A nazir is a person who has taken a vow of nezirut, obligating himself to take on certain restrictions not incumbent upon the rest of klal Yisrael. Masechet Nazir therefore follows on from Masechet Nedarim since the acceptance of nezirut is a neder. In other words, we move from a broader discussion about vows in the previous masechet, to describing a specific type of vow - that of a nazir.
There are a number of similarities between regular vows and a vow of nezirut. Both types of vows require a verbal declaration, and once said theses declarations are legally binding. Likewise, both general vows and nezirut can be annulled by following certain processes (as discussed previously hatarah performed by a Beit Din, or hafarah performed by a husband or father).
There is however a major difference between these types of vows. A general vow will obligate the declarer to his own nominated parameters, while a vow of nezirut obligates its declarer to certain conditions which are specified by the Torah. These conditions include growing one’s hair, abstaining from grapes and grape products, and not coming into contact with a dead body.
There is a machloket in the Gemara (Ta’anit 11a) about how a vow of nezirut should be viewed. R’ Elazar HaKappar states that a nazir is a sinner, which is supported by the fact that a nazir must bring a korban chatat after his nezirut has finished. This is due to the sin of depriving himself from some pleasures in this world. However, R’ Elazar seems to approve of someone taking on nezirut due to the fact that the word ‘kadosh’ (holy) is used in connection with a nazir. 41
The Sefer HaChinnuch (Mitzvah 374) provides a novel explanation for the purpose of a nazir. He explains that the man was put onto this world to serve Hashem. In order to do this, one must be in touch with the spiritual world. Man is severely constrained due to the fact that he is composed of physical matter, and therefore must at times turn aside from the service of his Creator and exert effort for the needs of his physical side. However, to focus solely on the Creator and completely neglect the needs of the body is also a sin. The Sefer HaChinnuch therefore suggests that the vow of nezirut is a good compromise. This vow allows a person to raise himself to an exalted level, yet not totally neglect his physical “dwelling”. A person must abstain from wine and from cutting their hair, for this is enough of a separation from the physical world to subdue the yetzer hara, without destroying the physical “dwelling” given to him by Hashem.
The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 6:2) agrees with this explanation and says that the purpose of nezirut is to separate oneself from the material pleasures of this world. The abstinence from wine is fundamental, as wine is the epitome of worldly pleasures. The Kli Yakar adds that the purpose of becoming a nazir is not only to take on the nazir restrictions solely for the time of the vow. The purpose of becoming a nazir is to change a person’s midot for a lifetime. However, the Kli Yakar recognises that sometimes changing one’s personality is very difficult while having an exposure to the physical world, therefore a vow of nezirut is needed, whereby one goes to the extreme and denies himself some physical pleasures in order to build and develop his relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
41 R’ Elazar contends that the pasuk which states a nazir must bring a chatat are referring only to a nazir tameh (ie. a nazir who has violated his neder by coming into contact with a dead body).
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