June 11, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 11, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Silhouette of a balance scale taken against a dramatic sky.

A nazir is an enigma. By adopting additional stringencies, he exhibits extraordinary dedication to an intensely religious lifestyle. Concerned about overindulgence in material pleasure, he bans wine consumption.

Commenting upon the Torah’s juxtaposition of the Nazir section with the story of a woman who betrays her husband, the Talmud suggests that his decision to adopt religious strictness is taken in response to the scandal of adultery.

His moral recoil to marital infidelity inspires him to renounce wine and to prevent possible addiction.

Even when not responding to the disgrace of adultery, a nazir hopes to check against the dangers of excessive physical pleasure. He displays remarkable moral spirit and emotional discipline.

However, the Torah also alludes to a nazir as sinful or at least veering toward sin. Maimonides explained that, by disavowing wine, a nazir tampers with the delicate balance which God established regarding our physical experiences.

Judaism doesn’t endorse extreme physical deprivation or wholesale asceticism. Both our soul and our bodies were created by God, and each participates in a unified and holistic religious experience. By adding extra prohibitions, the nazir tilts the system toward excessive abstinence, threatening to upset our divinely ordained religious equilibrium. A nazir is both holy and sinful.

Our tradition has generally frowned upon the concept of nazir. To be sure, several legendary Biblical personalities including Yosef, Shimshon and Shmuel adopted this lifestyle, but, generally our tradition discouraged this institution. It was never seen as an ideal for the mainstream.

Yet, despite this ambivalence and our general discouragement of such behavior, the Torah still provides a financial leniency for a nazir whose “term” was disrupted by coming into contact with a dead person.

After his term is interrupted, a nazir must offer two sacrifices, and afterward, he starts his term again from the beginning. Though, typically cattle sacrifices are offered, a nazir only tenders two cheaper birds. The midrash attributes this discount to a nazir having already suffered the indignity of becoming ritually impure and to his frustration at being forced to restart a new term of his Nazir pledge.

Given the fact that he has already experienced disappointment, the Torah grants him a financial discount. Ideologically, his decision to be a nazir is problematic. However, at a human level, he has already endured a setback and emotional distress must be considered. Compassion for human suffering is far more important than ideological evaluation of his decision.

Our country currently faces an unimaginable dilemma. We were brutally attacked by vicious barbarians who are still determined to destroy our country.

Though they have brazenly pledged to continue their violence, the world turns a deaf ear and encourages us to sign a peace treaty with genocidal psychopaths. If we don’t finish this just and moral war, these maniacs will regroup, re-entrench themselves and recover their capacity to attack us. We have invested far too much effort and suffered far too much loss of life to leave this incredibly important job unfinished. Our survival depends upon it.

Alternatively, there are currently 124 hostages imprisoned in dark tunnels of Azza who have suffered through over 250 days of unspeakable cruelty and torture. They are citizens of our state, and we possess a national and a moral responsibility to return them home. It appears as if the only way they can be released is through a ceasefire agreement with the murderers of Hamas. The only path to their release is a treaty with monsters whose hands are stained with the blood of thousands of Israelis.

We cannot reconcile these two vital goals. Our enemies demonically set this trap, knowing they could manipulate Israeli public opinion and sow further discord. The general population remains badly divided between those who support a ceasefire and a hostage release, and those who want to press this war to its conclusion. Videos of hostages pull at our heart strings.

The video of the female soldiers who manned lookout stations as they were attacked by Hamas terrorists is horrific and demoralizing. The discovery of the bodies of hostages creates even greater urgency to work toward their release.

There is no easy solution to this quagmire. More than ever, it seems that we cannot achieve a decisive victory over Hamas while also freeing the hostages alive. God should help us achieve both, but without divine intervention it is unlikely that we can succeed in both noble goals. We remain badly divided over which policy to pursue.

More important than whatever policy we support is the sympathy we feel and express for the different groups of victims who are suffering through this trauma. The anguish of the families of hostages is horrendous. Not knowing the fate of your loved ones, while imagining the worst, these families have endured a nightmare which never ends. Day by day the clock ticks down and each day that passes subjects the hostages to extra suffering while decreasing their chance of survival. Ignoring their suffering is callous and insensitive.

Families of fallen soldiers are also suffering an indescribable and heartbreaking loss.

Many of these families have expressed their desire that this battle be fought to its victorious conclusion. These families have paid the ultimate price in defense of our country and without a conclusive victory many feel that their sacrifice will be in vain. They are also undergoing severe torment and anguish.

Essentially, whatever policy we adopt will aggravate the suffering of people who have already undergone a horrifying trauma.

Given this, we all must learn to speak about the situation with heightened sensitivity and with the sober acknowledgement that any policy or political decision will cause pain and sorrow.

Human compassion must always take precedence over ideology or political positions.

Too often, people assert a policy about this dilemma with indelicacy and without even mentioning the pain of the victims. We must speak more gently and with much more nuance, realizing the huge emotional cost of whatever policy we believe to be correct.

There is enormous suffering on both sides of the equation and any decision will only be a partial one, though it may be the best option available.

Sensitivity is more important than political sloganeering.

The same emotional sensitivity is necessary when we speak about “the war” in general. Our discussions surround the “day after,” the political dynamics or military analysis. Many are pondering the larger questions surrounding the war: How is this war a struggle over the image of God in our world and how is radical Islam perverting religious values?

How is this struggle reshaping Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood? How does this war play into the larger and enduring battle against antisemitism? Why is our culture so broken, and how are some modern cultural narratives being weaponized against our people?

We are involved in many larger conversations about the war. These discussions must always be prefaced by acknowledging the extreme agony that the direct victims are living through.

Families of hostages, families of fallen soldiers, displaced families, people traumatized by being caught in the October 7 attack: These groups are the primary victims of our national trauma.

Don’t turn too quickly to the world of ideas, to political analysis or to prognostications while ignoring the human and emotional toll. Make sure to first sympathize with human suffering. Compassion and sympathy must always precede ideology.


The writer is a rabbi at the hesder Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush. He has ordination from Yeshiva University and has a master’s degree in English literature from CUNY. He is the author of “Dark Clouds Above, Faith Below”(Kodesh Press), which provides religious responses to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles