Posts Tagged 'Nazir'

What the Eye Sees: Manoah, Noah, and Emunah

In Parshat Naso we learn about the case of the Nazir, and I am excited to learn more about that from Emunah. In the Haftarah we learn about Shimshon, who was a warrior leader, a biblical Judge Dredd, and apropos our Torah portion a nazir. He is a bit of a tragic superhero with extraordinary strength and a sad ending. It seems fitting that the haftarah is told like a classic Marvel origin story.

Here we are introduced to Manoah and his wife (sadly unnamed in the text). They were childless, but an angel appeared to Manoah’s wife and told her that she would give birth to a son. The child was to be dedicated from the womb as a Nazir, which entailed restrictions on drinking alcohol, coming into contact with the dead, and not cutting his hair. The woman told her husband, “A man of God came to me”. Manoah was incredulous, prayed and the angel returned to instruct the both of them that their son would be a nazir and they named him Shimshon.

This got me thinking about this guy Manoah. Who is this character? What is his significance in this story? It also got me looking at the connection between Manoah and Noah. Manoah was the father of the judge, general, leader, and savior of his generation. Noah saved the world by building an ark to perpetuate life through the flood. Linguistically their names are connected:

  • Manoah (מנוח) is “a place of rest”
  • Noah (נוח) is “ being comfortable”

Their two names comes together with the story of Noah and the dove:

וְלֹֽא־מָצְאָה֩ הַיּוֹנָ֨ה מָנ֜וֹחַ לְכַף־רַגְלָ֗הּ וַתָּ֤שׇׁב אֵלָיו֙ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֔ה כִּי־מַ֖יִם עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כׇל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָדוֹ֙ וַיִּקָּחֶ֔הָ וַיָּבֵ֥א אֹתָ֛הּ אֵלָ֖יו אֶל־הַתֵּבָֽה׃

But the dove could not find מָנ֜וֹחַ- a resting place for its foot, and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth. So putting out his hand, he [Noah] took it into the ark with him. (Genesis 8:9)

Their names are linked but not the same. It is interesting here that Noah, the man of rest could not find Manoah, a place to rest. This place of rest eluded him. And later even when the dove finds a place to rest and brings back an olive branch, Noah stays in the ark. Even when presented with evidence that the coast is literally clear his place of rest is still hidden from him. Noah needed to be told to leave the ark.

צֵ֖א מִן־הַתֵּבָ֑ה אַתָּ֕ה וְאִשְׁתְּךָ֛ וּבָנֶ֥יךָ וּנְשֵֽׁי־בָנֶ֖יךָ אִתָּֽךְ׃

God said- “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives.”

While for some, faith could be that much needed resting spot amidst a storm, to others faith can blind us to the opportunities which are right in front of us. Like Noah, Manoah did not believe his wife when she told him that they were going to have a child. He did not believe the blessing the angel brought her. Harry Houdini said, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” But in the cases of Manoah, Noah, and many of us “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Why are we limited to see what we expect to see?

I would like to take the liberty of illustrating this point with a special story about our child, Emunah:

It was Passover Yom Tov and we were at the Olsons. Emunah was 2 years old. She was a big girl and wanted to wear big girl underpants like her big brothers. We were mortified when she peed all over their floor. But Adina and I are experienced parents at this point. This is our 3rd kid. We’ve got this. So we clean her up, clean the floor, and put another pair of underpants on her. And you can see this one coming in slow motion….yes #2.

So now we are in it. There is a reason that diapers open up the way they do as a clam. Seeing that it is Yom Tov there is no way to cut off her soiled underpants. There is just no easy war to get them off of her and we do not know what to do. Adina whisks her off to the bathroom and we are screaming. Get this, get that, we are so sorry, etc.

You’ve got to see the scene. I come into their bathroom wielding wipes. Adina is trying to get her underpants off and contain the mess. Emi is contorted head down and with a leg in the air or on the edge of the toilet. We are screaming at each other and Emi says “ Mami… And we both go silent.

We have all been there. There is that moment when the child absorbs all of the energy around them and just channels it back at you. In that moment Adina and I looked at each other and braced ourselves for Emi to start to cry uncontrollably. A hot mess. This is what we expected to see.

There is our Emunah… “Look Mami- I am doing Yoga

Shanti- Ah serenity. It would have been understandable or even expected for her to cry in fear, embarrassment, or just matching our energy, but there you were Emunah at 2 years old doing Downward Dog. You pushed and continue to push us to see the world from different perspectives.

