Parshas Naso describes the laws of a Nazir, someone who takes upon himself a special status in which he abstains from wine, he doesn’t cut his hair and he refrains from allowing himself to become impure from the dead for at least thirty days.
There was once a boy who showed up at the Holy Temple to bring the sacrifices one brings upon concluding the Nazir period. He was very handsome with beautiful hair. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach asked him, “Why did you decide to destroy your beautiful hair?” (Part of the procedure of a Nazir is shaving off his hair at the conclusion of his term.)
The boy answered, “I am a shepherd for my father. One day when I approached the well, I saw my reflection [and noticed my beautiful hair], and I felt my Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) trying to steer me away from the Next World. I said to him, ‘Wicked one! Why are you becoming haughty about a world which is not yours, about one who will end up turning into decay and worms?! I swear I will shave you (the hair) off for the sake of Heaven!’”
Upon hearing this, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach stood up, kissed him on his head and said, “There should be more Nezirim like you amongst Israel! This is what the verse is referring to when it says (6:2) ‘A man or a woman who will express a vow to be a Nazir for the sake of God.’”
Why did the boy deem himself fit to become a Nazir as a reaction to feeling his Yetzer Hara being aroused? What is the lesson behind this story?
The Aley Shur (p. 59) says everyone gets the feelings the of the body urging to pamper it. The question is, is the body an end on its own or just a vessel we use to serve God? When this lad felt a twinge of pride in his good looks, he felt the Yetzer Hara attempting to arouse him to put more emphasis on focusing on enhancing his body. This boy knew well that his body is not something he should identify with as something to admire and develop. The body is given to us merely as a vessel for the soul, to utilize in keeping the Torah and to aid us in attaining higher levels in spirituality.
This was his response to the Yetzer Hara, “Why are you becoming haughty about a world which is not yours?” The body is not intrinsically ours, but an item loaned to us by God for the duration of our lifetime for a specific purpose. Grooming, pampering and developing the human body for its own sake as an end to itself, is an erroneous attitude. Our natural urge to care for our bodies is there only to assist us in maintaining our bodies in a healthy manner so that it can function properly to use in serving God – not to be a goal on its own.
In order to combat his Yetzer Hara and ingrain the proper attitude in himself, the boy became a Nazir. Shaving off the hair he felt proud of, for the sake of a Mitzvah (Torah commandment), for the sake of Heaven, is an act which expresses that the true function of the body is only to be utilized as an instrument in serving God.
This is what becoming a Nazir is about. God does not want us to cause ourselves suffering. The Talmud says that it is a sin for one to pain himself for no reason (Ta’anis 11a). At the same time, there are times when one feels the Yetzer Hara attacking him and he must take extreme measures in order to take a stance against the Yetzer Hara. Proper acceptance of being a Nazir is to remind a person not to put emphasis on pampering and grooming his body, but to view the body as only a means for serving God.
Even without becoming a Nazir, we can incorporate this concept into our lives. If we feel ourselves becoming more focused on tending to our bodies than we should, we can create our own temporary restrictions on how much we fulfill its desires. But the main focus is in our attitude. When we are confronted with our body expressing its desires, before we decide to fulfill them, we should think to ourselves, “Are we out to worship our bodies as an end to itself or is this something that will assist my body is serving God better by satisfying its needs?”
Two people can be doing the exact same thing for two opposite reasons. One person can go the gym so that he can have a healthy body with which to do Mitzvos, while another is doing so for the sake of building his body. You can eat ice cream to refresh yourself, and you can eat ice cream because you live to eat. It’s all a matter of having the proper attitude. We should always remind ourselves that our body is not something to serve as an end to itself.
Parshas Naso by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)