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Posted on June 9, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

All the days of his abstinence he is holy to Hashem.[2]

Hashem concluded His offer of the Torah to the Bnei Yisrael with the following: “‘You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the Bnei Yisrael.”[3] Rashi comments: “‘These are the words’ – no less, and no more.” What is Rashi trying to tell us? Surely, he is not simply praising HKBH – “Boy, He did a good job with that one!”

Before we explain Rashi, we will have to turn to a more general question that has long plagued many of us. If midos tovos/developing good character is so important, why does the Torah say so precious little about it? I once heard the Alter of Kelm address the question with a mashal. Imagine that you have a really bad blockage in a bathroom sink.[4] Not being the do-it-yourself type, you call a plumber. You then take a pipe wrench in hand, and begin to explain. “What you have to do is open the jaws to fit around this section of pipe. Then close the jaws around it, while holding the wrench in your left hand. When tight, loosen the pipe by turning it clockwise, and then…”

The plumber interrupts. “Why are you telling me this? I’m a plumber. That’s what I do! I know my tools and how to use them. Why are you speaking to me as if I’m an attorney? Just tell me what job you want done, and I’ll do it!”

Similarly, explained the Alter, Hashem made a job offer to Klal Yisrael: You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. No less, and no more.

When Klal Yisrael agreed to accept the job, they understood what tools of the trade would be needed. They realized that to be priests and to be holy required certain achievements. Artisans of this craft needed to be free of anger, free of hubris, free of a host of bad midos. All those were part of the minimum skill set necessary to practice the holy nation role. No less, and no more.

The gemara[5] tells of the dim view Shimon HaTzadik had of those who became nezirim. Yet one nazir won his warm approval. He was a simple shepherd boy, who apparently had never looked in a mirror. One day, however, he chased down a missing sheep to a watering hole. As he bent down to grab the animal, he found himself facing his reflection. He was taken aback by how good looking he was! Immediately, though, he recoiled. Addressing the yetzer hora directly, he said, “Rasha! Why do you pride yourself in a world that is not yours, and attempt to drive me from this world?!” He vowed to become a nazir, and therefore to have to shear off his long attractive hair.

Shimon HaTzadik kissed him on the head. “May there be many more like you!” Shimon HaTzadik praised the shepherd, because he – unlike so many others – genuinely got it. He understood that the essence of nezirus is that which is stated in our pasuk: to by holy to Hashem. It is not perishus/abstinence per se; it is not virtue-signaling. It is to accept open himself the job of becoming holy. No less, and no more.

The restrictions of nezirus are just tools of the trade.

  1. Based on Daas Torah by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, Bamidbar pgs. 38-41
  2. Bamidbar 6:8
  3. Shemos 19:6
  4. The Alter’s mashal used a tailor, not a plumber, but would be less effective today than when he employed it. [YA]
  5. Nedarim 9b