Nezirim Throughout the Generations
The first person to vow the vow of a nazir was Ya’akov Avinu. It is said in BeReshit 28:20-21:
And Ya’akov vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and guard me on this path that I am going on, and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return peacefully to my father’s house, then HaShem will be my God.”
The Written Torah doesn’t say explicitly that his vow was the vow of a nazir, but it seems so from the Oral Torah. The Sages say in the Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 70:
“And Ya’akov vowed a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me … and give me bread to eat.” It is written (Tehillim 66:14): “That which my lips exclaimed, and my mouth spoke while I was in distress.” Rabbi Yitzchak the Babylonian said: “And my mouth spoke while I was in distress” – that he vowed to perform a commandment while he was in distress.
What is the meaning of “saying”? Saying to the generations that they should vow while they are in distress. Ya’akov was the first to make a vow, and therefore whoever vows should attribute the vow to him.
Ya’akov vowed his vow while in distress, while fleeing the vengeance of his brother Esav. The fact that his vow was the vow of a nazir can be learned from his son Yosef. Yosef was nazir, but he wasn’t a nazir from birth, but vowed to be a nazir while he was in distress while he was a slave, on the way to Egypt. And from whom did he learn this? From his father Ya’akov, who was the first in history to vow. And the rest of Yosef’s brothers, the sons of Jacob, became Nazirs, from whom did they learn this if not from their father?
Ramak also writes in Or Yakar (VaYetze 6: 5) that Yaakov’s vow was associated with the prohibition of wine.
A further proof can be seen in the Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 70:
Four made a vow: two vowed and lost, and two vowed and gained. Israel and Channah gained; Yiftach and Ya’akov vowed and lost.
Yalkut Shimoni, Shofetim 68 explains:
Four made a vow: two vowed and gained, and two vowed and lost. Ya’akov vowed and lost, because his wife Rachel died. Yiftach vowed and lost his daughter. Israel vowed and gained, as it is said (BaMidbar 21:2): “And Israel vowed a vow.” Channah vowed and gained, as it says (1 Shemuel 1:11): “And she vowed a vow and said.”
Thus it is said explicitly that the nation of Israel and Channah vowed specifically to be nezirim, as it says there: “Israel vowed and gained, Channah vowed and gained.” The vow of Yiftach was also the vow of a nazir, and we will expand on this below. We have already said that Ya’akov’s vow was the vow of a nazir, and therefore all of these concern the same subject, the same vow, and the Midrash deals with its consequences.
A further proof that Ya’akov’s vow was the vow of a nazir can be learned from what the Ramban’s words. He connected the vow of Ya’akov with the language of pele, as is mentioned in VaYikra 22:18:
What I think is that since the verse says (VaYikra 22:21) “to express (lefalle) a vow or a voluntary offering,” and says the same all over the section of nesachim, and so too (VaYikra 27:2) “If he expresses (yafli) a vow in the value of souls,” and so too in the section of nazir, because a vow comes for something that is beyond (yippale) someone, to vow to HaShem while in distress: If You act amazingly (lehafli) to save me from this distress, I will bring an olah or shelamim sacrifice, as in: “And Ya’akov vowed a vow, saying, if God will be with me.”
We explained above quoting the Zohar that the meaning of what is said ki yafli is to separate from the rest of the people of the world, to sanctify himself in the supreme holiness and to become complete, because a person who wants to sanctify himself is sanctified, and supreme holiness, the holiness of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, is spread over him.
Yosef HaTzaddik was a nazir, as is mentioned in BeReshit 49:26:
May the blessings of your father be greater than the blessings of my parents, to the pinnacle of the eternal hills; may they come to Yosef’s head, and to the scalp of the nazir of his brothers.
The Sages say in the Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 98 (s.v. ותשב באיתן):
Rabbi Levi said: Yosef was a literal nazir. As Rabbi Levi said: All the twenty-two years that he didn’t see his brothers, he didn’t taste the taste of wine, nor did they drink wine until they saw him.
