Introductory to Numbers 4:21-7:89; Haftarah: Judges 13:2–24
The families of Gershon and Merari, of the Leviyim, were counted, and appointed to special tasks in the Tabernacle. God then commanded Mosheh to see that all lepers and others who had become ritually were isolated from the camp.
Further details were expounded concerning trespass-offerings and restitution, with the announcement that an individual could bestow gifts to any Kohein he desired – but that once a Kohein had accepted it – it was rightfully his.
The laws of “Sotah” – with the ritual of Mayim ha’ma’ar’arim (bitter waters that invoked a curse) are then described – applying to a wife suspected of unfaithfulness.
This is followed by the explanation of the laws of the Nazir – an individual who takes upon himself a vow to abstain from wine, strong drink or any of their derivatives. During the period of abstinence, the hair might not be cut, nor could the person defile himself – as he was consecrated to YHWH. On the day when the Nazirite was released from his vow, he was to bring a burnt-offering, sin offering and peace offering – in addition to their accompanying meal and drink offerings – as was as any voluntary offerings called for by his oath.
Then El Shaddai instructed Mosheh to tell Aharon and his sons of the threefold blessing (Birchat Kohanim) with which they were to bless Yisrael in the Name of God.
The remainder of the Torah portion relates of the gifts bestowed by the princes of the tribes after the consecration to the Tabernacle and the dedication of the altar. Each prince is designated by name, with an enumeration of his contributions, followed by a tabulation of the total donated.
More about the Nazirites…
Why did the Nazir have to bring a sin-offering – particular since the Torah tells us that throughout the period of his abstinence he is consecrated to El Shaddai? Our sages tell us that our tradition decries the practice of extreme asceticism, which in the case of the Nazir, forbade the use of wine and strong drink and their derivatives. Our sages tell us that the Nazir “sins” against his own body – depriving himself of enjoyment to which humankind is normally entitled. If someone who abstains from wine is called a “sinner” then how much more a “sinner” is he who abstains from all enjoyments?
Our tradition has always discouraged a life of extreme asceticism. While the evils of excess are appreciated fully, extreme self-denial is also deprecated. We are supposed to enjoy life upon this earth and participate in the pleasures that God has provided for our earthly happiness.
Over indulgence is checked by proper observance of our laws and regulations. But, were are told that whatever the Torah forbids is sufficient for us; we should not seek to add further restrictions. Thus, we follow the path of moderation, in accordance with the dictates of nature, eating, drinking in honesty and uprightness, but not dwelling in the wilderness or a cave or afflicting the body.
The only “extreme” asceticism that is commendable is the type of abstinence that is consecrated to God. This is also seen in our two regular fasts which we observe each week. These two fasts also help us to live, even if momentarily, an ascetic life that permits us a time to make atonement for any association which we may have had with evil persons since the last fast.
It is often times quite difficult for the average human being to differentiate between true and false asceticism. Hence, Torah provides us with a guide of life which in itself is sublime, and which, if followed properly, would result in a world of perfection. Our bodies are fashioned by the Creator, and imbued with a Divine spark of intelligence. We are not to abuse our mortal bodies. How much more so are we not to abuse our immortal souls?
True Torah study and Torah practice are ours for the taking. Shall we continue to refuse this priceless treasure which God in His benevolence has granted us? Or shall we accept fully the doctrines revealed to us, and abide by the rules which our great men of wisdom have so carefully explained for us? They have done this “b’ruach ha’kodesh” – with divine inspiration. The choice is ours. Let us patiently and devotedly walk in the light of Torah whose paths are paths of pleasantness, and whose ways are peace.
Extreme asceticism and extreme denial can be very dangerous; over-indulgence is evil.
A Note on the Haftarah
The Haftarah reading tells us of the birth of Samson, a mighty man of Yisrael, who was destined to play such a vital role in our early post-Biblical history. The narrative reveals how an angel of God bade Manoach and his wife to become “Nazirites,” and that they would be blessed with a son who was to be consecrated to the service of YHWH – to deliver Yisrael from Philistinian oppression.
(Adapted by Rabbi Saul Katz from You That Thirst, Torah Commentaries 1940)