Walking the path of holiness

Rabbi Randy Fleisher serves Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis.

By Rabbi Randy Fleisher

In Naso, we learn about the laws of the Nazirites, individuals who vow to live a certain portion of their lives with a heightened attention to holiness. I have long been fascinated by this phenomenon, most notably because as part of their vow, the Nazirites pledge to leave their hair uncut and wild, a hairdo I have taken to heart. 

In fact, the Rastifarian culture, the originators of Jamaican reggae music of which I am also enamored, use this Torah portion as justification for their dreadlocked look.

In addition, the Nazirites are a rare example of democratization of holiness in Torah. A Nazir could be male or female and could come from any tribe and station in life. As long as a person was willing to dedicate their time as a Nazir (they could revoke their vow at any time) to extreme purity, goodness and righteousness, they were in.

These days, we rarely use the term. However, the idea of the Nazirite can still remind us that any of us can live up to our potential as beings of love and light. We are all capable of responding to life in holy ways.

I just returned this very day from Israel with a group from the congregation and, as always, it is the people I encountered, even more than the land and sites, that made an impact.

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People like our guide Jared, an American-born, ponytailed, kippah-wearing man who loves his land and people, but who also has dozens of Palestinian friends, and speaks out for Jewish pluralism and environmentalism, all of which are in short supply in his country. 

Then there was Adina, a Jew born in Ethiopia who trekked many years ago to the Sudan to get airlifted and make Aliyah. She said it took her awhile to get used to the fact that Jews could actually be white, but now she thrives on the all the diversity in Israel. 

Also, Avraham, a Hasidic artist in Tsfat, who has dedicated his life to portraying in his paintings the blessing of Kabbalah, which he defines as discovering that God is love, manifested by the acts of kindness we can do for one another. 

Finally, there was Selach, a Druze man who was so overflowing with gratitude that our group would visit his town and eat at its restaurants that he gifted me with a jar of his special blend of Arabic coffee.

My encounters with each of these individuals were relatively brief, but it was clear to me that they have all chosen to live on an elevated plane with expanded consciousness, heightened awareness, and overflowing love and graciousness. 

In other words, they were modern-day Nazirites.

Whether you keep your hair long or short, may the spirit of the Nazirite help keep you on the path of holiness.