The rest of Ya’akov’s sons, the Shevatim, were nezirim, as the Midrash Talpiyyot (anaf Yosef) quotes from Chiddushei Aggadot:
Why did the brothers of Yosef drink wine, even though they were nezirim and they didn’t yet recognize him? It’s possible to say that it was because of the fear of the royalty …
All of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt were nezirim, and this is the power that helped them purify themselves and ascend from the 49 gates of impurity until the receiving of the Torah. Some believe that this is the root of the Jewish custom not to have haircuts in these 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. The fact that all of the nation of Israel were nezirim is said in Devarim 29:5:
You ate no bread, and you drank no wine or alcohol, so that you would know that I am HaShem your God.
But in the sin of the calf they desecrated the covenant of nezirut and drank wine, as is said in Shemot 32:6:
And they woke up early the next day, and they burnt olot and brought shelamim, and the nation sat down to eat and drink, and they got up to mock.
The olot were to permit them to cut their hair, and the shelamim were to permit them to have any grape products, and then they worshiped avodah zarah.
The same is said in Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (chapter 47):
Rabbi Elazar ben Arach says: When HaKadosh Baruch Hu descended on Mount Sinai to give the Torah to Israel, sixty myriad angels descended with Him corresponding to the sixty myriad warriors of Israel, carrying weapons and crowns, and they crowned Israel with the crown of the ineffable name.
As long as they didn’t come to do that act (the sin of the calf), they were as good as ministering angels before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and the angel of death didn’t rule over them, and they didn’t defecate like humans. But once they made the calf, HaKadosh Baruch Hu was angry at them and said to them: I thought that you were like the ministering angels, as it is said (Tehillim 82:6): “I said you are gods, and you are all sons of the most high.” But now: “In fact, you will die like man, and you will fall like an officer.”
Rabbi Yehudah says: When did this happen? Just like when a person wears his glorious garments, beautiful in appearance and honor, so too when Israel wore that name, they were as good as ministering angels before HaShem. But once they made the calf, He became angry at them, and that night sixty myriad ministering angels descended and each one took from them what he put on them, and so they were stripped naked against their will, as it is said (Shemot 33:6): “And the Children of Israel were stripped (vayyitnatzelu) of their ornaments from Mount Chorev.” It doesn’t say “they stripped” (vaynatzelu), but “they were stripped” (vayyitnatzelu).
There is a further proof from what the Ramak says in Or Yakar (BeShallach 4:7):
“And HaShem said to Mosheh” (Shemot 14:15). This name is in ze’er anpin, and therefore He said “Why are you crying out to Me?” teaching him to bring his prayer up above, because this salvation doesn’t depend on it but on arich anpin, in the secret of the forehead of will, which is what it said above, “attika was revealed and will was found,” because the revelation of the forehead of will subdues the force of strict judgments. The reason is that the strict judgments depend on the secret of the forehead, because the forehead of ze’er is the secret of gevurah rooted in binah, and this forehead gives force and gevurah and strength to all the masters of judgment. Therefore, when Mosheh saw the forces of judgment from above and below arising against Israel, he began to cry out in prayer, and He taught him “Why are you crying out to Me?” because the judgment is attached to ze’er. He went up to the forehead of will, which is the root of gevurah of the keter, because by ending the judgments wherever they are, because all the aspects that are below are judgments above in the keter of ending judgments.…
“And the sea, malchut, made supreme laws.” This is the secret of pele of the splitting of Yam Suf to save Israel, who were holy, and ending the external physical beings such as Egypt, and spiritual beings such as the angelic minister of Egypt, and all the forces of Samael who came with him.…
“Why? Because,” etc. Possibly because it is pele as it says (Shemot 15:11), “too awesome for praise, who performs pele,” alef. And possibly the splitting of Yam Suf was really the splitting of this attribute, which is Yam Suf, the final step. Splitting it is “tear Satan” (קר”ע שט”ן), ending the kelippot and tearing them away from him, and the Satan is torn and separated from them as is known. Furthermore, it is split from the darkness, in the secret of the supreme light which makes a hole and descends, and tears darkness and shines. And this is the name of gevurah “tear Satan” (קר”ע שט”ן).
