In Naso, we are introduced to the Nazir. A Nazir is one who purposefully separates himself or herself of the community by abstaining from certain luxuries or conventions, taking a vow as part of a spiritual search. This is the issue of the individual’s quest for meaning.
We see the idea of a vow as a chance to be in closer communion with God. It is an extraordinary commitment as the individual, man or woman, commits to refraining from some basic of things. This particular vow seems to contradict the idea that we are in community; the Nazir does things that by their nature separates him/her from societal norms: The Nazir does not drink, does not cut his/her hair, not to be near the dead, even including those for whom even a Kohen would. At the end of the vow’s timeframe, the Nazir brings a sacrifice as a Sin offering and a second as an offering of well-being signaling the vow is now concluded and fulfilled.
Once the Nazir has made the appropriate sacrifices, Aaron blesses the people with the Priestly blessing. This is as though through the process the Nazir endures in the sacred separating and the sacred re-joining, the whole people become worthy of God’s blessings.
Like the Nazir we too try to find meaning in our lives. We reflect and act to give life purpose. The path we walk in that process can be difficult and often lonesome. We might find a need to separate ourselves from those we love or things that are familiar in order learn and grapple with the hard questions we confront in our lives. We do things that set us apart, not unlike the Nazir. However, our tradition teaches are not hermits or ascetics. Parashah Naso teaches that our path needs to lead us back to the community. When we return, we are changed and, we pray, better off for the journey. When we return and again become a participant in our community, we enrich our community as well.
We see this understanding of the Nazir play itself out all the time in our modern lives as well. Our young people for example, venture out from the family in their quest to find their paths, to challenge the paradigms they have learned in their youth and as they seek wisdom and growth. We call this going off to college. Our children leave us as adolescents and hopefully return as thoughtful young adults. In other even more noble pursuits, many of our best and brightest make a vow in the form of enlisting in the military to serve their country. The ideals they embrace they are willing to defend with their lives.
We give our young the best we can. And then they leave. We pray that they will be safe on the journey and return to us whole. Then we know that indeed The Eternal has blessed us and protected us and caused The Divine Countenance to shine upon us.