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Oh! To Be Young Again

05/21/2021 12:26:37 PM

May21

Rabbi Barry Gelman

When introducing the laws of the Nazir the Torah states that a Nazir may not become Tameh L’Met (many not come into contact with any human corpse). This prohibition includes coming into contact or proximity with the remains of his relatives and even prohibits the Nazir from becoming Tameh for immediate family members. (Num. 6:6-7)

כל־יְמֵ֥י הַזִּיר֖וֹ לַיהֹוָ֑ה עַל־נֶ֥פֶשׁ מֵ֖ת לֹ֥א יָבֹֽא׃

“‘All the days that he santifies himself to Hashem he shall not go near a dead body.

לְאָבִ֣יו וּלְאִמּ֗וֹ לְאָחִיו֙ וּלְאַ֣חֹת֔וֹ לֹא־יִטַּמָּ֥א לָהֶ֖ם בְּמֹתָ֑ם כִּ֛י נֵ֥זֶר אֱלֹהָ֖יו עַל־רֹאשֽׁוֹ׃

He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because his separation to God is on his head.

It is interesting to note that when the Torah teaches that a Kohein, who normally is not allowed to become Tameh L’Met, may do so for close relatives including children, the section prohibiting becoming Team for Nazir, does not mention children.

כִּ֚י אִם־לִשְׁאֵר֔וֹ הַקָּרֹ֖ב אֵלָ֑יו לְאִמּ֣וֹ וּלְאָבִ֔יו וְלִבְנ֥וֹ וּלְבִתּ֖וֹ וּלְאָחִֽיו׃

except for his relatives that are near to him: for his mother, for his father, for his son, for his daughter, for his brother…

Is there some conceptual difference between the Nazir and the Kohein? Is there some other reason to explain this difference?

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky offers an interesting suggestion that comes along with a challenge or an opportunity for personal growth.

The answer relates to why someone would choose to become a Nazir. The Talmud explains that the impetus to become a Nazir was in response to witnessing untoward behaviour, In the case of the Nazir, it was specifically in relation to inappropriate use of alcohol. As such, the person witnessing this behaviour makes a 

 

decision to change their life and swear off wine in order to avoid the pitfall that they witnessed.

This, in and of itself, is inspiring and instructional. It reminds us that when we see certain behaviours, trends, activities that lead to disastrous results (in ourselves or in others), we should take note to avoid those practices and/or change our behaviour. 

Rav Kaminetzky notes that it also explains the exclusion of children regarding the Nazir. By and large, he says, Nizirim were young and therefore did not have children. This is alluded to by the pasuk in Amos (2:11).

וָאָקִ֤ים מִבְּנֵיכֶם֙ לִנְבִיאִ֔ים וּמִבַּחוּרֵיכֶ֖ם לִנְזִרִ֑ים... 

“And I raised up of your sons for prophets, And of your young men for Nazirites…”

Nizirim come from the young because becoming a Nazir is about changing one's behavior and that is very hard and becomes even harder as we get older.  Once habits and approaches set in and become our routine, changing those habits is really really hard. 

On the other hand, young people  - whose behaviour is not set in stone and whose life patterns have not been firmly established, have an easier time switching direction.

Of course an older person can become a Nazir, but since Nizirut is essentially about thinking and acting differently, it was uncommon. 

This approach reminded me of a fascinating Gemara. (Bava Kamma 97b)

ואיזהו מטבע של אברהם אבינו זקן וזקינה מצד אחד ובחור ובתולה מצד אחר

What is the coin of Abraham our forefather? An old man and an old woman were inscribed on one side, and a young man and a young woman were on the other side.
 

Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg notes that this Midrash teaches that Avraham and Sarah combined the flexibility of youthfulness and sagacity and of old age. 

Even as they grew older, they overcame the hesitancy that more mature people have to change. 

In the realm of human development, this is so important.  This approach can improve our marriage and other human relationships. It can save friendships and be the key toward new understandings of each other and the world we live in. 

Here is an example of a difficult, but important change. It is definitely easier for most of us to be speakers rather than listeners. Transitioning from a speaker to a listener is hard, but possible and there are things we can focus on in order to be better listeners

Judaism’s central expression of faith is couched in “listening” terms. Sh’ma Yisrael… Hear O Israel….

This is just one example of many opportunities we encounter to flex our “youth muscles” 

Getting back to Avraham and Sarah. What may have inspired the Aggadah 

about the coin is the fact that Sarah and Abraham achieved their most significant accomplishments in the latter part of their lives.  Abraham was 75 years old when he left his home after hearing God’s command, heading to an undisclosed location (“the land that I will show you”) Only once Avraham was 90 year olf did God reveal himself to tell Avraham that he would father a great nation.   God commanded Abraham to undergo circumcision at the age of 99.

Of course, we recall that Sara gave birth to Yitzchak when she was 90 years old and graham was 100 years old.

The double sided coin teaches us that for Abraham and Sarah age did not serve as an impediment to imagining and actualizing a new future. Even as most settle down at their age, they are up for new challenges.

The Nazir is a reminder to us  (no matter our age) of the importance of keeping our minds and hearts open to our surroundings as they can serve as a powerful catalyst to change.

Tue, June 22 2021 12 Tammuz 5781