July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Are We Still Moved by What We See?

In this week’s parsha of Naso we read about the nazir. The nazir was an ascetic who denied himself some of the pleasures of life and let his hair grow wildly to mark him as being different. The Gemara (Sotah 2b) reflects that the Torah places the chapter of the nazir immediately following the chapter of the adulteress woman, the sotah, for a reason. Rebbi stated that whoever witnessed the ordeal of the sotah, where the woman’s misbehavior was typically brought about by having too many alcoholic drinks with another man, was so impressed as to vow to abstain from alcohol himself. In other words, there were certain events that left a big impression on others and caused them to reconsider how they comported themselves.

Unlike the typical kohen who can contaminate himself for his seven closest relatives, the Torah does not mention that the nazir can contaminate himself by attending the funeral of a son or a daughter. Why would that be the case?

R’ Yaakov Kaminetzky offered the following theory: It was mostly young men who decided to live the life of a nazir. As such, they were typically unmarried and had no children. The Ramban as well as the Gemara in Nedarim also speak of the nazir as typically being a young man. The young man sees the public humiliation of the sotah woman and this makes an impression upon him, such that he changes his behavior and outlook on life.

R’ Kaminetzsky explains that, normally, young people are more amenable to change. As we get older it becomes harder to change ourselves. Young people are idealistic and may become motivated to change their lives. They react more vigorously to what they see happening around them. The older we get, however, the more tolerant we become of our weaknesses and shortcomings, the less we try to improve ourselves.

Personal experience tells us that this is so. How often do we hear about someone who experienced a misfortune and yet it does not move us to re-examine our lives? One third of the population is obese. Ten percent of Americans have diabetes, often exacerbated by a poor diet. Yet, how many of us are willing to discipline ourselves to eat correctly and take better care of our health? How many stories have we heard about teenagers abusing alcohol or illicit street drugs or even going “off the derech”? Yet, we typically shrug and go on with our routine.

On a positive note, how many of us notice when the sun shines and the day is beautiful? When the birds sing and all seems to be well in the world? I would venture to say that most of us hurry through our days and fail to slow down and appreciate when things are going well, when our health is good and when we have enough to eat and pay our bills.

R’ Yissocher Frand reminds us that we must try to emulate the young in this respect of being impressionable. The Torah says, “Do not set up for yourself a statue that the Lord your God hates” (Devarim 16:22). The simple interpretation of the pasuk refers to idolatry. However, homiletically, the words “Lo takim lecha matzevah” may be translated “Do not make yourself into a matzevah (a solid piece of stone) that the Lord your God hates.” There is no growth to a piece of stone. It is what it is and always remains at the same level. The Almighty, who desires constant spiritual growth, hates such static spirituality.

“Whether we are 30, 40, 50 or 70 years old, this is not the time for matzevahs (tombstones). A matzevah is for after we die. When we are still alive, we should use the time to grow and improve ourselves spiritually.”

Let us learn the lesson of the impressionable young nazir. No matter how old we become, let us be responsive to what is happening around us, both good and bad. May Hashem bless us so that we are wise and learn from our daily observations and experiences. In the words of Pirkei Avot, “Who is wise? He who learns from all men” (Avot 2:7).


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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