The Nazir’s Sin

V’zos toras ha’nazir b’yom melos yemei nizro (Bamidbar 6:13)

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 the 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, and 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 that the sin 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 Simchah 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 status and more is expected of us.

Q: The Torah requires (Bamidbar 5:6–7) a person who has stolen not only to return the stolen item but also to confess his sin to Hashem. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 1:1) derives from here that confession is an integral part of the repentance process for any sin which one has committed. Why did the Torah teach this obligation in regard to this specific sin?

Q: Both a nazir and a Kohen are forbidden to become impure through contact with the dead. Why is a Kohen, whose laws should be more stringent since he is born with his holiness, permitted to have contact with dead relatives (Vayikra 21:1–3) while a nazir may not (Bamidbar 6:7)?

A: Harav Moshe Sternbuch suggests that when a person confesses his sins, there is a danger that he may only go through the external motions without truly internally regretting his actions. To combat this natural tendency, the Torah teaches the mitzvah of confession in conjunction with returning a stolen object. This is a mitzvah that one cannot perform only superficially, as it is clear that one may only repent the sin of stealing by returning the stolen object and completely rectifying the consequences of his sin. This teaches us that our confessions regarding other sins must similarly emanate from a genuine feeling of regret for our actions and a true desire to completely eradicate the negative consequences of our sins.

A: Harav Shmaryahu Arieli writes that this teaches that as important as yichus (distinguished lineage) is in Judaism, one’s own accomplishments are even more valuable. A Kohen is a Kohen in the merit of his ancestors, not because he earned the position. As such, he is subject to certain restrictions against contact with the dead, but he is permitted to have contact with dead relatives, as it is only through his family that he has his status as a Kohen. A Kohen Gadol and a nazir, on the other hand, do not have their status due to their forefathers, but through their own actions. Because their positions are obtained in their own merits, they are actually on a higher level than the Kohen who is born into his position, and as such, they are forbidden to have contact even with dead family members.


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