Daf Inspired: Nedarim 9 – The Golden Middle        


yehoshua-bermanBy Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

The story about the handsome shepherd who accepted a vow of nezirus in response to seeing his reflection in the water one day and feeling an upsurge of the yeitzer hara, can help us resolve a question on last week’s parsha.  Shimon Ha’Tzadik was so impressed with this man that he exclaimed, “My son, like you should there be more people in Klal Yisrael who accept a vow of nezirus!”  In other words, “The way you did it is the way it was meant to be!”


So what was the question on last week’s parsha?  The pesukim that instruct the Kohanim to bestow brachos upon their fellow Jews is immediately preceded by the pesukim of hilchos nezirus.  The question is, why?


But before we answer that question, here’s another.  One of the pesukim in the paragraph describing hilchos nezirus, when describing korbanos he must bring in the event that he accidentally came into contact with a dead body states, “and the Kohen will atone for him having sinned about the soul.”  Chatah al ha’nefesh.  The straightforward understanding, as Rashi explains, is that he needs kaparah for having violated his nezirus vow, albeit inadvertently.  Another statement of Chazal, though, that Rashi also quotes, is that he sinned by abstaining from wine and thus causing himself a certain degree of suffering.  The sin about the soul, the chatah al ha’nefesh, is that he sinned against his own soul.  He was chotei al nafsho.


That implies that it is wrong to accept a nezirus vow, but the Torah referres to him as a very holy person.  “The crown of his Lord is upon his head.”  Akin to a Kohein Gadol!  How are we to reconcile these two seemingly opposing notions?


The topic that immediately precedes nezirus is that of Sotah – a wife who was unfaithful, or was suspected of being unfaithful.  Chazal say, commenting on this juxtaposition, “One who witnesses the downfall of an unfaithful woman should accept a nezirus vow.”  The alcoholic effects of wine, explain Chazal, often has a lot to do with the sin of infidelity.  And if the Almighty arranged that this person would witness her downfall, it may very well be an indication that he is in need of taking extra precaution in this regard (according to some mefarshim, just seeing someone who sinned in that way can desensitize one to that sin; and that is why he needs to strengthen himself to distance from it).


Now, back to our Gemara.  This shepherd once saw his reflection in the water and noticed that he was extremely good-looking.  Suddenly experiencing the beginnings of an urge and drive to employ that physical beauty and energy in an inappropriate manner, he exclaimed, “Wicked one!  (referring to the evil inclination), Why do you take pride in a world that does not even belong to you?!”  He proceeded to accept a nezirus vow which would require him to completely abstain from wine for a certain amount of time, and shave off all his hair upon completion of the vow; thus strengthening his deep awareness that his physical beauty and the pleasures of this world are merely ephemeral.


When, upon completing his course of nezirus, he came to the Beis Ha’Mikdash to bring his korbanos, he was asked by Shimon Ha’Tzadik – who took note of his extremely handsome visage and beautiful, twirled locks of hair – why he saw fit to accept upon himself a nezirus vow and thus have to destroy such beautiful hair?  When Shimon Ha’Tzadik heard his story, he became very excited and said, “Like you, there should be more nodrei nezirus amongst the Jewish People!”  In other words, you did it for all the right reasons, and are thus deserving of accolades.  Let all those who consider accepting a nezirus vow only do so the way you did it.


The upshot of all this, then, is that, essentially, we are not meant to be engaging in abstinence.  Hashem gave us a physical body, delicious food, good looks, etc. for a reason.  We are meant to use these things.  Of course, though, in a healthy, positive, moral way.


Sometimes, extenuating circumstances – whether external or internal – may generate a negative pull towards abuse of the material gifts that we have, instead of appropriate use.  In that case, one may in fact need to pull back and abstain for a certain period of time in order to counterbalance that negative pull.  And he is called a very holy person for doing that.  It can take a lot of determination, self-control, and brutal honesty to do such a thing.  No doubt about it, he is to be highly commended for his self-sacrifice.


At the same time, though, the Torah wants us to remember that this is not at all the idea situation.  The ideal, and overarching value and goal is to strike the right balance.  This, then, could perhaps explain why the chapter of the nazir is immediately followed by that of birchas Kohanim.


The final, and most crucial of all the blessings is shalom.  Shalom is not peace in the sense of no war or no fighting.  It is not just the absence of a negative.  It is so much more than that.  What Shalom is, explain Chazal, is the vessel that contains all the blessings of life.  It is harmony, completion, and balance – inwardly, interpersonally, and spiritually.


That message immediately follows the topic of the nezirus vow in order to drive this point home.  That although there may sometimes be strong reasons to move away from the golden middle of balance, harmony, and wholeness, we can never forget that the overarching value and goal is Shalom; wherein each person and thing is functioning in the manner and for the purpose that it was intended.  And that positive, healthy employment effects a powerful reality of Shalom – completion, wholeness, balance, and harmony.

Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.  In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha.  Rabbi Berman can be contacted at rbsa613@gmail.com.

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  1. I enjoyed your daf inspiration and I too learn the daf and pick out the inspiring things from the daf on almost a daily basis. we can learn musser , haskafa and derech hachaim from our chumush , mishnayos and gemerah. we just have to keep our eyes open! Keep up the good work and keep them coming!