All of Israel in the fortieth year after leaving Egypt, because they entered the Land of Israel, once again became nezirim to HaShem, as is written in BaMidbar 21:2:
And Israel vowed a vow to HaShem, and said: If You will surely give this nation in my hand, then I will consecrate their cities.
They explained this in the aforementioned BeReshit Rabbah and Yalkut Shimoni:
Four made a vow: two vowed and gained, and two vowed and lost. Israel vowed and gained, as it is said: “And Israel vowed a vow.”
Yiftach, the judge of Israel, was a nazir, as is written in Shofetim 11:30:
And Yiftach vowed a vow to HaShem, and he said, “If you will surely give the Children of Ammon in my hand, then that which will go out of the doors of my house towards me, when I return in peace from the Children of Ammon, will be to HaShem, and I will bring it as an olah sacrifice.”
And what was his vow? The stipulation of his vow was that he would consecrate to HaShem whatever would go out of the doors of his house towards him, and his daughter went out. Thus his daughter too became a nezirah, as the Radak says in his commentary to Shofetim 11:39:
“And he did to her his vow which he had vowed” – this means that he made her a house and brought her into it, and there she was separate from people and from the ways of the world, and it was a custom in Israel for the daughters of Israel to go to her every year.
She became holy to HaShem, meaning a nezirah, similarly to what is said about the nazir, Shemuel HaNavi in 1 Shemuel 1:11:
If You give Your maidservant seed of men, then I will give him to HaShem all the days of his life.
Yiftach was forced to be a nazir in order to defeat the Children of Ammon in war. The fact that he vowed as a nazir is clearly seen from the words of the Sages in the aforementioned BeReshit Rabbah and Yalkut Shimoni:
Four made a vow: two vowed and gained, and two vowed and lost. Yiftach vowed and lost his daughter.
Shimshon, the judge of Israel, was a nazir. His nezirut was special because it was given to him by an angel, and not only he but also his mother was a nezirah, as is written in Shofetim 13:7:
And he said to me, “You are now pregnant, and you will give birth to a son. And now, do not drink wine or alcohol, and do not eat anything impure, because the boy will be a nazir of God from the womb until the day of his death.”
Shemuel HaNavi, the judge of Israel and prophet, was a nazir, as is written in 1 Shemuel 1:11:
And she vowed a vow and said, “HaShem of Legions, if You will surely see Your maidservant’s distress, and You remember and not forget Your maidservant, and You give Your maidservant seed of men, then I will give him to HaShem all the days of his life, and a razor will not be raised upon his head.”
All the rightful kings of Israel were nezirim, because only one who can rule over his bodily desires can rule over the chosen nation.
The wives of the kings of Israel descended from David vowed on behalf of their children the vow of the nazir, as is brought in BaMidbar Rabbah 10:4:
Rabbi Yochanan said: This teaches that his mother held him against a pillar and said to him: “What, my son?” (Mishlei 31:2). All know that your father feared heaven; now they will say, “His mother Bat Sheva caused him to be that way.”
“And what, son of my womb?” All the women of your father’s house, once they became pregnant, wouldn’t see the face of the king, but I pushed in and entered, so that the boy would be bright and alacritous.
“And what, son of my vows?” All the women of your father’s house, once they became pregnant, would vow and say, “We will have a son fit for royalty.” But I vowed and said, “I will have an alacritous son learned in Torah, and fit for prophecy.”
“Don’t give your strength to women,” to chase after licentiousness, which distracts a person’s mind, “and one who befriends prostitutes will lose wealth” (Mishlei 29:3).
“Nor your ways to the effacers of kings.” The Torah warned and said (Devarim 17:17), “And he may not have many wives.” Be careful in these things, because they are what wipe out kings.
“It is not for kings, Lemuel.” What do you have to do with king who say “Why do we need God (lammah lanu el),” that you are acting like they do?
“It is not for kings to drink wine.” Why are you acting comparably to kings who drink wine, get drunk, and perform all kinds of licentiousness? Don’t do like they do.