Emunah- It is wonderful to pause at this moment and see how much you have grown over the last decade. Unlike Manoah and Noah you are restless without a resting place. Emunah, you have never been about blind faith. Emunah, you have a gift to see what others do not. Emunah, you see things in your own way. Emunah, your creativity abounds- your mind is prepared to comprehend anything.

I am always reminded that no matter how bad things ever get, even if we feel that our lives are a hot mess, if we are not complacent, do not “rest”, we can shift our perspective, “do some yoga”, and things will start to look up.

Thank you Emunah. Shabbat Shalom. Namaste


Cheers to the Memories: Emunah’s Bat Mitzvah Speech

Shabbat Shalom

Here’s to the ones that we got
Cheers to the wish you were here, but you’re not
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
Of everything we’ve been through
Toast to the ones here today
Toast to the ones that we lost on the way
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
And the memories bring back, memories bring back you


“Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
And the memories bring back, memories bring back you”

Not the Levine you thought I would quote in my Bat Mitzvah speech, but Maroon 5’s lyrics gives us a deep question to consider, “Why do “drinks bring back” memories?

This question brings us to the Gemara in Sotah regarding my Torah Reading. There we learn:

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said “ Why are the parshiot of Nazir and Sotah right next to each other?

What is the connection between the case of the Nazir, who has sworn off wine and getting their haircut, and the case of the man who accused his wife of cheating on him and the ordeal that followed in the Temple?

Rebbe goes on to answer his question- if you saw the case of Sotah in her disgrace you too would swear yourself off of wine.

( Sotah 2a)

And why does Rebbe only identify the Nazir by their abstaining from drinking and the prohabition of coming into contact with the dead or hair cutting? Why does the case of the Sotah lead to the case of the Nazir?

In preparation for this talk my dad made me watch a bunch of videos. In one of them, Dr. Brené Brown talks about the difference between Empathy & Sympathy.

In her description, Sympathy is when we acknowledge someone’s situation. As compared to Empathy, being when we put ourselves into another person’s shoes. Sympathy might be easier but it drives disconnection. Empathy is hard work, but it fuels connection

Brown quotes the research of Theresa Wiseman who outlined the 4 critical elements of Empathy:
1- Perspective Taking: the ability to take the perspective of the other person
2- Staying out of Judgment-This is hard for many of us
3- Recognizing Emotion in other people
4- Communicating what those emotions are

Using Brené Brown’s framework of thinking, I reread my parsha. One question I had was how people show sympathy to the Sotah? People show Sympathy to the Sotah by recognizing what has happened between her and her husband.

Another recurring question I had was, how people show empathy to the Sotah? What would it mean to put yourself in the shoes of the Sotah? Going back to the teaching of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, it seems clear that becoming a Nazir is an act of empathy.

How does the Nazir show Empathy to the Sotah? According to the Rebbe, the Nazir shows empathy by not drinking wine. What does this mean?

What do you say when you see this?

  • The Optimist says: The glass is half full
  • The Pessimist says: The glass is half empty
  • The Realist says: The glass is too big
  • The Nazir says: I am done with drinking

According to Maroon 5, “the drinks bring back all the memories”. By giving up alcohol the Nazir is also giving up the memories of connection. It is sympathy to see the Sotah and her husband quarrel and have distrust. It is empathy to take upon yourself the life of a nazir and also give up the capacity to make connections. In this way according to Rebbe, if you saw them disconnecting, you too would feel compelled to disconnect. Just as the Sotah is suffering from disgrace, indignity, isolation, and disconnection from her husband, community, and God, the Nazir shows empathy by disconnecting from society and memories of connecting

I could imagine if I were living at the time of the Temple when they were doing a Sotah case I too would reflect on Theresa Wiseman’s 4 points on empathy:

  1. I think about how this couple is feeling. How might they both be holding some truth in their own perspective?
  2. As hard as it might be, I would stay out of judgment. In all cases of couples, there is always her perspective, his perspective, and the ever elusive truth.
  3. I would recognize the deep shame, distrust, anxiety they both experience in having their dirty laundry aired in public
  4. How would I communicate what those emotions are? It seems that the logical choice is to become a Nazir.

Today, while we do not have a Temple (or a shul) or the institution of Nazirut, we still have deep discord between partners. So how might we show couples empathy? How might we communicate to the couple what those emotions are?

