Across Israel, Meir Panim responds to the growing needs of the country’s 1.75 million impoverished residents through various food and social service programs.
There was an ongoing debate between the Sages as to whether the nazirite – whose laws are outlined in this week’s parshah – was to be praised. Recall that the nazirite was someone who voluntarily, usually for a specified period, undertook a special form of holiness. This meant that he was forbidden to consume wine or any grape products, to have a haircut, and to defile himself by contact with the dead.
Naziriteship was essentially a renunciation of desire. Why someone would choose to do this is not clear. It may be that he wanted to protect himself against drunkenness or to cure himself of alcoholism. It could be that he wanted to experience a higher form of holiness. Forbidden as he was to have contact with the dead, even for a close relative, he was in this respect in the same position as the high priest. Becoming a nazirite was one way in which a non-kohen could adopt kohen-like behavior. Some Sages argued that the juxtaposition of the law of the nazirite with that of the sotah, the woman suspected of adultery, hinted at the fact that there were people who became nazirites to protect themselves from sexual immorality. Alcohol suppresses inhibitions and increases sexual desire.
Be that as it may, there were mixed views on whether it was a good thing or a bad one to become a nazirite. On the one hand, the Torah calls him “holy to God” (Numbers 6:8). On the other, at the completion of his period of abstinence, he is commanded to bring a sin offering (Numbers 6:13-14). From this, Rabbi Eliezer Hakappar Berebi drew the following inference:
What is the meaning of the phrase in Numbers 6:11, “and make atonement for him, because he sinned against the soul” (usually translated as “by coming into contact with the dead”)? Against which soul did he sin? We must conclude that it refers to denying himself the enjoyment of wine. From this we may infer that if one who denies himself the enjoyment of wine is called a sinner, all the more so one who denies himself the enjoyment of other pleasures of life. It follows that one who keeps fasting is called a sinner (Ta’anit 11a; Nedarim 10a).
Clearly Rabbi Eliezer Hakappar is engaging in a polemic against asceticism in Jewish life. We do not know which groups he may have had in mind. Many of the early Christians were ascetics. So in some respects were the members of the Qumran sect known to us through the Dead Sea Scrolls. Holy people in many faiths have chosen, in pursuit of spiritual purity, to withdraw from the world’s pleasures and temptations, while fasting, afflicting themselves and living in caves, retreats or monasteries.
In the Middle Ages there were Jews who adopted self-denying practices – among them the Hassidei Ashkenaz, the Pietists of Northern Europe, and many Jews in Islamic lands. It is hard not to see in these patterns of behavior at least some influence from the non-Jewish environment. The Hassidei Ashkenaz who flourished during the time of the Crusades lived among deeply pious, self-mortifying Christians. Their southern counterparts would have been familiar with Sufism, the mystical movement in Islam.
The ambivalence of Jews toward the life of self-denial may therefore lie in the suspicion that it entered Judaism from the outside. There were movements in the first centuries of the Common Era in both the West (Greece) and the East (Iran) that saw the physical world as a place of corruption and strife. They were dualists, holding that the true God was not the creator of the universe and could not be reached within the universe. The physical world was the work of a lesser, and evil, deity. Hence holiness means withdrawing from the physical world, its pleasures, appetites and desires. The two best-known movements to hold this view were Gnosticism in the West and Manichaeism in the East. So at least some of the negative evaluation of the nazirite may have been driven by a desire to discourage Jews from imitating non-Jewish tendencies in Christianity and Islam.
What is remarkable is the position of Maimonides, who holds both views – positive and negative. In Hilchot De’ot, the Laws of Ethical Character, Maimonides adopts the negative position of Rabbi Eliezer Hakappar: “A person may say: ‘Desire, honor and the like are bad paths to follow and remove a person from the world; therefore I will completely separate myself from them and go to the other extreme.’ As a result, he does not eat meat or drink wine or take a wife or live in a decent house or wear decent clothing… This too is bad, and it is forbidden to choose this way” (Hilchot De’ot 3:1).
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
When battling Amalek, G-d hides His face and expects man to wage war for his own relevance.
What is the relationship between Purim and Pisces? In what way is Purim related to fish?
The battle on Purim was our war with Amalek; we know that Haman was a descendent of Amalek and we are commanded to annihilate that entire nation.
When Mr. Fine received the translation he was disappointed. The translation was passing, but lacked the power and command of language in other translations he’d seen.
Question: When performing a mitzvah, what is more important: doing it right away – “zerizim” – or doing it with a large crowd – “berov am”?
Lulav, Sukkah, Shofar
‘Beautification is Not an Obstruction’
Tosafot (Sanhedrin 12a) offers a scriptural reason: to ensure that Adar will remain the twelfth month, as it is referred to in Megillat Esther (3:7).
The lulav symbolizes the backbone, the etrog, the heart, the hadas the eyes, and the arava the lips moving in the service of God.
The presence of a sacrifice in these covenantal experiences can be looked upon as a celebration of this glorious moment of meeting between God and his people.
Chazal tell us that Moshe functioned in many different capacities. For example, at various times he was considered a king and the equivalent of the Sanhedrin. He was also a kohen gadol, as evidenced by his role during this seven day period.
Born in 1933, Sheldon Adelson was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. His father drove a taxi and his mother ran a knitting shop. He grew up in one of the poorest sections of Boston. But even as a young boy he showed great ambition, first selling newspapers on the street corner, and then running his first business at the age of twelve. He went on to build over fifty businesses, eventually owning the Venetian Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He became a very wealthy man.
So this is what she got herself into: serving chicken soup and getting bits of rent on random days. She couldn’t say it wasn’t worth it, as she was earning both a chesed and a little bit of cash.
If a korban chatas cannot be brought as a nedavah, how can one read the parshah of the korban chatas if he is not certain that he is obligated to bring one?
Nasi is the generic word for a leader: a ruler, king, judge, elder, or prince. Usually it refers to the holder of political power.
Vayakhel is Moses’ response to the wild abandon of the crowd that gathered around Aaron and made the golden calf.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you fail. Such is life.
In Judaism, monarchy had little or no religious function.
So long as every crisis was dealt with by Moses and miracles, the Israelite default response was complaint.
Two laws have to do with the Israelites’ experience of being an oppressed minority:
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/sages-and-saints/2012/06/01/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: