The beginning of Sefer Bamidbar is truly a magical time. Klal Yisroel has received the Torah. They have been given instructions for and built the Mishkan and its Keilim. They are then counted and have “heads” of all the Shevatim named. The Kohanim and Leviyim are separated out for counting, anointing and are prepared to do the Avodah. Leadership, roles, instructions are all in place. Indeed, Hashem is prepared to bless them when one more set of Halachos are offered – the option of becoming a Nazir. (Naso, 6:1)
The Torah makes it clear that Neziros is not the preferred way for a Jew to live. In fact, the very first verb used to describe the act is “Yafli” – to disassociate or separate. Moreover at the end of the Neziros period, a Nazir is required to bring a Karban Chatas – a sin offering. The Mepharshim explain that one of the reasons a sin offering is required is because the Torah gives us everything we need to be a complete Torah Jews without a vow of Neziros, and the notion that something additional is needed, more than every other Jew is doing, is in and of itself a Chet. Immediately after the Halachos of Nazir comes the Birchas Kohanim which are to be bestowed on all Klal Yisroel. (6:24-26)
Is it really so wrong to want to become a Nazir, that one is obligated to bring a sin offering when the period is completed? Isn’t it a higher Madrega to want to “take on more”? Simply put, “more” is not always “better”. In fact one must be very careful about “taking on something extra”, both in motive and in deed. First, one must be keenly aware of the prohibition of “Baal Toseph” – the Issur of adding Mitzvos or prohibitions to Hashem’s Torah. Indeed, I have heard from young people in our community that the original cause for their feeling detatched from yiddishkeit was the frequent “moving targets” which were preached to them. Is Tznius below the knee, 3 inches below the knee or 4 inches below the knee? Why when we perform for women do we have to wear skirts on top of knickers, but when we go separate swimming we are permitted to wear far less? Our youngsters are very smart. Whether there are good reasons or legitimate answers to these questions doesn’t change the troubling message that some of our youth may glean from apparent inconsistencies.
Finally, one must be very honest when preparing to adopt a “Chumra”. What is the reason for the adoption? Who is the author and what is the Torah basis for it? Is it because one wants to be closer to Hashem? Is it being portrayed as a Chumra or as a Halacha? Sometimes, upon introspection, the true motivation may be something baser – Gaiva (Arrogant Pride) or Sinas Chinam. The Gemara (Yuma, 9b) states that during the time of the second Bais Hamikdash, Klal Yisroel was Oskin B’Torah U’Mitzvos and Gmilas Chasadim. Their failing was Sinas Chinam. Imagine, one can be involved in Torah study, keep all the Mitzvos and do Chesed but still be engaged in Sinas Chinam – warrantless hatred. “Taking on something extra” can be a way to feel better about oneself or to allow us to look down on someone not so inclined. We must be very careful indeed. Perhaps when one feels such a “need” they can take the Torah’s prescription and become a Nazir. Better yet, maybe we can be more careful in our Shmiras Haloshon and Shmiras Shabbas. There is no better example for our children than properly keeping the Mitzvos in Hashem’s Torah. When the Nazir felt that wasn’t enough, he was obligated to bring a sin offering. “Taking things on”, is a very murky pond. It can be quite a challenge to swim in it and remain clean.