This week’s Torah portion, Naso, describes a Nazirite, someone who takes an oath of spiritual devotion to God. The oath triggers the laws we read about: it must be for a defined amount of time, for the duration, the person cannot cut their hair, nor drink wine (or anything fermented), nor engage in rituals of mourning. In other words, the journey towards God simultaneously involves a journey away from society.
A Nazirite, whether man or woman, chooses to withdraw from human bonding experiences. There is no toasting ‘l’chaim’ with anyone out of joy or commiserating with a drink together after a hard day; no standing next to a friend as they say Kaddish at a graveside; no cutting the hair also means no combing it, since that will pull out hairs. It won’t take long before the hair will matte, and the very sight of the person may make others question their grooming. The presence of a Nazirite will begin to make others uncomfortable.
Ironically, one would think that an oath of devotion to God would mean that person is to be revered in their holiness, not bring discomfort to others. But the word ‘holy’, in Hebrew, means ‘separate from’. We separate the wine in the kiddush cup from the same wine in the bottle by creating holiness through a blessing. We cover holy things to designate their separateness –we cover a Torah scroll for this reason.
Judaism teaches us to function within layers of the holy and the mundane. Our goal is never to devote ourselves only to holy endeavours, but rather to find the times they intersect, and then explore how one informs the other. Judaism shows us how to confront our human yearnings and offers frames of how we can explore them with an awareness of the risk. A yearning for God, to the exclusion of our fellow human beings, means we are no longer involved with God in healing and repairing the world. We momentarily stepped aside from our obligation as partners of God. It is allowed, for a defined time, at the end of which the person must bring a sin offering. We take our responsibility to partner with God very much to heart.
The invitation to enter a close relationship with God is always open to us, but it is always part of a balance where we see God, the world around us, and every person who shares it with us.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.