“And alcohol is not for nobles.” Should one to whom all the secrets of the world are revealed drink wine and get drunk? “Lest he drink and forget the decree.”
It continues further:
The Torah said that kings were commanded in three things: not to have many wives, not to have many horses, and not to have much silver and gold. They shouldn’t say to God that they will have many of them but not sin.
“It is not for kings to drink wine.” This is said corresponding to the vow of the nazir, which is said after the section of the sotah, to teach that kings and nobles must guard themselves from wine, so that they don’t come to licentiousness and cause the world to be condemned.
And why does it warn only kings and nobles? Don’t all people need to be careful of wine, so as not to drink and act ruinously? The reason is because the kings have the ability to drink and do whatever sins they want, and no one can prevent them.
“Lest he drink and forget the decree.” Because of the wine that he drinks, he will forget what the Torah commanded to the one who decrees the laws of Torah, which is the section of sotah.
“And pervert the judgment of all the sons of oppression.” When an adulterer goes to another woman and she becomes pregnant from him, her son becomes a bastard who doesn’t have a portion in the possessions of her husband, but he will take a portion of the possessions along with the true sons because they think that he is his son.
Another interpretation: Sometimes the husband doesn’t leave a son after him, and by Torah law the inheritance returns to his brothers, but this bastard will inherit him because they will think that he is his son, “and he will twist the judgment of all the sons of oppression.”
Therefore, the Torah warned about the law of the nazir after the sotah, because wine causes the adulterer and adulteress to stumble. This is what is written: “If a man or woman expresses the vow of a nazir.”
David, the king of Israel, was a nazir, as is written in Tehillim 116:14: “I will fulfill my vows to HaShem, in front of all His nation.” And in Tehillim 89:40: “You annulled the covenant of Your servant; You desecrated his crown (nizro) to the ground.” And in Tehillim 69:5: “Those who hate me for no reason are more numerous than the hairs of my head; my false enemies who smite me are strong, so that I return what I didn’t steal.”
Avshalom was a perpetual nazir, as is mentioned in 2 Shemuel 14:26:
And when he shaved his head – and it was from year to year that he would shave, because it was heavy on him – he would shave it and weigh the hair of his head, two hundred shekalim in the king’s stone.
It is stated in the Talmud Bavli, Tractate Nazir 4b:
Rabbi says: Avshalom was a perpetual nazir, as it is said (2 Shemuel 15:7): “And after forty years, Avshalom said to the king: ‘Let me go now and pay my vow which I vowed to HaShem in Chevron,’” and he would shave once every twelve months.
Shelomoh, the king of Israel, like the rest of King David’s royal sons, was a nazir. He says this himself in Mishlei 31:1-8:
The words of Lemuel, a king; the burden that his mother rebuked him. What, my son? And what, the son of my womb? And what, the son of my vows? Don’t give your strength to women, nor your ways to the effacers of kings. It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, and alcohol is not for nobles: lest he drink and forget the decree, and pervert the judgment of all the oppressed. Give alcohol to one who is lost, and wine to the bitter of soul. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and no longer remember his toil.
Eliyahu HaNavi was a nazir, as is mentioned in 2 Melachim 1:8:
And they said to him: He is a hairy man, with a leather belt girded on his loin. And he said: He is Eliyah HaTishbi.
And in Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 26 it is said:
HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to him (Yirmeyahu 1:5): “Before I created you, I knew you in the womb.” Before I created you in your mother’s womb, I appointed you to prophesize to my people.
Yirmeyahu answered and said before HaKadosh Baruch Hu: Master of the world, I can’t prophesize about them. Which prophet came to them whom they didn’t attempt to kill? Mosheh and Aharon stood for them; didn’t they attempt to pelt them with stones, as it is said (BaMidbar 14:10): “And all the congregation said to pelt them with stones”? You established Eliyahu with long locks for them, and they would taunt him and make fun of him: “He is curling his locks; he is a hairy man.” You established Elisha for them, and they would say to him, “Go away, baldhead!” (2 Melachim 2:23). I can’t go out through Israel: “But I don’t know how to speak, because I am a boy” (Yirmeyahu 1:6).
