Parshas Nasso: For Now and Forever
ועשה הכהן אחד לחטאת ואחד לעלה וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש וקדש את ראשו ביום ההוא
The kohen shall prepare one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering and atone on his behalf for sinning by coming into contact with the dead, and he shall sanctify his head on that day. (6:11)
Upon completion of his Nezirus, the Nazir brings two turtledoves or two young doves to the kohen. Rav Shamshon Refoel Hirsh explains that birds represent the capacity to soar upward to spiritual perfection. By using them as karbonos, the Nazir symbolizes ascent from the ways of tumah and readiness to begin anew.
In the very next possuk, וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש, the Torah calls this same person that just went soaring high, a sinner. The meforshim are bothered by this description. What sin did the Nazir commit? If anything, this man is a tzaddik because he accepted upon himself to live a higher life that was not asked of him. Rashi cites two opinions of Chazal. A) Perhaps this is talking about someone that sinned by not taking better precautions to avoid becoming tamei. (Sifri) B) The Nazir sinned by depriving himself of the pleasure of drinking wine. HaShem gave us a beautiful world, and He wants us to enjoy it. Abstinence is not the way of the Torah. Of course, at times it is a necessary evil, but the Torah is teaching us that is not the preferred way of living. The better way is to take in all that HaShem has created, and to recognize the stamp on every item in the world, that proclaims, “Made by HaShem”.
The Ramban answers that this Nazir lived a level of higher devotion to HaShem. Specifically for this reason, when that period is coming to an end, as he steps back into a more mundane life, he needs a kapara, for it is a tragedy when great levels of achievement get lost.
We find this idea two more times in the parsha. In possuk 20 the Torah tells us about the day after: ואחר ישתה הנזיר יין – and afterward the Nazir may drink wine. The Avnei Neizer wonders why we are still calling him a Nazir. Didn’t he already complete his term? He answers that the goal of Nezirus was to achieve spiritual gain and to retain it; as long as he is a better person, the Torah honours him with the title of Nazir.
According to the Rashi we mentioned earlier that the sin of the Nazir is that he abstained from the wine, perhaps we can answer along the same lines as follows: the Torah is telling him: “You made a decision to become a Nazir. You lived higher, now on your way out, take that holiness with you, but this time, use it while drinking the wine. Enjoy the world, but this time through the eyeglasses of holiness.”
Similarly, after discussing the korbanos of the nessiim, the possuk says:זאת חנכת המזבח ביום המשח אתו מאת נשיאי ישראל “This was the dedication of the mizbayach, on the day it was dedicated” (7:84). Four pessukim later, when the Torah concludes the accounting, we are again told זאת חנכת המזבח אחרי המשח אתו- after it was dedicated” (7:88). Why did the Torah start out using the expression of “beyom” — “on the day” — and conclude with the expression “acharei” — “after”?
Perhaps this change of terminology can be explained in the following way: It is common for people to cherish something new. As time passes, however, the novelty often proves short-lived. For example, one may think of the excitement of that very first time a bar mitzvah boy puts on his tefillin. As he grows older, unfortunately, it becomes a daily routine. L’havdil, the same is true with a brand new car or any new item. As time passes, the excitement will typically begin to wane.
On the day the mizbayach was anointed, everyone was in high spirits. The Torah is telling us that not only were they in great spirits “on the day the mizbayach was anointed,” but that even “after it was anointed,” it did not lose its newness, but was cherished with the same love and awe as on the first day.
We just concluded the Yom Tov of Matan Torah. This Yom Tov really began already seven weeks earlier on the night of Pesach. We climbed level upon level during the Sefirah, until finally arriving at tat great crescendo, the day of Shavuos. As we depart from Yom Tov and enter back into the mundane, we must ascertain that we bring the great levels that we achieved with us, not letting the inspiration slip away. Let us do what we can and hold onto it, not needing the atonement of the Nazir.
But practically speaking, how do we hold onto it? Doesn’t inspiration just come and go? Quoting a possuk in Shir Hashirim (3:5), the meforshim gives us a practical way to retain our elevated frame of mind and really utilize what we have accomplished. The possuk says, אם תעירו ואם תעוררו את האהבה עד שתחפץ- if you will wake or rouse the love until it pleases. Homiletically, they look at the word שתחפץ (it pleases/desires) and see in it the word חפץ which can also refer to an object. If you have love for HaShem and you want it to last; if you feel really inspired and want to take it to the next level, you must concretize it, and by doing so it will become real. How do we do that? The secret is in the word חפץ- place that inspiration onto something tangible. Don’t allow it to remain as just another good speech or yet another forwarded whatsapp message. By stopping for a moment to reflect and accept on ourselves something real, in that manner it becomes ours. By doing so, it has the power to remain with us indefinitely.