So this week we're reading Naso, and it's a lot. I mean, who doesn't like to read about the offerings of the princes of the tribes, and that is important but in conversation this week the Nazarite came up. Also a part of this portion, the vows of the Nazarite are unique. The idea that you'd abstain from any product of the grape and not cut our hair, for a fixed length of time as a service to G!d.
It was brought up that Judaism has very very few ascetics, very few people who cut them selves off from community, or within reason the living of life. Generally speaking Judaism does not celebrate a monastic tradition in the way that other faiths venerate. It was stated that Torah always gives us a way to enjoy a facet of life and a total withdraw was not ideal.
So, why? Why do this? It was brought up that some people need isolation to focus on their path to understanding and relationship to the divine. Perhaps when we plateau in our path to G!d we need something of a break through moment that can push us through the wall.
Most rockets launched work in stages, with one engine and fuel tank pushing for a while and then dropping off and another engine starting to take on the new load as the weight changes and the atmosphere thins. The space shuttle had its own engines, but it needed two huge booster rockets to make orbit!
After a sleep on the topic some other things came to mind.
We have a communal Friday night shabbos dinner. I made couscous with dolma and I did this thoughtlessly to our parsha. The couscous had grape seed oil in it and the dolma well, they are stuffed grape leaves. We had wine for kiddish and along with the rest of the eats the yiddishkeit was outstanding!
Everything I brought had grape product in it I thought. So I thought on it and my first thought as it was morning, and I was still in bed, perhaps it was like tefillin. On yom tovim and the intermediate days we don't wrap, on Shabbat we don't wrap. The day is the sign, we do not need the tefillin as sh'ma would ask of us. Wine is a central element to the Jewish recognition of festivals and worship. Perhaps as the Nazarite abstains from the grape and cutting the hair they are entering a period of being the sign? And like a glass of wine, or its effect on a person, it's thankfully for better and for worse, temporary.
I kept drifting back in Torah as I lay in bed and Noah came to mind. What if the Nazarite rite is not about going forwards?
Noah is sometimes called the first vintner. Why would Torah give us instructions about removing the products of the grape? Wine production requires an amount of civilization and I don't mean speaking french and knowing which fork to use first at the dinner table, but the societies in which we live. Torah and the story of Jewish people are one of wanders eventually settling. Genesis is full of tales that are possibly metaphors for the struggles between herdsmen and farmers. Yes, Rogers and Hammerstein even wrote a song about it in Oklahoma. If wine and the product of the grape represent a time in Torah, a point in which our relationship with G!d not just each other was different, perhaps the Nazarite is also seeking to return to that time and that relationship? A time before Noah, when the world was less civilized and G!d spoke to us differently than after the flood.
All things change but the One. Even the great storm on planet Jupiter, the terrific red swirling dust storm that generations of humans have seen across the vastness of space will someday end. I think the temporal nature of the commitment was the most important part of the Nazarite's vow. And while it seems strange that Torah includes this as an option for a Jew to undertake, perhaps it is also just reminding us of time and our commitments.
That we need to understand that things, for better and for worse, are temporary.
That making the most of our time is as valuable as setting it aside to any higher purpose.
That perhaps a level of observance that leads us to a higher place is in recognizing the time we have.