Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Parshat Naso

The Nazir's Hair

Three things are forbidden to a nazir, a person who makes a vow to "abstain for the sake of the Lord (Bemidbar 6:1) making him/her "holy to the Lord" (ibid 8):

They are forbidden to consume grapes and any derivatives of grapes (ibid 4).
They are forbidden to have contact with the dead (ibid 7)
They may not cut their hair (ibid 5)

The Nazir is a type of priest, someone dedicated to the worship of God, and so it easy to understand why they cannot consume grapes. Grapes can have an intoxicating effect and so, just as priest in worship cannot drink wine, so too nazirites, who are dedicated for every minute of the day, cannot drink wine.

The same goes for contamination with the dead. Kohanim are forbidden contact with the dead, so too is a nazir.

However, what's with the hair? What does not cutting the hair have to do with sanctification to God? Furthermore, this rule is in contradistinction to the Kohen Gadol who is forbidden to let his hair grow long (See VaYikra 21:11).

Even more interesting is the case of Shimshon, the judge who was dedicated as a life long nazir from the womb (Shoftim 13:2-7). He certainly did contaminate himself with corpses (he killed thousands and also ate honey from the carcass of a dead lion cub) – though he was not expressly forbidden from being in contact with the dead. He also participated in a seven day feast (called "mishteh" a word synonymous with wine consumption) (ibid 14:12). However, he was most strict about his hair.

What's even more fascinating is the strength that his hair seemed to give him. Shimshon was a fearless and mighty man who rips apart lion cubs with his bare hands, captures 300 foxes, defeated an entire army with a donkey's jaw bone, he can break through the strongest of bonds "as if they were flax" and he single-handedly demolished a Philistine Temple, again with his bare hands.

The Philistine's attribute his strength to supernatural powers and Shimshon himself attributes all his strength to his hair saying: "If I will be shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any man" (Shoftim 16:17). Indeed after the Philistine shaved off his seven locks of hair "his strength left him" (ibid 19). Furthermore, his strength returns once his grew back.

In biblical times hair was considered a source of virility and strength. Indeed, when Hanun, King of Aram wanted to humiliate King David, he "took David's servants and he shaved off a half of their beards" (II Shmuel 10:4). These men were too ashamed to return to David, so he told them: "Remain seated in Jericho until your beards grow, and then you shall return" (ibid 5).

Furthermore, when Devorah and Barak sand their song of victory, they began by saying: "When men let grow their hair in Israel, when the people offer themselves willingly, bless ye the Lord" (Shoftim 5:2).

Essentially, letting one's hair grow long was a sign of strength and readiness for battle. The troops would in essence be taking a vow that they would not cut their hair until God had given them victory in battle.

The Nazir's vow has to be understood in this light. He is vowing to abstain from certain pleasures and to dedicate himself to God until he has achieved a certain closeness with Him. The Nazir, will therefore, not cut his hair until that vow has been fulfilled.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Naso, entitled: "The Mishkan’s Opening Day – Again! !appears at

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