Yechezkel HaNavi was a nazir, as is written in Yechezkel 8:3:
And He sent the form of a hand, and took me by the locks of my head (בְּצִיצִת רֹאשִׁי), and a wind carried me between the earth and heaven, and brought me to Jerusalem in a godly vision, to the door of the inner gate which faces north, wherein was the image of jealousy which causes jealousy.
The Radak explains there that בְּצִיצִת רֹאשִׁי means the locks of hair on the head, as is said in Shofetim 16:13 regarding the locks (מחלפות) of Shimshon’s hair, as the Metzudat David explains there: “seven locks of hair, because he was a nazir and grew the hair of his head.”
Mosheh Rabbenu and all the other prophets were nezirim, because HaShem only speaks to holy people. There are many proofs of this in the Torah and the words of the Rabbis. After the section of the nazir comes the section of birkat kohanim, in which HaShem commands Aharon HaKohen and his sons to bless Israel by way of Mosheh Rabbenu, and not directly to Aharon. This illustrates the greatness of Mosheh Rabbenu, which was higher than the kohen gadol. And what is this greatness? The book Mayan HaChochmah which is attributed to Mosheh Rabbenu, begins in this way:
This is the book Mayan HaChochmah (Well of Wisdom) which Michael gave to Peli, and Peli gave to Mosheh Rabbenu. And Mosheh Rabbenu revealed it to enlighten the generations.
The angel Peli who instructed Mosheh Rabbenu is the angel who spoke with Manoach, as is mentioned in Shofetim 13:18: “And the angel of HaShem said to him, ‘Why do you ask about my name? It is hidden (peli).’” This belongs to the angel called nazir, which has the same letters as razin, which means the secrets of the holy Torah.
The fact that Mosheh Rabbenu was a nazir may also be learned from Parashat Naso. Maharam Alshich writes (commentary to Parashat Naso chapter 6):
Now, God taught that the leader of the generation is obligated to warn himself, to separate and sanctify himself even in what is permitted to everyone else, for their merit, to sanctify them until they are holy to their God. If the generation is worthy, he will have no qualms about throwing sharp words and speaking harshly, just as Mosheh did to the Children of Israel just before he died, because he saw that they were righteous, and so he made his burdensome rebuke a heavy yoke on them with harsh words: “you provoked” (Devarim 9:22), “you were rebellious” (Devarim 9:24). But if he sees that they will reject the criticism, he should deliver to them words of instruction with loving language. And if these don’t help, he shouldn’t despair and quit, for if they don’t all accept his words, he should find individuals to warn one by one. He will do no worse than to find “one in a town or two in a clan” (Yirmeyahu 3:14) to listen to his voice, and if he “brings something dear out of the worthless” (Yirmeyahu 15:19), he will be like God’s mouth.
And this is what God says here: “Speak to the Children of Israel,” which is a harsh language, to sanctify themselves. And if you see that they reject the difficulty, then “and you shall say to them,” with loving language, and this is the meaning of “and you shall say to them.” And if this too doesn’t help them, go to individuals and seek: “if a man or a woman expresses the vow of a nazir.”
All the prophets were nezirim. It is said in Michah 2:11:
If a man who walks in vanity and deceives in lies said, “I will preach to you for wine and alcohol,” then he would be the one to preach to this nation.
The Radak there explains:
“If a man who walks in vanity and lies falsehoods” – it refers to what they said to the prophets of God, “Don’t preach” was said to the prophets of HaShem; they would tell them not to prophesy. But “if a man who walks in vanity,” meaning that his ways are full of mere breath and vanity, “and deceives in lies,” that he deceives by way of false words by saying to them, “You will have peace, do as you wish.” If such a man said to this nation, “I will preach to you for wine and alcohol,” meaning “I will prophesy good prophesies for you if you give me a cup of wine or alcohol to drink,” then they will desire his words and listen to him, and he will be their preacher and prophet.
There is another proof from Yeshayahu 28:7:
And these too erred in wine, and went astray with alcohol. Priest and prophet erred in alcohol, were swallowed by wine, went astray from alcohol; erred in vision, stumbled in judgment.
