AN ASTONISHING THING!
Within our contemporary Jewish community, we put enormous emphasis on the group and on the needs of the community. We are investing deeply in day school educations as we invest deeply in our synagogues, our community and our State of Israel. There are times, however, when that communal orientation can be stifling for the individual. There are Jews, actually many Jews, who yearn for a personal and a deep spiritual connectivity and find themselves baffled and slightly alienated by the communal and even tribal agenda in modern Jewish life.
Such individuals can find their voice in this week’s parasha. Although there are many examples of individuals who step aside from the pressures of community in their singular pursuit of closeness with God, the example of the “nazir” ( Nu 6:1-21) is an inspiration for the hungry soul. “If anyone, man or woman explicitly utters a nazarite’s vow, to set himself apart for the Lord….” We note that the expression “yaf’li” is translated as “explicitly” yet, here, it is better rendered “wondrously.” In fact Ibn Ezra comments on this act of self-discipline which goes beyond the letter of the law: “He separates himself, he does an astonishing thing – for most human beings are slaves of their desires.” Seforno goes even further: The wondrous thing that the Nazarite does is to “…separate himself from all the vanities that divert men from their true goal – he holds himself aloof from these ordinary pleasures, in order to devote himself in his entirety to God, to study the Torah, to walk in His ways, and to cleave to Him.” (6:2)
This obviously cannot be the basis of the curriculum for our schools. We must use a broader, more inclusive and more communally oriented language and approach. But we must also protect the student who “gets it.” We must provide space, freedom, and encouragement for any Jew who hungers for deeper personal meaning in Jewish life. As Heschel reminds us, our task is not to survive. Our task is to be worthy of survival.
Rabbi Dov Bard, Former Head of School, Schechter Alumni Parent