they did not take part fully in normal life during the period of their vow as a Nazirite.

The offering of wellbeing suggests that there was a level of contentment and satisfaction that they had completed this vow and that they had dedicated this period of their lives to God.

The sedra then continues straight into the Priestly Blessing with Moses being told to tell Aaron and his sons what to say when blessing the Israelites. I have always been surprised that this blessing appears straight after the section dealing with the Nazirite.

It may be appropriate in this place, as the final section of the sedra, all of chapter 7, deals with the final setting up, dedication and consecration of the tabernacle, with all of the gifts for the offerings of the tabernacle brought by each tribe, ready for its establishment at the heart of the community.

Once it is set up, it is certainly appropriate that the priests bestow blessing on the entire people of Israel.

However, as the blessing follows the section dealing with those who dedicate themselves to God, I think it can clearly be argued that although the priests originally bestowed the blessing on Israel, there is authority in saying that the blessing itself can be given by anyone who dedicates themselves to God and involves themselves in transmitting this blessing to others.

As we read the sedra this week, may we be blessed and be moved to bless others with our words, our actions and our intentions.

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