By Rabbi Howard Cohen for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
In this week's Torah portion, Naso, we learn about the Nazir, the person whose chooses a life style even more disciplined than that of the Kohanim (high priests). "God to spoke to Moshe: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When anyone, man or woman, makes the express resolve to take the vow of Nazir ...[so that] all the days of his nazirship he is holy to God" (Numbers 6:1-2, 8). What is the Nazir and what relevance does this have to us today?
In short, a Nazir is a person who voluntarily takes an oath to enter into a life of discipline and "aspirations above and beyond his contemporaries in whose midst he lives and sets him the task of being completely "holy to his God". (S.R. Hirsch, Torah Commentary, p.534) A Nazir is one who totally commits him or herself to being completely holy. The Torah describes the Nazir as a person who more than abstains from such things as wine and grapes, hair cutting and a corpse (even of a close relative!) but also a person from whom others must keep away! Indeed, the things which indicate a person is a Nazir are mainly a fact of advertising the person's status as a person who should be avoided.
Paradoxically, to be a Nazir, or as Hirsch summaries it, "to go into isolation with and for God" does not mean physical isolation. It is this very paradox that makes the idea of being a Nazir relevant today. Choosing the vow of the Nazir is not permanent. In the Mishnah it states that such avow without fixed duration is binding for thirty days (Nazir 1.3). From this we can infer that people committed themselves to the disciplined life of a Nazir for short periods of time. This is the point that makes the idea of total dedication to God relevant: we can choose to "go into isolation with and for God" for short periods of time.
Most of us, for one set of reasons or another, find ourselves almost always available to someone else. Whether it is for our young children, aging parents, patients, colleagues or employees, we are constantly available by phone, fax, email, pager or even face-to-face chats. To be unavailable once in awhile, however, is not a bad thing. Indeed, we learn from the Torah that it is OK to say "I'm not available". This is what it means to be a Nazir, to be in isolation with and for God.