Weekly Parashah Articles

Nasso

The vow of a Nazirite has a great message, “Any of God’s people could choose to be special!”[1]

Num 6:2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the LORD…”[2]

It was not unusual for people to become Nazirites. “Jewish tradition tells us that pious women chose to become Nazirites during the Second Temple period and provides names of some of them, including Queen Helena of Adiabne and Miriam of Tadmor (Palmyra). The fact that royal women wanted to be Nazirites indicates that this status was an honored one.”[3]

The text does not directly explain particular reasons why one would make this special vow, however reading entire Num 6, we may find some important moments which explain the motivation of Nazirites.

Consecration and Holiness

In Hebrew nēzər means devoted, consecrated[4] and this is the first important moment. The vow of a Nazirite opened to a person a door to a special status – consecration to the LORD.

In order to become consecrated, one had to separate, and this is second important moment.

Num 6:3-4 he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. ‘All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin.

The commandment of separation from wine was even more strict than the commandment given to priests who were restricted from drinking wine or strong drink “when [they] come into the tent of meeting” Lev 10:9.

The next requirement was abstaining from any haircut. 

Num 6:5 ‘All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.

It is unclear why it was commanded “no razor shall pass over his head,” but what can be said with certainty, Torah connects holiness of a Nazirite with his or her intact hair. The importance of this is graphically illustrated by the story of Samson who lost his power as soon as Philistines cut his hair (Judg 16).

And, finally, a Nazirite had to be separated from any dead person including his father or his mother neither to his brother or his sister (Num 6:7). This standard was even higher than the standard of priests who were allowed to be defiled by dead virgin sister (Lev 21:3). Thus, in terms of separation from dead persons, a Nazirite could be likened to the High Priest.

Significance of the law

As it was mentioned at the beginning, everyone could be special. And today every person who is not satisfied by an “average life” and average spiritual achievements may opt for higher level of holiness. But to be above average is impossible without separation and practicing certain restrictions and this is the message to us today when we do not have the Temple and cannot practice this vow literally.

In order to achieve holiness Nazirites would pay the price: they had to do special sacrifices, and to have a special lifestyle. But these efforts were rewarded. Samson was extremely strong and successful, Samuel had special relationships with God, and I believe that other persons who practiced the vow of a Nazirite felt a big difference. And this difference is available today.

“Like ancient Nazirites, modern laypersons who belong to the ‘priesthood of all believers’ can dedicate themselves to God and enjoy a holy experience with him in their personal spiritual lives (through prayer, Bible study and meditation, spiritual retreats, etc.), even if they are not chosen as worship leaders.”[5]

 

Daniel Gordan

 

[1] Walton, John H.; Gane, Roy; Block, Daniel I. NIVAC: Pentateuch. Zondervan. Kindle Edition, loc 47834.

[2] Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. www.Lockman.org.

[3] Gane. NIVAC: Pentateuch, loc 47834.

[4] HALOT Lexicon, s.v. “נָזִיר.”

[5] Gane. NIVAC: Pentateuch, loc 47943.