Learn from Congregation B’nai Chaim: What is a Nazarite?

Hefsiba "Jen" Cohen

Hefsiba “Jen” Cohen Special to Valley News

This week’s parashah, Nasso, is about the interesting rites of the Nazarite, an Israelite who desired to dedicate themselves to the service of God, which included, in ancient times, work in the tabernacle or temple. This person was bound by promise to stay away from certain things as they became set apart and consecrated as holy according to Numbers 6:1-21. By making such a vow, they would be holy unto God and to serve him in an official capacity.

Since the word nazir means to “separate,” the Nazarite would make a vow to separate themselves from certain things including wine, grape products and, interestingly, hair cutting.

Also, the same Hebrew letters can also be read as nezer, which means “crown.” Interestingly, the Torah said that the Nazarite may not come in contact with the dead for the “nezer (crown) of his God is upon his head.”

While the judge Samson, who is the famed biblical hero of super strength, and the prophet Samuel were both Nazarites from birth, most Nazarite vows were made by everyday people making a vow for a stated amount of time. Anyone of any age, tribe, gender or color could make such a vow and be in God’s service.

A pure Nazarite was, perhaps, even more holy than priests, as while priests could only touch the dead of their family members, the Nazarites couldn’t even do that. Priests were born into their roles, servants of God by fate, but the Nazarite was a servant of God by choice.

Being a Nazarite was, therefore, not a ticket to superpowers like Samson, a spiritual ticket to goodness nor a “get out of teshuva (repentance) free” card, as it worked almost the opposite – the more one was set aside for holiness, the more one had the responsibility to live holy.

The invitation itself spoke of God’s graciousness in offering the role of such service to anyone who chose. It spoke of the equality of people whose spirituality and dedication was dictated by their own zeal. Thus, the Nazarite vow was a holy calling, an invitation to those who sought to live a lifestyle above the mundane, but it wasn’t right for everyone.

Today, we don’t have to let our hair grow out, shun wine and avoid the dead to choose to serve God in a life of goodness. In the words of Rabbi M. Posner, “For if God willed it, God would have created a world with no wine and no temptations. Rather, God wants us to live within the world and uncover the wonder and meaning embedded within it.”

We may not have the option of super strength like the Nazarite Samson, but we all have the opportunity today to choose to live in holiness simply by embracing Torah – doing justice, loving goodness and walking humbly with our God.

Congregation B’nai Chaim is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit https://www.bnaichaim.com or find them on Facebook.

Hefsiba Cohen is a student rabbi and co-principal of the Lamad Academy Religious School.