The Nazir’s Sin

A nazir is a person who voluntarily accepts upon himself three restrictions: not to cut his hair, not to come into contact with the dead and not to consume wine or other grape products. At the conclusion of the period of his nazirite vow, which lasts 30 days unless he specifies otherwise, he is required to bring several offerings: a korban olah (elevation offering), a korban chatas (sin offering), and a korban shelamim (peace offering).

The need for the korban olah is understandable, as the nazir accepted upon himself additional holiness in order to bring himself closer to Hashem, which fits the theme of an elevation offering. Similarly, the Ibn Ezra explains that the peace offering connotes satisfaction and happiness, and therefore the nazir brings it to express his joy at successfully completing his vow. However, the requirement to offer a korban chatas seems puzzling. What sin did the nazir commit for which the Torah obligates him to bring a Sin-Offering?

The Ramban posits that the reason the nazir must offer the Korban Chatas is for the very “sin” of ending his term as a nazir. After elevating himself through voluntarily relinquishing physical pleasures, he should have elected to maintain his lofty state. It is for the “sin” of leaving this sanctified atmosphere behind in order to reenter the world of mundane earthly pleasures that the Torah requires him to bring a Sin-Offering.

As fascinating as the Ramban’s explanation is, it presents a major difficulty: It seems to contradict the explanation given by Chazal. The Gemara (Nedarim 10a) also questions why the nazir must offer a Korban Chatas, and it answers she’tziyer atzmo min hayayin — the sin that he committed was his original decision to needlessly cause himself suffering by abstaining from wine. After the Gemara states clearly that voluntarily refraining from physical enjoyment is considered sinful, how can the Ramban write that the nazir’s sin is his decision to return to those pleasures?

Harav Simcha Zissel Broide, who was the head of the Chevron yeshivah, explains that when the person initially elected to become a nazir, he was an average person, and as such, his decision was painful for him and was therefore viewed as sinful. However, during the course of his time as a nazir, he became uplifted. At the conclusion of his nazirite vow, he is no longer the same person who began it.

The Torah’s criticism of ordinary people who deny themselves items that Hashem permitted no longer applies to him in his new, elevated state, in which it is completely appropriate to abstain from physical enjoyment in order to live a more spiritual existence and bring oneself closer to Hashem. He has grown so much, that the Ramban teaches us that it is now a sin to return to the level that it was originally a sin to leave; and leaving this lifestyle of heightened sanctity to revert to being an ordinary person requires atonement.

Most of us will never become a nazir or even meet a nazir. Nevertheless, the lesson of the nazir is still relevant to each of us. As we go through life, we are expected to grow and strive to reach higher levels of spiritual accomplishment. As we do so, we may find that certain activities or interests that we used to enjoy no longer seem appropriate for our new levels. When the power of our ingrained habits attempts to pull us back, it is important to be cognizant of the Ramban’s message that as we grow and become more spiritually sensitive, we are judged according to our new states and more is expected of us.

Q: May an unmarried Kohen recite the Priestly Blessing?

A: The Mordechai writes that a Kohen who isn’t married should not say the Priestly Blessing. The Gemara in Yevamos (62b) teaches that an unmarried person lacks joy, and it is appropriate for one giving a blessing to be happy. The Darkei Moshe questions this opinion in light of the law that a minor may not say the Priestly Blessing. It should be unnecessary to exempt a minor, since he is already exempt for the reason that a minor cannot get married. He answers that a minor does not yet feel sad over the fact that he is unmarried, and therefore needs his own unique exemption.

The Rashba writes that he never heard this opinion from any of his teachers, or saw it in any work. Although it may have roots in Aggadic teachings, its omission from the Gemara means that this is not normative law. As a matter of practical law, the Shulchan Aruch rules that an unmarried Kohen should say the Priestly Blessing.

The Rema quotes the dissenting opinion, but writes that the practice is to say it, although he adds that it is permitted to leave the synagogue before the Kohanim are called. The Mishnah Berurah explains that although an unmarried Kohen may lack joy, he is still not sad and can therefore bless.

Q: Why are the blessings of Birkas Kohanim, which are only recited in the presence of at least 10 males, worded in the singular and not in the plural?

A: Harav Shloma Margolis suggests that the singular form implies that blessing is most prevalent when there is achdus. Alternatively, even if some of the people aren’t deserving of the blessings, the individuals who are will still receive them.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.