The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 14 July 2018 / 2 Av 5778

Vows, Nazirut & Finding the Right Balance

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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If a man takes a vow to G-d, or swears an oath, to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes out of his mouth he must do (Parshat Matot, Bamidbar 30:3).

We are all looking for the right balance in life: Just the right amount of work, the right amount of play, a little laughter here and there and an occasional twist of excitement. And let’s not forget about purpose and accomplishment. After all, what would life be without them?

The Torah, together with its complex body of laws, provides us with precise instructions on how to achieve a life of purpose with the perfect balance. If one were to look with truthful eyes at the 365 prohibitive commandments, one would see that they don’t constrict or limit, but rather help one navigate through the twisting and turning road of life. Just as the lines on a road, both solid and dotted, help travelers reach their desired destination, the laws of the Torah help us reach our desired destination — a balanced life, full of accomplishment, excitement, true joy, laughter, everlasting satisfaction and much more.

Though the Torah is a perfect fit for each one of us, since no two people are exactly alike, and what works to stimulate one person may not have the same effect on another, the Torah provides us with the opportunity to establish additional prohibitions on ourselves. One of the goals of these self-imposed restrictions is meant to help a person who is having trouble achieving the perfect balance in his life realize his true and full potential.

A story from the Talmud (Nazir 4b): Shimon Hatzaddik said: In all my days I never ate the guilt-offering of a ritually impure Nazirite, except for one occasion. One time, a man who was a Nazirite came from the South. I saw that he had beautiful eyes and was good looking, and the fringes of his hair were arranged in curls. I said to him, “My son, why have you seen fit to destroy this beautiful hair?” He said to me, “I was a shepherd for my father in my city, and I went to draw water from the spring. I looked at my reflection in the water and my evil inclination quickly overcame me and sought to banish me from the world. I said to my evil inclination (i.e., myself at the time, who was overcome with the inclination to sin), ‘Good for nothing! Why do you pride yourself in a world that is not yours, where you will eventually be food in the grave for worms and maggots? I swear by the Temple service that I will shave you for the sake of Heaven.’” Rabbi Hatzaddik concluded: I immediately stood and kissed him on his head. I said to him, “May there be more members of the Jewish People who are like you, making vows of the Nazirite for this purpose. About you the verse states (Bam. 6:2), ‘When a man or a woman will utter a vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to consecrate himself to G-d.’”

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