Parashat Nasso (Lift Up)
Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:21–7:89
Haftarah: Judges 13:2–25
In this week's Parasha, we read of a very special vow that a person can take upon him or herself:
Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow to set himself apart, namely, the vow of a Nazirite, to live as a Nazirite for the LORD, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall consume no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his consecration he shall not eat anything that is produced from the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin.
‘All the days of his vow of consecration no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled which he lives as a Nazirite for the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.
‘All the days of his life as a Nazirite for the LORD he shall not come up to a dead person. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his consecration to God is on his head. All the days of his abstinence he is holy to the LORD.”
God called the entire nation of Israel to be holy (set apart) for Him because He is Holy. Yet, as we see in the above verses, an individual person can choose to abstain from a very specific list of things in order to be holy to the LORD. In my opinion it is important to separate the two.
God's call for the entire people of Israel to be holy is specific to the people as a whole; they are required to be set apart for the LORD and be different from the surrounding people groups. Yet, within the nation of Israel, we see that a person can take upon him/herself a special vow of abstinence for a specific amount of time, for the specific goal of devotion to holiness. This vow would require abstaining from worldly pleasures such as anything that has to do with grapes (juice, wine, or vinegar), humbling themselves by not shaving their heads (which would signal a lack of concern with outward appearance) and not coming near anything that has to do with the dead. All of these things can be a potential distraction from that which the LORD may call them to do during the allotted time of their vow.
As I write this, I can't help but think of all the pleasures (and at times, distractions) in our modern world from which we can abstain for a period of time in order to hear from the LORD and be dedicated to His call on a deeper level.
It is important, however, that I reiterate that this is a personal choice that an individual could make; it was not a command for the entire nation of Israel. However, we see one exception in the Haftarah where we read that God appointed Samson to be a Nazirite not just for a specific period of time, but as a call for life:
And there was a man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was infertile and had not given birth to any children. Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are infertile and have not given birth; but you will conceive and give birth to a son. And now, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he will begin to save Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Here we see that God’s call to abstain from wine, strong drink, and unclean food did not begin with Samson, but rather started already with his mother. God predestined Samson to become a Nazirite and save Israel from the Philistines. Yet, as we know from the story, it was in those specific areas of God’s call for Samson that he was tested. This should not surprise us, as I believe that each of us will be tested and tempted to fail in the areas that God has called us to be set apart for Him and for His purpose.
I would like to close with one more thought which may be a challenge for us, yet I believe is important for us to consider and think upon in regards to the vow of the Nazirite, which may give us a deeper insight to what Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) did in the book of Acts. We read twice of something very odd that he did:
Now Paul, when he had remained many days longer, took leave of the brothers and sisters and sailed away to Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. Paul first had his hair cut at Cenchrea, for he was keeping a vow.
After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard about them, they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.Therefore, do as we tell you: we have four men who have a vow upon themselves; take them along and purify yourself together with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and then everyone will know that there is nothing to what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also conform, keeping the Law. But regarding the Gentiles who have believed, we sent a letter, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Then Paul took along the men, and the next day, after purifying himself together with them, he went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.
Could it be that these accounts from the book of Acts have a direct connection to our Parasha? Can that shed light on and bring us to a deeper understanding of the stories of the New Covenant?
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