I would say to them, ” I see that you tried to build a life together, and it seems that it did not work out. Communication is hard for you two. I can see that you have a lot of frustration and distrust. I can only imagine that you have a lot of dreams that did not come to fruition. I want to be here for you and with you.”

In the end we should all strive to show up, to show empathy, and to connect with those we care about. Thank you all.

Fearless: On Emunah’s Bat Mitvah and being a Nazir

In memory of our friend Sheryl Grossman z”l and in preparation for Emunah’s Bat Mitzvah I learned the mishnayot of Sotah and Nazir. It seemed fitting as they both appear prominently in Naso, Emunah’s Torah portion. There in Nazir we conclude the mishna with an interesting and unusual aggadic statement about the nazir. There we learn:

Samuel the prophet was a nazir, in accordance with the statement of Rabbi Nehorai, as it was stated that when Hannah, his mother, prayed for a son, she vowed: “And no mora shall come upon his head” (I Samuel 1:11). How is it derived that mora is an expression of being a nazir? It is stated with regard to Samson: “And no razor [mora] shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a nazir to God” (Judges 13:5), and it is stated: “And no mora,” with regard to Samuel. Just as the term mora” that is stated with regard to Samson means that he was a nazir, so too the term mora” that is stated with regard to Samuel indicates that he was a nazir. Rabbi Yosei said: But doesn’t the word mora mean nothing other than the fear of flesh and blood? The word should be read as though it were written with an alef, and not a heh, so that it means fear. Rabbi Nehorai said to him: But isn’t it already stated: “And Samuel said: How can I go; if Saul hears it he will kill me” (I Samuel 16:2). This verse indicates that there was fear of flesh and blood upon Samuel. Consequently, the term mora must be understood in accordance with its plain meaning of a razor. If so, Samuel was indeed a nazir.

Mishnah Nazir 9:5

When we read about the nazir, it seems like a theoretical construct, but was this ever something that people did IRL? When we think about person who was actually a nazir most of us jump to Shimshon, about whom we read about in the Haftarah, or Rav David Cohen, known as “Rav Ha-Nazir,” a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. But, few jump to Samuel. But when we stop to think about them both, it makes sense. The parallels in their origin stories are striking. Both Manoah’s wife and Hannah had difficulty conceiving children. When each of them found that they would be blessed with a child they learned that this child would be a leader and live a life apart from the community. For Samuel in the Temple. And for Shimshon and, according to Rabbi Nehorai, also Samuel as a nazir, not drinking alcohol, not coming into contact with the dead, and not cutting their hair.

This mishna is also interesting in that the distinguishing feature of being a nazir is their hair and not their not drinking or coming into contact with the dead. It is telling in that we associate people less with their experience, how they identify, or even their behavior, and more so with how they are identifiable. Their hair is the signature element of being a nazir.

When I think about this mishnah in the context of Emunah’s becoming a Bat Mitzvah, three things come to mind. The first is how central hair is to the idealities of the Emunah and the nazir. Here is a picture of her from when our little angel was just one with her golden locks:

The second is how Rabbi Yosei’s opinion hangs on a misreading of the word mora. He claims that the word should be read as though it were written with an alef, and not a heh, so that it means fear. Even if it is ultimately rejected, it is seriously entertained. Emunah and I share a bond in that we both have dyslexia. While it can be challenging, I believe that if it is treated seriously this creative reading will open up a worlds of creativity.

The third issue that is compelling regarding the mishna is how we prove Rabbi Yosei wrong. It turns out that Samuel had fear of King Saul who would be upset with him looking for a new king in David. With this Rabbi Nehorai proves that Samuel was actually a nazir. From the earliest age Emunah has been fearless. I recall when they were younger they went to the doctor for some medication. There only had two nasal doses and the rest were shots. Without hesitation Emunah rolled up her sleeve to take the shot, while her older brothers squirmed.

My blessing for Emunah is that she continue to read creatively like Rabbi Yosei, argue respectfully like Rabbi Nehorai, and unlike Samuel continue to be fearless. Emunah is no nazir, but on this occasion of her becoming a Bat Mitzah she is on her way to becoming a wonderful woman.

Mazel Tov- Emunah

Other posts I have written about Emi over the years:

  1. Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog
  2. Little Birdy: Emunah and Protecting Our Children
  3. 7 Years of Emunah: Reflections on Faith and Fidelity
  4. Emunah Second Birthday
  5. Our Type of Emunah
  6. Our Blessing for Emunah

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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