This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת נָשֹׂא
“The NFL – Nazir For Life”
Parshas Nasso deals with a few different topics, such as the assignments of the Levi’im, the laws of Sotah and Nazir, and the tributes of the Nesi’im or princes of Israel, among others. However, the Haftarah which is taken from Shoftim [13:2-25] clearly zeroes in on the subject of Nazir, as this piece of Navi deals with the origin of Shimshon, the most famous Nazir in Tanach.
The Nazir, as we’re taught, is an individual who makes a temporary pledge of abstinence from wine, ritual impurity, and even haircuts, all for the sake of getting closer to Hashem.
However, Shimshon was no ordinary Nazir. The story goes that the barren wife of Mano’ach is met by an angel of G-d who tells her that she will conceive a child who will become a Shofeit or a judge for the B’nei Yisrael to lead them out of their oppression at the hands of the Plishtim. The “catch” is that this child must be a Nazir for his whole life, not just from birth, but from his conception. Thus, the angel tells Mano’ach’s wife that she herself must abstain from wine and impurities for the duration of her pregnancy.
That is about as much of the story that has to do with being a Nazir. The bulk of the story deals with Mano’ach’s curious and slightly skeptical response to his wife’s news about the encounter. Ultimately, Mano’ach meets the mysterious angel himself and confirms that what his wife has told him is true. And although Mano’ach, even at that point was still not yet sure that this individual was in fact an angel, when the angel sent Mano’ach’s tribute up and himself disappeared in a miraculous fire without a trace, Mano’ach understood that this angel was indeed an angel. Mano’ach feared for his life, while his wife reassured him and suggested that they follow the angel’s instructions, and the Haftarah ends with the birth of Shimshon.
So, here’s the problem: Most of this story has little to do with Parshas Nasso. The only parallel is the fact that the story features a Nazir, and yet, as we’ve already explained, Parshas Nasso discusses way more than just the Nazir, and secondly, Shimshon’s unique status as a Nazir does not even reflect the prototypical Nazir that is described in Nasso. Beyond that, again, the rest of the story is about Mano’ach’s discovery that this angel was the real deal, a wonderful and perhaps important story for the Navi, but seemingly completely irrelevant for our Haftarah. So, what is the fundamental and thematic relationship between the origin of Shimshon and Parshas Nasso?
A separate question we ought to ask, on the story itself, is why exactly Shimshon had to be a Nazir “for life” in the first place. We pointed out this obvious difference between the Shimshon and the Nazir of our Sidrah, which is actually used a grounds for the Halachic status that’s categorically referred to as a “Nazir Shimshon,” effectively, a Nazir for Life. And when we think about the Nazir of Parshas Nasso, we associate Nazir with this voluntary surge of inspiration to elevate oneself in Kedushah to get close to Hashem. Whether voluntarily becoming a Nazir is a good idea or even Halachically appropriate is a separate conversation entirely, the point is that Nasso is dealing with a personal pledge for that added holiness.
Shimshon, on the other hand, made no such pledge. It was hardly his mother who entered him into this “contract,” but an angel of G-d Himself. His mother was otherwise barren. Hashem obviously decided, for better or for worse, that she would conceive a Nazir. The next judge of Israel would be a Nazir without question. Obviously, that’s what Hashem decided. Why was that necessary? Why did Shimshon have to be a conceived as a Nazir?
In order to understand Shimshon’s unique Nazir status and perhaps the fundamental connection between the story of Shimshon’s conception and Nasso, let us first try to understand the concept of Nazir as it is presented in Nasso.
What is the point of the Nazir? We explained that the point of the Nazir is to take on Kedushah, holiness, to get closer to Hashem. Now, while Kedushah is a commendable and often crucial thing to have, we understand that Nazir is by no means a mandatory commandment (if it is even Halachically permissible to take the vow of Nezirus). That being the case, when exactly is Nezirus reserved for?
So, Chazzal point out that the Parshah of Nazir is juxtaposed with the Parshah of Sotah, the wayward wife, which apparently teaches us that one who witnesses the degradation of the Sotah should abstain from wine by becoming a Nazir, because wine brings a person to levity, and levity is a precursor to all sin, such as adultery which the Sotah committed [See Rashi to B’Midbar 6:2 citing Sotah 2A and B’Midbar Rabbah 10:2-4]. The point is that Nazir, understood in this way, is not exactly an ideal kind of Kedushah to attain for a regular person. It is necessary for desperate times, for example, to regain spiritual “homeostasis” or balance, to bring oneself back from the spiritual extreme of levity and sinful thinking. Sometimes, one needs to commit to streak of complete spiritual and physiological sobriety at the opposite spiritual extreme so that one can get back to the safe middle. In a similar vein, once we’ve spent the year racking up sins, we need a day of complete holiness and fasting like Yom Kippur where we can regain our spiritual balance.