The Radak explains there:
“Priest and prophet” – the priest and prophet, who should have taught the Torah, erred like them in drinking and worldly pleasure. He doesn’t say “and prophet” about the true prophets, but about the false prophets who were among them, who would lead them astray and permit them pleasure, saying to them: “You will have peace, have no fear, do what you want.”
It is thus proven from here that the prophets of HaShem didn’t drink wine and alcohol, as opposed to the false prophets.
See also Zechariah 13:4:
And it will be on that day that each of the prophets will be ashamed of his vision while he is prophesying, and they will no longer wear a cloak of hair in order to deceive.
The Radak explains there:
“And it will be on that day that they will be ashamed” – when they see that their prophesy isn’t fulfilled, they will be ashamed.
“While he is prophesying (בהנבאותו)” – this is an infinitive with an added ת, similar to the usage in the Mishnah (Avot 5:1), “Could it not have been created (להבראות) with one saying?”
“And they will no longer wear a cloak of hair in order to deceive” – because the custom of the false prophets was thus, to wear sackcloth and a cloak of hair.
“In order to deceive” – so that they could deceive and be believed by people, because they display themselves as people who are abstinent, righteous and honest who don’t speak falsehood.
It is thus clear from here that the prophets of HaShem had much hair, as opposed to the false prophets who disguised themselves as such.
All of the ordained sages of the Sanhedrin were nezirim. We have two proofs to this, one pertaining to the sages of the Sanhedrin in the time of King Tzidkiyyahu during the First Temple, and the second pertaining to the sages of the Sanhedrin in the time of King Yannai during the Second Temple. We will bring them one at a time.
It is stated in Eichah Rabbah chapter 2:
Rabbi Elazar said: Let not the section of vows seem to you to be of little consequence, because through the section of vows the great Sanhedrin of Tzidkiyyahu were killed.…
The great Sanhedrin went towards Nevuchadnetzar. Once he saw that they were all people of figure, he commanded to bring them chairs and he had them sit on them.
He said to them, “Bring a book of the Torah.” And they read each section and translated it before him.
Once they reached the section of vows, “When a man vows a vow to HaShem” (BaMidbar 30:3), he said to them: If he wants to retract, can he?
They said to him: He goes to a sage and he releases him from his vow.
He said to them: It seems to me that you released Tzidkiyyahu from the vow that he vowed to me!
Immediately, he commanded that they sit on the floor. This is what is written (Eichah 2:10): “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the earth in silence.”
“They put dirt up on their head” – they began to mention the merit of Avraham, about whom it is written, “But I am dust and ashes” (BeReshit 18:27).
“They girded sackcloth” – they began to mention the merit of Ya’akov about whom it is written, “And he put sackcloth in his loins” (BeReshit 37:34).
“They brought their heads down to earth” – what would they do to them? They would tie their hair to the back of their horses’ tails and run with them, until it would fall off. This is what is written: “Shave your hair and cast it away” (Yirmeyahu 7:29). And their hair was cast on the floor from Jerusalem to Lod.
In the period of King Yannai, the Pharisees, who guarded the covenant, who were the nezirim, were opposed by the Sadducees, who were the desecrators of the covenant, whose power is still great to this day. This is explained in Tractate Kiddushin 66a:
It once happened that King Yannai went to Kuchlit in the desert and conquered sixty cities there. On his way back, he was very happy, and he called all of the sages of Israel and said to them: “Our fathers used to eat salted foods while they were occupied in building the Temple, so we too will eat salted foods in commemoration of our fathers.” So they brought salted foods on golden tables and ate.
There was one man, a mocker, of a bad heart and wicked, named Elazar ben Poirah. Elazar ben Poirah said to King Yannai: “King Yannai, the Pharisees (Perushim) are plotting against you!”
“What should I do?”
“Make them stand up by putting the tzitz on your forehead.”
He made them stand up by putting the tzitz on his forehead.
There was one old man present named Yehudah ben Gedidyah. Yehudah ben Gedidyah said to King Yannai: “King Yannai, the crown of royalty is enough for you. Leave the crown of priesthood to the descendants of Aharon.”
