The President of JJC

Dear Rabbi,

Paarshah Naso, is the longest single portion in the Torah, containing 176 verses. This is not the first time I will be discussing a portion of Naso, and it will not be the first time I will be writing about the same part. Maybe it has a great deal to do with the fact that this is the anniversary of my Haftorah portion, which is about the birth of Samson.

The Fourth Aliyah describes the nazir. The nazir was a person who chose to dedicate himself to G-d and vowed, for a specific period of time, to do more than the required laws. Accordingly, the nazir took a vow to abstain from partaking of grapes (or any of its by-products such as wine), cutting his/her hair, and coming into contact with a dead body (even his father or mother). At the completion of that time, the nazir had to bring a burnt offering, a sin offering, a full offering, and a grain offering. The nazir then shaved his/her consecrated head and could again drink wine. The Torah tells us that any person, male or female, could freely choose to become a nazir.
Although the Torah explains the laws related to becoming a nazir, it doesn't offer any explanation as to why one might choose to become one. The famous commentators of the Torah are all over the place as it relates to a nazir. Rashi refers to a nazir as those students of Torah who "keep themselves separate from the ways of the common people." Bachya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda, author of "Duties of the Heart," written in the 11thcentury, praised nazirite practice and discipline. He argued that such behavior was necessary to combat the daily temptations and desires that tend to lead people down self-destructive paths. Other commentators disagreed and insisted that the life of the nazirite was sinful. Rabbi Eleazar Ha-Kappar, who lived during the second century, said that, by abstaining from wine and denying themselves the enjoyments of life, nazirites neglected the commandments of Torah and were "sinners" (Ta'anit 11a). The great philosopher and commentator Moses Maimonides (Rambam) argued that our tradition forbids us from denying to ourselves any of the joys permitted by Torah. He suggested that the Torah used the example of the nazir as a warning against extreme behavior of withdrawal or self-denial that separates people from the community. Maimonides was a proponent of moderation or "middle-of-the-road" behavior. 
The nazirite is referred to as “holy.” Yet, paradoxically, the Torah teaches that at the conclusion of the nazirite period he or she must offer a sin offering. This implies that although the choice to become a nazirite was the right choice for that person at that specific time, and thus a holy choice, the nazirite way of life is not the preferred one.
 After refraining from drinking wine for 30 days, the nazirite can return to the consumption of wine while still maintaining his holiness. Through undergoing the process of the nazirite, one can be holy while engaged in the world. He can use his possessions as tools to attain his spiritual goals, not detract from them.
 I think I am drawn to this parchat for the same reason I am drawn toward my profession, the law. If there were only one way to interpret any given law, there would be no need for attorneys who have their own slants as to what a law means and express them to a judge in the hope of convincing him or her that the interpretation given by that attorney, is the one that should be followed. So it is with the Torah and the people that seek to interpret it.  I could go on with the commentaries of others, but I chose to stop with what I already found. To continue the debate as to what a nazir represents could be as long as the entire parshah itself but I would l would like to end with the following two thoughts:
Those of us that read this portion should appreciate those that actually read it to us from the bema for their knowledge and stamina. For the most part it has been Mr. Goldberg and I would hope that those that listen to what he recounts, understand what it takes to do it especially when it is the recitation of a long one such as Naso.
 Naso also takes place at the end of a vital term of someone that took on a very demanding job at the JJC that should also be appreciated. I am talking about Jay Sherman and what he has given up for the good of the JJC for the past two years. He has taken on a nazirite like mentality by sacrificing his own precious personal time for the good of this synagogue. He took on the mostly thankless responsibility of becoming the president of this congregation. His time and effort have kept this shul viable and without him, we probably would not have been able to go through the trying times we have experienced for the past two years.
It is only those of us that took on this enormous responsibility that can come close to understanding what he has done to make the JJC a congregation you can be proud to call your own.

His “nazir vow” of sacrifice is coming to a close, and once it is over, I hope he raises the long withheld glass of wine and that we can join him at the synagogue and give him a richly deserved kola kavod. Jay, I guaranty you that the wine will taste sweeter every time someone calls you “past president”. Further, the wine helps you forget the agita you experienced while serving us so admirably.  



Dear Mordecai,

I thought you handled the reading of the Haftarah very well this past Shabbat. Clearly, the significance of the Haftarah as you bar mitzvah portion inspires you. 

Your summary of the views of Rashi, Bachya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda, Rabbi Eleazar Ha-Kappar, and Rambam was helpful in understanding how our rabbis have responded to the example of the Nazir. What do you believe? Is the Nazir to be admired or to be chastised. 

You referred to the role of interpretation in reading the Torah and related that to what your profession is. Have you always seen this connection between your profession and the ways of studying the Torah? In other words, do you see being a lawyer as an extension of your Judaism? 

You mentioned JJC's Torah reader Mr. Goldberg and our president Jay Sherman. You see in Jay's leadership a hint of the sacrifice involved in the life of the Nazir. Interestingly, though, the life of the Nazir is one that is disconnected from communal life, not at the center of it. 

You finish with a beautiful metaphor about the metaphoric glass of wine Jay will taste at the end of his term. In all likelihood, knowing Jay, it will be scotch, however. Shalom