This week’s Parsha, Parshat Nasso, relates the Halachot (Laws) of the Nazir. In Bamidbar Chapter 6, it is explained that someone who wishes to raise their level of spirituality, to deepen their connection to God, to improve themselves morally, can become a Nazir. The Nazir abstains from the following:
1) Wine, grape juice or any other grape derivative
2) Coming in contact with the dead
3) Cutting his/her hair or shaving
At the end of the predetermined Nazarite period, the Nazir is obliged to bring a Korban Chatat, a Sin Offering. What possible sin could the Nazir have committed? By abstaining from the three things above, it becomes impossible for a Nazir to participate fully in society—to be part of the communal experience of Shabbat, to go to a funeral, to conform in appearance.
That is the common link. Each practice that the Nazir abstains from disconnects them from the community. That is the sin of the Nazir. That the only way they were able to raise their level of Kedusha, of Holiness, was to cloister themselves away from society.
Judaism stresses being part of the world and functioning with human beings. The word we use for Jewish Law, Halacha, literally means to go, to travel, to walk. In other words, Halacha is supposed to guide the way we lead our lives. Real lives, not pseudo angelic-lives separated from the real world.
By and large, there have not been Nazirim in Judaism for some time now. However, this past Sunday, May 27, 40,000 Jews decided to become Nazirim—sort of. At Citi Field in Queens, New York (the Mets’ stadium), 40,000 Jews, mainly Charedim (Right Wing Orthodox Jews) got together to listen to their leader condemn the Internet. They were instructed that it is ideal not to use the Internet at all, but that if it is necessary, that a filter should be used that prevents the user from accessing problematic web sites.
It is my opinion that the organizers of this rally are not just advocating against what is in fact the evils of the Internet, pornography, prejudice, violence, etc; they are trying to limit their followers’ access to the world. I am sure that these filters would prevent access to web sites that deal with science, history, literature, art, music and many wonderful Jewish learning web sites (ones that do not fit with their agenda). In essence, the organizers of the rally are saying that the only way someone can live in a Jewish spiritual way is to become a Nazir of sorts, to disconnect from the world.
To this, I can only say that I hope they eventually end their period of being a Nazir, bring their “Korban Chatat” and join those of us who wish to lead spiritual lives in the real world as we chant the words of Tehilim/Psalms104:24, “How great are your works Oh God.” Ultimately everything in this world is from God, even the Internet. We can face the challenges of the Internet, avoiding the worst aspects of humanity that are represented on it, while simultaneously taking advantage of its opportunities for the betterment of the world and our relationship with God. I bless you all that we take on this challenge and this opportunity.
This week’s title comes from the song “I Am a Rock”. “I Am a Rock” was composed by Paul Simon. It was the opening song on his solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook which was released in August 1965, but only in the United Kingdom. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, as Simon and Garfunkel, re-recorded the song on December 14, 1965. It was the last song on the album Sounds of Silence, which they released on January 17, 1966. The song articulates the idea of being separate and apart from the world, “I am a rock, I am an island”—but it articulates it ironically, ultimately making the opposite point. I thought this was very parallel to the experience of being a Nazir.