As it was rumored that his mother was abducted in Modi’im, but the matter was investigated and not found, and the sages of Israel separated themselves angrily.
Elazar ben Poirah said to King Yannai: “King Yannai, this is how an ordinary person of Israel should act, but you are a king and a high priest. Is this how you should act?”
“What should I do?”
“If you listen to my advice, trample them!”
“But what about the Torah?”
“It is folded up and deposited in a corner. Whoever wants to learn can come and learn.”
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: He was immediately assailed by heresy. He should have said, “That’s fine for the Written Torah, but what about the Oral Torah?”
Immediately, the evil sprouted through Elazar ben Poirah, and all the sages of Israel were killed. And the world was desolate until Shimon ben Shatach came and returned the Torah to its former state.
In other words, “the Pharisees” (Perushim) are identical with “the sages of Israel.” We have already quoted the Midrash BaMidbar Rabbah chapter 10 above, that nezirut everywhere in the Torah is called perishut.
The nezirim increased after the destruction of the Temple. The truth is that nezirut doesn’t belong to the Temple, and whenever the Sages connected nezirut to the Temple, this is only for a temporary nazir. After the destruction of the Temple, temporary nezirut ended, and everyone who vowed the vow of a nazir since then were lifelong nezirim, and they didn’t need to bring korbanot. Therefore, after the destruction of the Second Temple, nezirim increased in Israel, as is explained in Midrash Tehillim, psalm 137: “Once the Temple was destroyed, perushim increased in Israel, and they wouldn’t eat meat nor drink wine.” The same is explained in Talmud Bavli, Tractate Bava Batra 60b.
Many of the great Tannaim were nezirim, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, because the secrets of the Torah are only revealed to holy people (the word nazir has the same letters as razin [secrets]), as is mentioned in Reshit Chochmah, Sha’ar HaAnavah chapter 1:
Rabbi Shimon the nazir says: The student says to the teacher, “Teach me one chapter,” and the teacher answers, “Wait for me in a certain place.” But HaKadosh Baruch Hu says to Yechezkel: “Go out to the valley,” and Yechezkel went out, and he found HaKadosh Baruch Hu waiting for him, as it is said (Yechezkel 3:23): “And I went out to the valley, and the glory of HaShem was standing there.” This is the meaning of “Your humility makes me great” (Tehillim 18:36).
This Rabbi Shimon is none other than Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He is mentioned here as a nazir in order to clarify the relation of the sublime virtue of nezirut to the attribute of humility.
It is also brought in Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yevamot 97a:
Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: Whenever someone quotes a teaching from a Torah scholar in this world, his lips move in the grave.
Rabbi Yitzchak ben Ze’era, or possibly Shimon the nazir, said: What is the verse that proves this? “And your palate is like the good wine that goes directly to my beloved, moving the lips of the sleeping” (Shir HaShirim 7:10) – like a cluster of grapes. Just like a cluster of grapes moves whenever a person puts his finger on it, so too whenever a person quotes a teaching from Torah scholars in this world, their lips move in the grave.
It follows that he is mentioned as a nazir in order to clarify the connection between the teaching of Torah scholars and wine. Thus the words mentioned in the name of Shimon the nazir here are the same things said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, but in more detail.
Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai was a nazir, as is clear from Otzar HaMidrashim, Asarah Harugei Malchut, page 443:
Afterwards they took out Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai, and that day was erev Shabbat. All his days he would sit in a fast from the age of 12 to 95 years old.
His students said to him: My teacher, do you want to eat something before you are killed?
He said to them: Until now I fasted and didn’t eat or drink, and now I don’t know which direction I will go, and you tell me to eat and drink?!
He began sanctifying the day, from “And the heavens were completed” (BeReshit 2:1) until “and He sanctified it” (2:3). They didn’t let him finish before they killed him. And a heavenly voice came out and said, “Happy are you, Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai, that you were holy, and your soul left you in holiness, in the word ‘and He sanctified.’”
