Parashat Nasso

דתניא, אמר שמעון הצדיק: מימי לא אכלתי אשם נזיר טמא אלא אחד; פעם אחת בא אדם אחד נזיר מן הדרום, וראיתיו שהוא יפה עינים וטוב רואי וקווצותיו סדורות לו תלתלים, אמרתי לו: בני, מה ראית להשחית את שערך זה הנאה? אמר לי: רועה הייתי לאבא בעירי, הלכתי למלאות מים מן המעיין ונסתכלתי בבבואה שלי, ופחז עלי יצרי ובקש לטורדני מן העולם, אמרתי לו: רשע! למה אתה מתגאה בעולם שאינו שלך, במי שהוא עתיד להיות רמה ותולעה? העבודה, שאגלחך לשמים! מיד עמדתי ונשקתיו על ראשו, אמרתי לו: בני, כמוך ירבו נוזרי נזירות בישראל, עליך הכתוב אומר: איש... כי יפליא לנדור נדר נזיר להזיר לה’

Simon the Righteous stated :In all my life I only chose to eat the Guilt Offering of a Nazarite but once. One time a nazarite came from the South, and I saw that he had beautiful eyes and fair features and long luxurious locks of hair. I said “My child, what drove you to destroy your beautiful hair.” He told me “I am a shepherd for my father in my city. I went to draw water from the spring, and I gazed at my reflection, and my evil inclination jumped upon me and sought to remove me from the world. I said ‘Evil one! Why do you pride yourself in this world that isn’t yours, when in the future, you will be worm and maggot?’ By the Divine Service, I will shave you for the sake of Heaven!” Immediately, I stood up and kissed his head, and I told him “My child, may nazarites like you multiply in Israel.” About him the Torah writes “A man who decides to vow the nazarite vow for Gd…”

The path of a Nazarite is not an easy one to stay on. For the duration they vow they are forbidden from cutting or combing hair and consuming any grape product. They are also forbidden from coming in proximity with the dead. Should they contact impurity from a body even by happenstance, they must restart their entire vow of abstention from scratch. In addition to this reset, they are required to bring sacrifices including a lamb as a guilt offering.

Not surprisingly, many nazarites end up with second thoughts about their vows, particularly those who are forced to restart them, perhaps just as their count of days was nearing completion. They would bring their guilt offerings only with reluctance. It was for this reason that the high priest Shimon the Righteous was loath to accept such offerings and refused to eat from them. Perhaps, in their annoyance at becoming impure and their depression in having to start the count from scratch, the nazarite would regret having ever taken on such a status. This would in a sense make the initial vow void, as had the person known how they would feel later, they would not utter the vow in the first place. This regret does not actually annul the vow without going to a court and having a formal annulment, but Shimon still refused to associate with such reluctant nazarites.

However, one time he did he eat from the sacrifice of a nazarite who became impure. The man described his motives for becoming a nazarite, and Simon realized this man did not regret his vow at all. Rather he would try again and again and see the vow to completion. This man had felt that his good looks made him too enamored with physicality, and he was determined to mar that beauty by shaving himself upon the completion of his nazarite ritual. Since he had undertaken the vow for holy purposes and not frivolous reasons, he would keep trying until he saw it to completion.

But there’s an obvious question here. It is true that many people take vows rashly or in anger, but the Talmud itself mentions times when it is appropriate to take a nazarite vow. Could this man really be the only one to ever take a vow for the sake of Heaven? What made this man’s answer so compelling for Simon to deviate from his regular practice?

In truth, not every nazarite made their vow in anger or with frivolity. Many probably did have a good reason at the time of making it. But as their vows dragged on, and especially when they ran into a snag and had to start all over, those reasons seemed distant and forgotten in the face of discouragement. Other people had good reasons at the time, but when they told their stories over, Simon could hear the annoyance or regret in their voice. They had repented from the good thoughts that had compelled them to make their vow. Even if they still planned to finish them, they no longer had the pure motives they started with.

But this man still knew exactly what compelled him to make the vow he did. He still remembered well the disgust he felt when he started preening himself, and he kept the story of that moment with him at all times. That conviction came through when he retold the story. Simon knew that he still felt as strongly about this as the day he made the vow and would always feel that way. Therefore, he felt sure this man was sincere and could eat his sacrifice.

Many times, we commit to doing good and regret it later, or we stumble and fall from the path where we wished to be. If we can remember the moment when we committed to doing good and carry it with us as this nazarite did, we can continue to draw strength from it. Even if we fail many times, eventually we will succeed.