5761 - #32

One Action; Opposite Meanings

The vow of the nazir1 has three distinguishing characteristics. The nazir is not allowed to consume wine or any grape product. The nazir must grow his/her hair. The nazir is not allowed to attend the funeral of even his/her closest relatives. In many ways, these prohibitions have a similarity with the laws of the kohain, the priest. The kohain is not allowed to consume any alcoholic beverage when performing the Temple service. Although there are distinctions between the two laws,2 this priestly law is clearly comparable to the prohibition of wine on the nazir.3 There are also restrictions on the kohain in regard to funerals whereby a regular kohain is only allowed to attend the funeral of his closest relatives. The Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, just like the nazir, is not even allowed to attend these funerals.4 It is, thus, not surprising that the nazir is considered "holy unto God"5 just as the tzitz, the forehead plate, of the Kohain Gadol had inscribed on it "holy to God."6 There would seem to be a similarity in status not only between the kohain and the nazir but also specifically between the Kohain Gadol and the nazir.
The law regarding hair, thus, is most strange. Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvot 373 and 374 count both a negative commandment for a nazir to cut any hair and a positive commandment to let the hair grow. Included in these commandments is the removal of any hair in any manner. This must be contrasted with a law that is completely contrary in connection to the kohain. The kohain is prohibited from entering the Temple with overgrown hair, that is hair that has not been cut in thirty days
.7 The Kohain Gadol is furthermore always prohibited to have overgrown hair.8 In the case of hair, the kohain and the nazir reflect opposite sides of the spectrum. Given their similarity in status in regard to other issues and the fact that both are connected to the concept of kedusha, holiness, their diametrically opposing laws in connection to hair must demand consideration.
The commentators in approaching each law separately interestingly find value in either allowing the hair to grow or in ensuring that it is properly trimmed. Chinuch, Mitzva 149, in explaining why a kohain may not enter the Temple with overgrown hair states that involvement with the Temple must include happiness and nobility. There would seem to be an indication within these words that being well-groomed is part of the presentation of holiness. In contrast, Chinuch, Mitzva 374, in explaining why a nazir does not cut his/her hair, states that in neglecting his grooming by letting his/her hair grow, the nazir is, to some extent, separating himself/herself from physical concerns and allowing for a focus on the service of the mind. These words would seem to indicate that kedusha may be tied to a disregard for physical appearance. Both reasons, albeit polar opposites, actually make sense. There would seem to be a value in being well-groomed and there would seem to be a value in not being well-groomed. Yet, how can both values co-exist? How can the one concept of kedusha be reflected in contrary behaviour?
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Bamidbar 6:5, in explaining his understanding of the significance of trimming the hair, hints at one possible solution to the dilemma. He argues that how we treat our hair reflects our attitude to society. In cutting one's hair, one is symbolically reflecting an openness to society. In allowing one's hair to grow, one is symbolically expressing a desire to withdraw from society. Whether one cuts or does not cut one's hair is considered by Rabbi Hirsch to be dependent upon the circumstances. One who wishes to work on oneself in, at least theoretical, isolation should consider the vow of the nazir. In distinction, one who is inconsiderate and selfish, should be called upon to trim one's hair and thereby become receptive to outside influences. Kedusha is thus not reflected in either cutting one's hair or not cutting one's hair. How we approach grooming is rather dependent upon which path we must take to reach holiness.
The Kohain Gadol presents somewhat of a challenge to Rabbi Hirsch's view. The Kohain Gadol does not reflect a path to holiness but rather demonstrates holiness itself. Rabbi Hirsch's perception may, however, still be valid. It is not simply the path to holiness that may be different in different situations but the manifestation of kedusha in variant situations may demand distinction. Kedusha may not necessarily be reflected solely in what we do but also in the motivation and understanding of what we do. One act can reflect numerous values and ideas, often even in contradiction. For example, one may be aloof in a crowd because of haughtiness or because of extreme shyness. Values in themselves are also not monolithic. Pacifism, for example, is not always absolutely correct; in the face of evil, war is demanded. As such, no one act is always necessarily correct and no one value is always necessarily to be implemented. There are times for hair to be grown long and other times for hair to be cut. Kedusha is the underlying measure of evaluation in determining when one act is appropriate and when it is not, when one value is to be implemented and when it is not. This is the role of Halacha. Kedusha does not exist in a vacuum. Holiness declares God's Presence in this world. Determining when an act or a presentation of a value in a specific situation is appropriate can be most challenging. Kedusha is achieved when this decision is correct.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 See Bamidbar 6:1-21.

2 For example, only the consumption of wine is forbidden to the nazir; other alcoholic beverages are permitted. The kohain when about to perform the Temple service, though, is forbidden to consume any alcoholic beverage (although the prohibition of wine is more severe). See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Nezirot 5:1 and Hilchot Bi'at HaMikdash 1:1,2.

3 Torah Temima, Bamidbar 6:1, note 1, for example, specifically refers to the intoxicating nature of wine as part of the reason for the abstention vow of the nazir.

4 The Kohain Gadol and the nazir may only be involved in the burial of a meit mitzvah, a person who has no one else to bury him/her. See T.B. Nazir 48b.

5 Bamidbar 6:8.

6 Shemot 28:36.

7 See Vayikra 10:6 and Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Bi'at HaMikdash 1:8,11.

8 See Vayikra 21:10 and Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Bi'at HaMikdash 1:10.

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