Every parent knows that there are certain moments in the life of your child that can never be forgotten. Specific liminal events, which will forever be etched into your consciousness – engraved indelibly upon your heart. For me, one such moment took place approximately six months ago when our eldest, Noa Dina, who will celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah this coming Shabbat, asked if I would be willing to review her Parashah (Torah Portion) and assist her in determining the direction of the D’var Torah that she is to share with our Congregation on her special Shabbat. When I inquired as to why she suddenly was interested in my input, she matter-of-factly replied: “Abba – I’ve decided that you might just know a thing or two about the Torah”.
A humbling moment – if I’ve ever known one…
I profess unabashedly to being filled to overflowing with a sense of pride as I reflect on both the process and the content of the Drashah (sermonette), which Noa will deliver this week. It is sensitive, thoughtful, and germane to the lives of those who earnestly mine the Tradition in search of meaning and consequence. No simple accomplishment – even for the most seasoned students of sacred text. And I cordially invite readers of the Jewish Light to join us at B’nai Amoona to hear her insights, which will focus on the nuanced juxtaposition of the Nazirite as expressed in the Parashah and the Nazir we encounter in the Haftarah (the parallel Prophetic selection) in the personage of Samson.
Surprisingly, studying with Noa produced an unexpected and unanticipated attendant benefit. It provided me with an opportunity to reconsider anew the Nazarite paradigm and how this obviously “God intoxicated” individual might inspire greater passion and piety.
As we hear the restrictions associated with the Nazarite’s vow (no contact with death; avoidance of products made of grapes; and refraining from hair cutting), we cannot help but be struck by their similarity to those restrictions imposed by the Torah upon members of the Priestly Class – the Kohanim, and especially the High Priest – the Kohen Gadol. As a matter of fact, the self-imposed limitations placed upon those who take the vows of a Nazarite are actually even more strident than those that were to be observed by the ancient Kohanim.
So what are we to make of these Nazraites who voluntarily took these vows of aestheticism upon themselves?
For me, the Nazir serves as a powerful paradigm for post-moderns. Unlike the Kohanim whose holy status is derived from their DNA, their lineage, their Yichus, the Nazarites’ sanctified status was a matter of personal choice. In the Nazir, therefore, we have a role model of an individual who yearns so deeply to be in intimate contact with Divinity that s/he accepts upon him/herself greater levels of responsibility; elevated expectations and restrictions. And he/she does so with the singular goal of drawing ever closer to the One, The Source-Of-All.
We live in an era when so many look either for ways to shirk religious responsibility on the one hand, or to impose or coerce others to abide by stringencies on the other. In such a milieu, the Nazir provides an alternative path. Look inward, search your own soul, and consciously choose to demand more of yourself so that you can transcend the current manifestation of yourself. To my mind, this voluntary acceptance of greater responsibility is a key to Kedushah, ever-greater sanctification and holiness.
I often tell our B’nai & B’not Mitzvah students and their families that I am utterly convinced that every child is “magically” assigned a Parashah that speaks to the current or future needs of the celebrant. As our daughter ascends the Bimah on this Shabbat, I pray that her Torah Portion, Parashat Naso, the Parashah that “chose her”, will speak deeply to her heart. May she learn from the archetypal Nazir how to do the internal work that is the necessary precursor to a life filled with meaning and consequence. And it will be this striving, more than anything else, which will be the true indicator that she truly believes that her Abba knows “a thing or two about the Torah”.
May each of us be blessed with many opportunities to experience transcendent and transformational moments. And may we then model these sanctified ways-of-being to future generations so that they too can find ways to feel intimately connected to the Holy-One-Of-Blessing.
With blessings for a Shabbat filled with inspiration!
Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.