Parashas Naso

This week’s parashah discusses the laws of the nazir (Nazirite)  –  a person who commits himself for a set period to a Torah-specified regimen of abstinence, including refraining from wine. In discussing the nazir, the Torah speaks of “the vow of his nazirus” (Bamidbar 6:5). The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 10:10 remarks that the vow should depend on the nazirus, rather than the nazirus depending on the vow. The Maggid explains this cryptic remark, building on the theme (discussed in last year’s piece on this parashah) of the need for awareness and commitment in taking a vow of nazirus.
Consider, the Maggid says, a person who drinks an excess of wine at a party and falls into an uncomfortable state of grogginess, and then gets upset at what happened to him. He becomes disgusted with wine, and, out of a strong desire to distance himself from it, takes a vow of nazirus. His vow depends on the nazirus, in the sense that his desire to be in a state of nazirus – distanced from wine – is what motivated the vow. But suppose that, after a few days, he develops a craving for wine again. Now his nazirus depends on his vow – the only reason he is distancing himself from wine is because he made a vow not to partake of it. His vow is forcing him to continue with his nazirus.
The Midrash is telling us not to fall into this situation. Hashem is pleased when a person maintains a good practice willingly, but is not so pleased when a person does so because he is forced to. Before committing to a certain good practice, a person should think very carefully about whether it is something he will really want to maintain in the long run. Only if is he sure the answer is yes should he take on the practice.
In the Torah’s general discussion of vows, it is written (Bamidbar 30:3): “In accordance with all that issued from his mouth, he should do.” Homiletically, this charge can be read as conveying the following message: A person who takes a vow to follow a certain practice should make sure that, as time goes on, he will continue to do so with the generosity of spirit that accompanied the vow when it was made. Elsewhere, the Torah exhorts (Devarim 23:24): “Guard the utterance of your lips, and fulfill what you vowed to Hashem your God, and the pledge of a voluntary offering that your mouth spoke out.” We can read this verse similarly, as saying that just as the initial pledge was voluntary, so, too, its ultimate fulfillment should be carried through willingly.
Bamidbar Rabbah 22:1 lists three conditions that should be fulfilled before a person makes a vow in Hashem’s name to adopt a certain practice. One of the conditions is that the practice should be aimed at serving Hashem, and not toward some other motive. The Maggid explains that it is a dishonor to Hashem to invoke His name in a vow over a mundane matter. We can add that a vow for the sake of serving Hashem is more likely to be kept willingly than a vow for a mundane motive. When a person makes a vow for a mundane motive, he may easily have a change of heart. This point is illustrated by the Maggid’s example of a person who was prompted by a bout of severe drunkenness to take a vow of nazirus, but later regretted it. By contrast, a person who makes a vow for Hashem’s sake is more likely (albeit not certain) to be firmly committed to the practice he vowed to adopt.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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