Venturing into the world again can be, well, hairy

Rabbi-Cantor Ronald D. Eichaker

“Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair …” 

So goes the title song from the 1967 musical “Hair” that became a major hit for the Cowsills two years later. Some of us may look at ourselves today and recall that or another song or verse as we measure our time in various stages of confinement or restraint.

Human hair presents itself in this week’s section of the Torah in Parashat Naso,to “offer up.” Naso contains 176 verses making it the longest of the parashiotin the cycle of our Torah readings. Naso also continues an underlying imperative to keep track of your assets as you venture out into the wilderness (unknown) every day. 

Staying organized can be elusive but is a necessity. I mean, look at the business of staying organized. I can devote this entire space to the various companies that exist to help us keep our physical and material lives in order. I must admit that keeping my hair in order has become a sport to me. Organizing, conditioning, strengthening and making it presentable while it sometimes takes on a life of its own has become a shared topic at home and in my community. 

Within Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89), we see in Chapter 6:5-9 that hair plays an important role, as the hair is referred to as nizro, “consecrated.” And if one thinks that this consecration of the hair is only for the men, look at the second sentence of Chapter 6, in which men and women can abide by the temporary vows of the Nazarite.

Though the vows of the Nazarite are the same for men and women, we tend to look at the hair of men and women differently today. In men, generally speaking, hair is a sign of strength, virility, extension of a man’s life and mortality (as hair has no sense of feeling, it was a metaphor for death). In many cultures, a person may offer up hair as a symbol of life, which lends a whole new level of importance to the Locks of Love charity. 

A woman’s hair may carry different symbolic meaning in that it is considered a source of allure and sensuality. 

The color of one’s hair may be an indication of inner comportment. The texture of one’s hair may reveal a person’s talents or strengths. 

The Haftarah assignment for this Shabbat aligns closely to Chapter 6 in Naso. The Book of Judges 13:2-25 introduces us to Samson, who may be one of the most famous judges. The section is a prequel to the story of Samson’s rise, seduction, fall and resurgence. The narrative focuses on Samson’s hair as an outward sign of restraint, loyalty, fidelity, accountability and measured growth. These are all attributes that I’m sure all of us value. 

Looking at Samson, we can see that, like the Nazarite vow, maintaining these attributes for a lifetime is not sustainable. I feel it is important for us to accept the reality that we will stumble along life’s path. The potential damage of those faltering steps, though inevitable, can be minimized when our bodies are strong, our systems are healthy, our mind is balanced and our souls are connected to the source of all life. 

 

Today, hair, and possibly the lack of hair, plays a significant role in our daily lives. To many, our morning rituals confer around a mirror, arranging the various locks into an expressive form, offering a window into our selves to others who see us. Some choose to either remove all the hair on their heads, which, depending on the professional or social environment, puts forward a look that is consistent with a personal brand in positions of leadership or practical in our vocations. 

Some of us lose our hair when undergoing mitigating procedures to resolve underlying health issues, while others may remove their hair as a statement of support for social, political or ethical causes. Some in our Jewish community will allow their hair to grow unencumbered as a sign of mourning or loss. Our hair or lack thereof offers an indication of who we are, where we are in our lives, how we are feeling, what may be our tribal commitment or societal status. In the case of Parashat Naso, a person’s hair can be a paradox of growth from constraint; a reaching outward from confinement; revelation from contemplation. 

We are moving about in a time when various new degrees of restraint will be more important for our near future. These past weeks of sequestration hopefully gave us a time to order our lives and build a foundation for adapting to new norms, social, physical, spiritual and ethical. As we venture, sometimes carefully, into the outside world, we will sense the winds of uncertainty but also sense the fresh air of optimism and vitality. 

We may be aware that the allure of the outside may carry invisible dangers, as they may have before, but this time in more mysterious forms. We know that to “let our hair down” now may result in damage beyond our ability to rehabilitate, and yet we must reintroduce ourselves to our family, our community and our life’s mission. 

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, has often said that Jews “solve problems and help people.” We cannot do this in a vacuum. Our presence in the world necessitates our involvement in order to grow this world into a better place for the generation yet to be born. And, should you go out to have your hair cut, remember that, in our tradition, a child would not have their hair cut for the first three years of their lives. That time in the extreme nurturing environment became a foundation of the child’s development for life, and cutting the hair too soon sends a person into a future that is too dependent on its past (prebirth). 

I would be remiss if I did not finish Chapter 6 of the Book of Numbers in saying:

“May the Almighty bless you and keep you. May the Almighty deal kindly and gracious with you. May the Almighty grant favor on you and bring you peace.”

Shabbat Shalom.

Cantor-Rabbi Ron Eichaker serves United Hebrew Congregation and is the Ballwin police chaplain. He is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.