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Appreciate Your Godliness

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )


Why does the Torah forbid a Nazirite to come near the dead? The Ralbag explains, “The reason why a dead body contaminates is because it represents the defectiveness of the physical, and the Nazirite should avoid the physical things to which he may be attracted.”

Rabbi Henoch Lebovitz comments that to the contrary, being confronted with human mortality motivates a person to spirituality, as King Solomon says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of all man, and the living should take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). We find repeated references in the Talmud that the contemplation of one's mortality discourages a person from physical indulgences. Why, then, does Ralbag say that the Nazirite, who takes a vow of abstinence in his quest for spirituality, should avoid contact with the dead?

Rabbi Lebovitz explains that there are two paths whereby one can strive for spirituality. One way is to focus on man's sharing of physical drives with lower forms of life, and that when he indulges in gratification of his bodily desires he is acting out his animalistic traits. The Midrash states that when God admonished Adam for his sin, Adam wept, “Now my mule and I will be eating from the same trough.” This is a humbling awareness that should motivate a person toward spirituality by distancing him from physical gratification. The second way is to realize the holiness of the Divine neshama (soul) that he possesses, which is inseparable from its source in God. The realization of his potential for Godliness should motivate a person toward the pursuit of spirituality.

Both approaches are valid, and each has its place. The ethicists cite the phrase, “His heart was high in the way of God” (II Chronicles 17:6) as meaning that although pride is vanity, one may be motivated by pride to become more spiritual. Awareness of one's Godly component should make a person reach for the stars, because there is nothing spiritual that is beyond his grasp. As Rambam says, “Every person can be like Moses” (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2). The dignity of man should make him pursue perfection.

The Talmud tells of a young man who had beautiful long hair. Seeing his handsome reflection in the water, he feared that he might be drawn to physical indulgences. He promptly took a Nazirite vow, which would require shaving his head. “I swear that I will cut this hair in the service of God” (Nazir 4:2). One who accepts Nezirus for such a purpose is the ideal.

A Nazirite who is so dedicated to the achievement of spirituality should focus on the Godliness of his soul. He should be thoroughly absorbed in the spiritual greatness that is within his reach. There is no need for him to concentrate on his lowly physical component and be distracted from his potential greatness (Chi-dushei HaLev, Bamidbar p. 31).

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