In this light, we could suggest that the B’nei Yisrael, as a nation, were facing a desperate time when they were under the dominion of the Plishtim. The Navi tells us that Hashem gave them over to the Plishtim because they continued their sinful ways. The age of the Shoftim was a time where idolatry was particularly popular among the B’nei Yisrael. Like a Sotah to her husband, the B’nei Yisrael violated its commitment to Hashem, and spiritual equilibrium was lost. The nation desperately needed an intense level of Kedushah. And perhaps, that is why Hashem said a new Shofeit needed to be sent to the world, one born in pure Kedushah, to enable the B’nei Yisrael to regain their spiritual equilibrium.
But, why is Nezirus so controversial that it is reserved for such desperate times? Why isn’t Nazir an ideal one should strive for?
And this is where the larger theme of Parshas Nasso comes in. Nasso, at large, is a Sidrah about Kedushah; how Kedushah is divided, how it can be attained, how it can be disgraced, G-d forbid. And in this conversation about Kedushah, we have to note that the Torah is not telling us not to volunteer to actively live holier lives. But, it is telling us though that elevated levels of intrinsic Kedushah come, not just with great responsibility, but with precarious, spiritual accountability.
Indeed, there is a difference between doing holy things and pledging to mandatorily make oneself a categorically holier person. The first is commendable, but the second is dangerous. Kedushah is not a joke. There’s a reason why, in general, intrinsic Kedushah is only allotted by Hashem Himself. He chose to make some people holier, for example, the Kohanim and Levi’im. And even within Kohanim and Levi’im, there are different levels of Kedushah which Hashem Himself divided. A Kohein is not as holy as a Kohein Gadol. Moreover, Parshas Nasso separates between the assignment of the Levi’im from Kehas versus those of Gershon and Merari, because Kehas, for whatever reason, G-d has chosen to give the holier Avodah of carrying the holy vessels of the Mishkan. So much holier is the Avodah of Kehas, that the Torah tells us at the end of Parshas B’Midbar, that should the Kehas mess up in the way they carry the holy vessels, they could actually die for it [B’Midbar 4:20]!
The Nazir is the only exception, breaking all the rules of Kedushah, as it allows an ordinary person to voluntarily skyrocket from the standard Kedushas Yisrael to a Kedushah that equals that of a Kohein Gadol. That’s why Nezirus is not such a simple subject. Mandatory Kedushah is risky enough to handle. Conceptually voluntary Kedushah is a choice to play with fire. And as we’ll elaborate, beyond simple Nezirus, the gravity of intrinsic Kedushah is what this Haftarah is really teaching us about.
All of the above might also explain Mano’ach’s wonder and even skepticism over the encounter between his wife and the angel. From what he was being told, he would have child who would have Kedushah superimposed on him from his conception. He and his wife would have to conceive and raise this child as a Nazir for life. It’s no small deal, and only true prophecy from G-d Himself could confirm such a wild notion, a notion that Mano’ach was not sure he could believe until he saw it. And once it was all confirmed, Mano’ach was sure that he would die. Why was Mano’ach worried about death? Simply speaking, we would suggest because he was shocked at seeing an angel go up in flames. But, perhaps, more fundamentally, he was shuddering at the thought of the intense level of Kedushah that was in his midst, confirmed by an angel of G-d. Kohanim and Levi’im who mess up the Avodah can die for it! It’s a frightening thought.
So, what are we supposed to take away from this Haftarah, as Hashem’s holy nation? Among us, there are Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisraelim, all hoping to attain Kedushah through our actions. Some of us though, like Shimshon, have less of a choice as to how much Kedushah we must live with, as per our intrinsic holy levels. Kedushah can kill you, if you don’t use it properly!
However, we have to have the attitude of Mano’ach’s wife who basically reassures her husband that if it is this level of Kedushah that Hashem has decided to bestow upon them, instead of shuddering in fear, the only real solution is to do as Hashem says and deal with the holy matter properly. And the same should be true for us as we relate to the Kedushah in our lives. Because, while there are plenty of opportunities for voluntary involvement in Kedushah, in many ways, we too are Nezirim for life with great spiritual accountability. We should be afraid of the Kedushah we have. However, if we follow Hashem’s instructions, we need not to freeze in fear. If we live up to our intrinsic Kedushah, we will be able to enjoy the benefits of both security and closeness to Hashem.
May we all be Zocheh to live up to treat all matters of Kedushah with the utmost care, properly live up to our intrinsic Kedushah, enjoy both security and closeness to Hashem, and Hashem should rest His Holy Presence on us for eternity, in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