June 22, 2024
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Naso: The Coca Cola Nazirite • Bamidbar 6: 1-21

Once, in the town of Spring Lake, there lived a girl named Sari who loved Coca Cola. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Who doesn’t love a nice glass of Coke every once in a while? It’s “the pause that refreshes,” after all. But I mean Sari really loved Coca Cola. She drank it morning, noon, and night. (And I can only speak for myself, but to me, Coca Cola at breakfast tastes something like battery acid.) Sari’s palate was so sensitive, she could take a sip of Coca Cola Classic* and tell you where it was bottled (I know, scary stuff). In her room at home she had a collection of Coca Cola bottles from around the world. She had once gone on a pilgrimage to the Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. It was one of the greatest days of her life.

Sari’s parents begged her to decrease her Cola consumption, since Coke is not exactly high up on the healthy food pyramid. To calm them, she would occasionally shift to Diet Coke, citing the lower caloric content, or to Caffeine Free Coke, to avoid the caffeine addiction. When she was in a really healthful mood, she would even go for the Caffeine Free Diet Coke (I know, radical). Sometimes she would go for the Lemon, Lime, or Cherry Coke for the presumed vitamin content the fruity additives provided.

Her dentist begged her to stop, pointing out the soda’s corrosive effect on her teeth. Her doctor admonished her to change her ways, suggesting that a diet rich in Coca Cola might lead to calcium and magnesium deficiency. But although she knew her obsession was a mistake, she simply wouldn’t quit. Sari just stuck with her beverage, stating, “Coke is it.”

One day, Sari was sitting in school studying Chumash with her class. They were deep into Parshat Naso, and Rabbi Kronenberger was teaching about the laws of nezirut.

“A nazir abstains from cutting his hair,” the rabbi said. “He doesn’t drink wine or even eat grapes. He does not allow himself to become impure from contact with a dead body.”

“Why does he do it?” Sari asked.

“We believe a nazir abstains in order to obtain a higher level of kedusha, of holiness, and become closer to God,” the rabbi told her.

It was then that Sari decided to become a Coca Cola nezirah. None of the health concerns had convinced her before, nor her parents’ frequent protestations, but if refraining from Coke could bring her closer to her Creator, she would try it.

“From this moment forward, I will drink no Coca Cola of any sort, nor any derivative of the kola bean for one whole month,” Sari vowed. She told no one of her vow, though of course people noticed the difference almost immediately.

The next morning, Sari’s mother stopped reading the newspaper and stared at her daughter.

“Herb, come quickly,” she called to her husband.

Herb came from the living room. “What is it, Rhonda?”

“Look,” Sari’s mother said, pointing at her daughter. She could barely speak.

Sari’s father gasped. “Is that milk she’s drinking?”

“I…I think it is.”

“Sari, I don’t know what to say.” He hugged his daughter. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said, matter of factly, and then left for school, leaving waves of incredulity in her wake.

Her friends were equally amazed. Students came from all around the school to watch her drink orange juice, even water. It was the talk of the school hallways for days.

The Cokeless month started out easily enough for Sari. She basked in the attention it brought her, and she kind of enjoyed experimenting with other beverages. But after a few days, hardship set in. She found herself craving Coke. In stores she stared at the red and white vending machines that contained her beloved soft drink in well-refrigerated cans. In class she found herself daydreaming about the bubbly elixir. She was so desperate, she toyed with the idea of tasting– dare I say it? – Pepsi, but that too would have violated the kola nut portion of her vow. Sari found herself humming old Coca Cola jingles under her breath when she wasn’t paying attention (I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony/ I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company**). She started to think her vow was the most foolish thing that was devised since New Coke was created in 1985. But she stood her ground, and no cola products of any sort crossed her lips.

By the end of two weeks she started to feel healthier. By the end of three weeks her teeth started looking whiter. It was only near the end of the month that she started to feel closer to God.

On the last day of her Coca Cola nazirite vow she went to speak with Rabbi Kronenberger.

“Rabbi, can I speak with you?”

“Sure, Sari.”

“It’s about my abstaining from drinking Coca Cola.”

“Excuse me?”

“I took a vow not to drink any Coke for a month.”

“Um, okay. Why?”

“We were learning about nezirut in class, and I decided to give up something I love in the name of God.”

Rabbi Kronenberg stared at Sari a few seconds before speaking (even veteran teachers can be caught speechless sometimes).

“Wow, Sari that’s really funky.”

“Thanks, Rabbi. I think.”

“I would say that what you did was admirable, since your heart was in the right place, but I’m not sure it would really qualify as nezirut.”


“Yes, being a nazir, or in your case a nezirah, is strictly based on the wine, hair cutting, and avoiding dead body laws. Still, I think your vow has merit.”

“How come?”

“I believe Hashem wants us all to lead healthy lives, so your month-long avoidance of Coca Cola probably improved your health, therefore it’s most likely a mitzvah.”

“I suppose that’s worth something,” Sari said.

“Sari, Hashem gave us many commandments in the Torah so that we would have many ways to worship Him.”

“Or Her.”

“Or Her,” the rabbi agreed.

“But the 613 mitzvot He gave us are all we need. We don’t need to create new laws or set new restrictions to worship…Her.”

Sari smiled.

“Many authorities feel that this is the reason the nazir or nezirah is supposed to bring a sin offering, a korban chatat, at the end of their vow because God doesn’t want you to add new stringencies to the Torah. So it’s almost a sin to feel you have to add new restrictions to Judaism.”

“So do I need to bring a sacrifice now?”

“No, Sari, I think you’ve sacrificed enough already.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Sari, have a Coke and a smile.”

“Thanks, Rabbi, but I think I’m going to stick with the orange juice.”

“That’s probably a better idea.”


* In present nomenclature, it is no longer Coca Cola Classic, just plain Coke, but I like the historical context.

**Yes, it’s sad that I know that. But there you have it. The Maggid is a recovering Cocaholic and a victim of mass consumerism.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and author of the parsha story blog Themaggidofbergenfield.com.

By Larry Stiefel

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