Posts Tagged 'Hallelujah'

Nazir and Love: Beyond the Victory March

In Naso, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the laws of becoming a Nazir. The Nazir is someone who  takes a vow to “consecrate” or “separate” themselves. This vow means that they need to abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes. It also means that they are going to refrain from cutting their hair. The final aspect of this vow is that they cannot become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members. Why would anyone want to do this?

One answer given is that the laws of Nazir come right after the laws of the Sotah. This is not a case of a woman who is known to have actually committed adultery, but rather one whose behavior makes her suspect of having done so. Her faithfulness to her husband must therefore be established before the marriage relationship can be resumed. This starts with the husband expressing his suspicion that his wife had an improper relationship with another man. In this context he warns her not to be alone with that individual. If the woman disregards this warning and proceeds to seclude herself with the other man, she becomes a Sotah, forbidden to live with her husband unless she agrees to be tested with the “bitter waters.” The woman is warned that if she has indeed committed adultery, the “bitter waters” will kill her; if, however, she has not actually been unfaithful, the drinking of these waters exonerates her completely. In fact, the Torah promises that, having subjected herself to this ordeal, her marriage will now be even more rewarding and fruitful than before her “going astray.”

What is wrong with their relationship that you need this entire ordeal? The Torah goes right from these laws to a discussion of our law of the Nazir. One interpretation is that anyone who might see this play out would be driven to become a Nazir. But that seems to only get to the surface level. What else is going on here?

Lucas Cranach d. Ä. - Samson's Fight with the Lion - WGA05717.jpg

It is not at all surprising that the haftarah coupled with this Torah portion is the origin story of Shimshon, the most famous Nazir in the Bible. Shimshon is not a normal Nazir in that he has superhuman strength. He also not a particularly good Nazir in that he appears to break his vows, by touching a dead body (Judges 14:8–9) and drinking wine (he holds a “drinking party”, in Judges 14:10). 

What is not covered in the origin story is the tragic end of his life. His immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats came from his hair. There we read:

He said to her, “No razor has ever touched my head, for I have been a nazirite to God since I was in my mother’s womb. If my hair were cut, my strength would leave me and I should become as weak as an ordinary man.” (Judges 16:17)

Shimshon was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who used the secret of the origin of his strength against him. She ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies.

I got thinking about all of this when recalling the spellbinding lyrics of Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah. He sings:

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Here Cohen seamlessly remixes allusions to King David’s lust for Batsheva, Shimshon’s succumbing to Delilah, and a contemporary lover. Maybe this gives us some insight into the connection of the suspicious lover in the Sotah case and the drive for self destruction in the Shimson and the case of the Nazir. If we see love as something to be won, it can also be something to be lost. In that version of love, there will always be causalities, people getting hurt, and people’s needs not being met. As Cohen so eloquently comments ” love is not some kind of victory march”. Love makes us do crazy things. A lesson of the Nazir is that we need to move beyond transaction to relationship if we hope to sing the song of Hallelujah.


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