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Thursday, 16 June, 2016 - 9:52 pm


A Swiss man visited London and needed directions. He stopped two children and asked, “Koennen sie Deutsch sprechen?” The kids just stared at him.

He tried again. “Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?” Again, they just stared

“Parlare Italiano?” Nothing.

“Hablas Espanol?” No reaction.

Finally, the Swiss man walked away, disgusted.

One of the kids turned to the other and said, “You know, maybe we should learn a foreign language!”

To which the other replied, “Why? That guy knew four languages, and it didn’t do him any good!”

This week's Torah portion, Naso, discusses something that is seemingly superfluous: The Mitzvah of the Nazirite, one who vows to avoid certain things in an effort to be closer to G-d. In a different part of Torah, the laws of Neder, vows, are discussed. The law dictates that a person has the power to prohibit oneself from doing something permitted by Torah. For example, a person may promise, “I will not eat cheesecake or meat for the next 30 days,” or “I will not use my iPhone for 30 days,” and that food or object becomes forbidden to the person, just like the consumption of horse meat or pork.

So why the need for a new law about a Nazirite? You feel you want to stay away from wine, cutting your hair, and the dead? Great. Vow that for a time you will abstain from these items, and you are obligated to follow through. Why did the Torah introduce an entirely new Mitzvah with so many complicated details when essentially it seems like a replica of a Neder?

The Lubavitch Rebbe presented a moving explanation: The laws of Neder and of the Nazirite represent two paths in moral life, two paths in education and spiritual growth.

In the case of Neder, when a person forbids a certain object or food on oneself, it is the object that is forbidden. The status of the object was altered.

Nazir is of a different nature. I do not forbid certain foods to me; rather, I enter into a state of holiness—and automatically some things are just not for me. It is not the object, but the person, who has a change of status.

That is why the Torah presents two distinct Mitzvot—the Neder vs. the Nazir.

How do I get my teenage child to not drink or engage in other unworthy and damaging acts? I can take two approaches, one symbolized by Neder and one by Nazir.

The first path is for me to explain that this behavior, this life style, this food, this drink, this website, this person, is really not good for you. It is forbidden for your life. You are not superman. You’re not strong enough to handle everything in life without filters. You are human, young, mortal, frail, impressionable, vulnerable and weak. You need to protect yourself from certain influences.

Alternatively, I can take the other path and impart to you the sense of how holy and beautiful you are. These things are simply beneath you. Not because they are bad, but because you are too good to be dependent on them.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Vladimir, an illiterate and unworldly Siberian peasant, struck it rich. One day he was offered a very lucrative business proposition. Closing the deal, however, required his presence in Moscow. He was pretty sure that a horse—even the sturdiest his village had to offer—would not be able to make the trip of several thousand kilometers. Some of the more sophisticated residents of the town came to his rescue, advising him about the existence of a new mode of transportation, a “train.” If he were to travel to the closest large city, he would be able to catch a train to Moscow.

Vladimir went to the central train station of Novosibirsk. When he informed the lady behind the ticket counter of his intended destination, she asked him what sort of ticket he wished to purchase. Observing his confusion, she told him that he could purchase a first- second- or third-class ticket. A third-class ticket, she explained, offered absolutely no amenities, and didn’t even guarantee a spot on the train. If the arriving train was filled to capacity, he would have to stand or wait for the next one. A second-class ticket offered a secure spot on the train, along with more comfortable accommodations. A first-class ticket came with all the amenities necessary to ensure a luxurious and comfortable journey.

Money was not an issue, and Vladimir bought a first class ticket. The ticket lady explained that the ticket was non-refundable, and should be guarded carefully. Vladimir heeded her advice, and tucked his ticket beneath the many layers of clothing he was wearing.

As it turned out, the train would not arrive for another few days. Vladimir noted the date and time of its anticipated arrival, arranged for lodgings in the interim, and arrived back at the station two hours early, since this was his first time attempting such a journey. He decided to just follow the flow, assuming that he would be fine as long as he copied his fellow travelers.

The train arrived. After his initial shock at seeing such a monstrously large caravan of cars, Vladimir regained his composure and scanned the terminal to see what to do. As it was early, most of the passengers had not yet arrived, but he noticed three passengers boarding the very last car on the train. He followed them into the car, and when each one climbed beneath one of the benches in the car, he did the same. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fully familiar with proper stowaway protocol, and his feet jutted out across the aisle of the third-class car.

It was dark and lonely and cold beneath the bench, and Vladimir quickly dozed off. He didn’t feel the train start to move, and didn’t hear the conductor entering the car. He did, however, feel a sharp kick to his shins, and the startled peasant was expertly hoisted out by the burly conductor.

“You think this is a free ride?” he bellowed. “You need a ticket to ride this train! Thief! I will put you behind bars!

“What’s the problem, sir?” Vladimir meekly responded. “I have a ticket.”

The other travelers burst out laughing at this ludicrous claim. Their laughter only intensified when he started peeling off layers of clothing, starting with his expensive fur coat and ending with his undergarments. But, much to their astonishment, he pulled out a ticket—a first-class ticket, no less!

After verifying that the ticket was indeed authentic, the conductor asked the obvious: “Sir, you have an expensive first-class ticket; pray tell me why you are lying under a bench in the third-class car when you have your own bed and table in the aristocratic first class car?”

“Because that’s what the others were doing...” was the embarrassed response.

This is what the mitzvah of Nazir represents. We, too, travel through life’s long journey. At Mount Sinai, we were given a first-class ticket. Each of us comes from generations of Jews who lived noble, meaningful, holy and good lives. We carry the blood of royalty, of holiness, of extraordinary goodness. Many of us have photos of grandparents and great-grandparents whose hearts and souls were on fire. How can we just give all that up?

The story is told of the son of King Louis XVI of France. King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him.

They took him to a village far, far away, and exposed him to every filthy and vile thing life could offer.

For over six months the young lad had this treatment—but not once did he buckle under pressure. Finally, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things? They would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his.

The boy responded: “I cannot do what you ask for I was born to be a king.”

This is how we ought to educate and inspire ourselves and our youth. Telling someone how he is lowly and needs protection does not achieve anything. But if you can teach your child how holy he is, how beautiful, how much spiritual dignity flows in his sinews, how much majesty lays in his soul, how elevated is his status, everything changes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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