Was perhaps Spike Milligan supposed to represent a Nazirite when he emerged from a hole in the desert, jumping up and down, half naked, three-quarters mad and one whole funny in Monty Python’s Life of Brian?
The rules regarding the conduct of the Nazirite appear in this week’s sedra, which is jam-packed with other themes, including the prosecution of the woman accused by her husband of adultery. The trial by ordeal brings to mind ‘prosecution’ procedures used to identify witches or other supposed malefactors in mediaeval Europe. To return to the Nazirite, however, he (or she, for women can also assume the role) is a curious figure in Judaism. Once someone takes the vow, they become holy to God. This suggests that it is a virtuous act to take such a vow. However, the Nazirite must refrain from consuming wine, or indeed anything related to grapes. It is unusual in our religion to practice such self-denial. Indeed denying oneself totally the pleasures of life is seen as a wilful rejection of the gifts given us by God. The ascetic is a foreign concept in Judaism. Perhaps this is why the Nazirite vow was said by many rabbis to be limited to a period of thirty days.
One of the most interesting examples of a Nazirite is Samson, and part of his story is sometimes read as the Haftorah accompanying Naso. Some rabbis say he was physically strong but morally weak. I think, though, that he was a tragic figure. He must have had spiritual strengths, since it says that God blessed him and that he was moved by God’s spirit, but he did clearly, too, have a weakness. I remember listening to and reading his story as a child. It was easy to think that his hair possessed some kind of strength imparting magic. But the real reason he became powerless before his Philistine enemies is because he broke his Nazirite vows, drinking and allowing his hair to be cut. And how holy could he be under the thrall of a treacherous lover like Delilah? Like other tragic heroes he ended his life with a dramatic act that somehow restored his dignity and greatness.
Come along this Saturday at 10:30. Sharim Atilano will be leading us.