Rabbi Yochanan was a nazir, as is clear from Talmud Bavli, Tractate Bava Metzia 84a:
One day, Rabbi Yochanan was washing himself in the Jordan. Resh Lakish saw him and jumped into the Jordan after him.
He said to him: Your strength is for Torah!
He said to him: Your beauty is for women!
He said to him: If you repent, I will give you my sister, who is more beautiful than I am.
Rabbi Yochanan had the beauty of women. What was this beauty that attracted Resh Lakish? This was his long hair, which is called beauty of women, since Rabbi Yochanan was a nazir.
Nezirim also existed in the time of the Talmud. For example, in Tractate Nazir 29b it is brought:
It happened that Rabbi Chanina’s father vowed on his behalf to be a nazir, and he brought him before Rabban Gamliel. Rabban Gamliel checked him to determine if he had brought forth two pubic hairs or not. Rabbi Yosi says: To determine if he reached the period of vows or not.
He said to him: My master, don’t trouble yourself to check me. If I am a legal minor, I will be a nazir for my father; if I am a legal adult, I will be for myself.
Rabban Gamliel stood up and kissed him on his head. He said: I am sure that this one will be a teacher of law in Israel.
The Ramban, Rabbi Mosheh Cordovero, Rabbi Yosef Karo, Maharam Alshich, Rabbi Mordechai Dato, Maharsha and other such great and holy men were lifelong nezirim.
In the 17th century, Christianity grew stronger in the world, and Christians destroyed and wiped out anything that contradicted its principles; therefore, they fought more fiercely against Jewish nezirut. The reason for this is that they called themselves nezirim and perushim, and the very name of their religion (natzrut) proves this. Therefore, they censored all Jewish books that mentioned nezirut and introduced errors into writings. The former Jews among them went further, and introduced into holy books sayings that contradict nezirut. The goal is simple, namely, to extract holiness from the Jewish people forever, so that they never reach their redemption, God forbid, and this is our war against Amalek from generation to generation. But they didn’t succeed, because “this came from HaShem, it is wonderful in our eyes” (Tehillim 118:23).
Nezirim existed in all the generations, in all the communities, and even in the last three centuries. Among them: the nazir Rabbi David Neto of Venice (1654-1728), the nazir Rabbi Mosheh Chefetz (1663-1711), the nazir Rabbi Mordechai Alnakawa of Morocco (19th century), all the Jews of Kefar Chaban in Yemen who were nezirim, the nazir Rabbi Yosef Rozin of Rogatchov (1858-1936), the nazir Rabbi David Yehudah Aryeh Leib Kohen of Lithuania (1887-1972) known as “the nazir of Jerusalem.”
The nazir Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575), author of Shulchan Aruch, among the greatest of the rabbis of Tzefat, head of beit din in Tzefat, and one of the greatest posekim in the world, lifelong nazir:
The nazir Rabbi Shemuel Eliezer Eidels (Maharsha) (1555-1632), head of beit din and yeshivah of Lublin, and one of the great rabbis of the world, lifelong nazir:
The nazir Rabbi Mordechai Alnakawa of Morocco (19th century):
The nazir Rabbi David HaKohen of Lithuania (1887-1972), among the most outstanding disciples of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, and among the most important editors of his writings:
The nazir Rabbi Yosef Rozin of Rogatchov, served as the rabbi of Dvinsk (modern day Daugavpils, Latvia), author of the series of responsa and commentary Tzofnat Paneach. Considered a learner of phenomenal memory, an immensely great genius in his generation, and the master of thinking and a unique method of learning. He displayed expertise in all the domains of the Torah, and was one of the greatest legal decisors of all time:
The creator of the world promised the nation of Israel that nezirut would never stop ever, but would on the contrary be revived, as the prophet Amos (2:11) testifies: “And I established prophets from your sons, and nezirim from your youths; is this not so, Children of Israel? – says HaShem.” The Metzudat David comments there:
“And nezirim from your youths” – I put a spirit of purity in their hearts to be nezirim.
“Is this not so?” – it means, will you contradict even this, to say that this never happened? As if to say, it is a well-known fact that it is impossible to deny.