Last week was the first yahrzeit of Rabbi Uri Zohar, who had been a major celebrity in Eretz Yisrael as an actor, comedian and film producer. When he was in his forties, he gave it all up to become a shomer Torah u’mitzvos! His embracing of Torah and mitzvos was a major shock to Israeli secular society, as he was considered an icon in Israeli culture. On his part, Rabbi Zohar felt he had a lot to catch up on—a bit like Rabbi Akiva—who dedicated himself to learn Torah beginning at the age of 40 and who, eventually, became a great talmid chacham.
Parshas Nasso discusses the halachos of a nazir (a man or woman who voluntarily took a vow requiring them, for a designated time period, to abstain from wine and all other grape products, to refrain from cutting the hair on their head, and to avoid becoming ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves). When a nazir completed his nezirus period, he went to the Beis Hamikdash. The pasuk says “yavi oso,” which means, “he should bring him.” But Rashi explains that really no one escorts the nazir; he comes on his own. Why does the Torah use the words that literally mean someone else should bring him? Seforno explains that the nazir transformed himself into a new person through his extra commitment. So although he is coming on his own, he is “bringing along” another person, i.e., his old self, since he is now a new person.
Rabbi Zohar transformed his lifestyle, yet he brought along his old self by using his communication talents to address audiences of Jews who were not previously exposed to Torah and mitzvos. His wit and charm had a major impact on the teshuvah movement.
Rabbi Zohar wasn’t only about big changes; he understood the importance and power of small commitments to create transformational change. The standard time period for a nazir’s vow is only 30 days. We all exceed that time period when we refrain from taking a haircut during Sefirah! Abstaining from wine and the other two prohibitions for 30 days is a small price to pay to get closer to Hashem. Yet, these small steps are considered to make the nazir into a new person.
The Gemara says that someone who commits to learn a mishna has made a large promise to the God of Bnei Yisrael. What’s the big deal about committing to learning one mishna?
Rav Nosson Wachtfogel explains that this is teaching us the value of a commitment. The commitment to learn even one mishna is huge in the eyes of Hashem. Why? This tangible commitment gives a person a new identity, adding the strength for him to accomplish something more than he might have been able to do previously.
I just attended a siyum by a good friend of mine, Reb Ezra David, on Gemara Sotah, which he had completed while learning Daf Yomi. Gemara Sotah is one of the smaller masechtos, with just 48 blatt (pages). Reb Ezra said that he took upon himself something extra for this learning project: he committed himself to fully review each daf, rather than just skimming the surface. Although it was an undertaking of only 48 days, and the need to review is obvious for a serious Daf Yomi participant, his specific commitment made his accomplishment a transformative event.
This past week was also the yahrzeit of my grandfather, Mr. Sidney Blechner. He started and managed a light-fixture company. I remember that my grandfather had a letter from Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz—a rosh yeshiva of Telshe Cleveland—framed and hanging in his office. The yeshiva had a major fire and the entire building needed to be rebuilt. Although my grandfather wasn’t connected to the yeshiva, he saw an advertisement in the paper asking for people’s help to rebuild. My grandfather took upon himself the commitment to help. He was very proud of that commitment—and many others—he made in his lifetime to help support Torah institutions.
The lesson from the nazir is about commitment. A small resolution can change us entirely into a new person and give us the ability to accomplish something that was before out of our reach. The next time we are about to engage in a positive act, let us consider adding the power of a commitment to bring us to new heights!
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com