Types of Nezirut
(1) A temporary nazir (nazir lizman katzuv)
Everything written in the Talmud and posekim about nezirut refers to this type of nezirut. It is stated in the Mishnah, Tractate Nazir 1:3:
An unspecified nezirut is for thirty days. If one said “I shall be a nazir for one long period,” “I shall be a nazir for one short period,” even “from now until the end of the world,” he is a nazir for thirty days.
The Rambam rules likewise in Laws of Nezirut 3:1:
An unspecified nezirut is for thirty days. How so? If one said, “I shall be a nazir,” this is no less than thirty days.
In the Midrash BaMidbar Rabbah chapter 10 it is stated:
Why does a pure nazir bring three types of sacrifices? In order to permit to him the three things that are forbidden to him: grape products, shaving, and impurity. He would bring the chattat to permit impurity, the olah to permit shaving, and the shelamim to permit grape products.
Therefore, temporary nezirut isn’t in effect in our time, since it is impossible to bring sacrifices in the Temple.
The Sages defined temporary nezirut as nezirut not for its own sake (lo lishmah), because it depends on something specific, as is explained above. Furthermore, temporary nezirut is that of a sinful nazir, because anyone who vows to separate from worldly desires for a specific amount of time, and then returns from the holy to the profane, is called a sinful nazir, and he is therefore required to bring a chattat sacrifice.
This is what the Ramban writes, quoted by Rabbenu Bachya on BaMidbar 6:13:
“On the day of the completion of the days of his separation” – The reason for this sacrifice for the nazir on the day that he completes his days of separation has not been revealed, for we find nowhere in the entire Torah any sacrifice that isn’t for a sin previously committed. But this one, who eagerly merited to perform a commandment, and was holy and separate from worldly desires all the days of his nezirut, is now, at the end of his days of separation, required by the Torah to bring a sacrifice. This is a wondrous and novel thing, as the Sages say in Tractate Nazir, “The Torah introduces a novelty about the nazir” (Nedarim 4a).
And the Ramban gave a reason in the simple sense, and he said:
This man is sinning against his soul at the end of the nezirut, because now he is a nazir in the holiness and service of HaShem, and he should be a nazir forever, and stay his entire life in his holiness, a nazir and holy to his God, as it is written (Amos 2:11): “And I established prophets from your sons, and nezirim from your youths.” The verse likens him to a prophet, as it is written (BaMidbar 6:5): “All the days of his separation, he is holy to his God.” Therefore, he needs atonement when he goes back to be defiled in worldly desires.
Until now was a quote from the Ramban. But even with this reason, the sacrifice of the nazir is no less a novelty, for where else do we find a sacrifice for the future? But the reason for the sacrifice and its novelty can only be explained according to the kabbalah. I have already mentioned that nezirut is above the middot, and is attached to the actual supreme mercy. Now he wants to leave his holiness, and he appears to be distancing himself and wanting to remove himself, God forbid, from that virtue to which he had been clinging. And therefore the Torah obligated him to bring a sacrifice on the day of his completion – not for atonement, because you will find no language of atonement or forgiveness regarding it. But the intention of his sacrifice is to bring closer the forces, and to unite and continue to give them bounty from the source, so that the middot will be satisfied, and afterwards he can return to his pleasures as before. Therefore the sacrifice that he was commanded about an olah, shelamim and chattat – a sheep for olah, a ram for shelamim, and a ewe for chattat. And at the end it says (BaMidbar 6:20), “And afterwards the nazir may drink wine,” meaning that after he completes his obligation to every side and the middot are satisfied, the nazir may drink wine and return to his pleasures as people are wont to do in the world of bodies.
The question may be asked about a temporary nazir who completed his nezirut and brought his sacrifices: the Torah says about him in BaMidbar 6:20, “And afterwards the nazir may drink wine.” Why does the verse call him a nazir after he became like everyone else? The reason is that once he rose once to the level of holy, he can’t return to be like before, like an adult who can’t return to being a child once he grows up. After he completes his obligation to every side and the middot are satisfied, he will return to his pleasures as people are wont to do in the world of bodies, and he will become a sinful nazir.
In our time, there is no way for a temporary nazir to be released from his nezirut.
(2) A perpetual nazir (nezir olam)
A perpetual nazir is a nazir whose parents vowed on his behalf while he was a child or before he was born into the world, and once he reached the age of thirteen years, he didn’t continue his nezirut of his own choice, as Avshalom was. But one who, upon reaching the age of thirteen years, continued his nezirut of his own choice becomes a perpetual nazir, as were Shemuel HaNavi, the kings of Israel, Rabbi Chanina and other holy and pure people like them.
The Sages said in the Mishnah, Tractate Nazir 1:2:
An eternal nazir whose hair grows heavy may lighten it with a razor and bring three animals.
And the Rambam writes (ibid. 12):
And what is the difference between a perpetual nazir and a temporary nazir? That a temporary nazir is forbidden to shave until the end of his period of separation, as it is written (BaMidbar 6:5), “All the days of his vow of separation, a blade may not pass over his head, until the completion of the days.” But a perpetual nazir whose hair became heavy may lighten it with a razor every twelve months, and he brings three animals when he shaves.
A perpetual nazir can never be released from his nezirut.
(3) A nezir Shimshon
The Rambam writes (ibid. 13):
Shimshon was not a complete nazir, because he didn’t vow to be a nazir, but the angel separated him from impurity. What was his law? He was forbidden to drink wine and to shave, but permitted to become impure from the dead. And this is a law from tradition.
Nezirut Shimshon is a special law, which was not stated explicitly in the Torah, but from the angel who instructed this to his mother. And his definition is special, in that he is permitted to become impure from the dead, but all the other prohibitions of nezirut apply to him. This is explained in the Mishnah, Tractate Nazir 1:2:
What is the difference between a perpetual nazir and a nezir Shimshon? A perpetual nazir whose hair grew heavy may lighten it with a razor and bring three animals, and if he becomes impure, he brings a sacrifice for impurity. A nezir Shimshon whose hair grew heavy may not lighten it, and if he becomes impure, he doesn’t bring a sacrifice for impurity.
A nezir Shimshon can never be released from his nezirut.
(4) A lifelong nazir (nazir leolam)
A lifelong nazir is a nazir who vowed to be a nazir forever or for a period of time longer than one lifetime. It is stated in Tractate Nazir 8b:
The Rabbis taught: “I shall be a nazir all of the days of my life,” “I shall be a nazir forever” – this is a perpetual nazir. But if he said “I shall be a nazir,” even “for a hundred years,” even “for a thousand years,” this is not a perpetual nazir, but a lifelong nazir.
The law of a lifelong nazir is the application of all the prescriptions of nezirut with no pause, and therefore he never shaves, unlike a perpetual nazir who can lighten his hair with a razor every twelve months.
And the Rambam writes in Laws of Nezirut 2:20:
Nezirut is in effect while the Temple exists and while the Temple doesn’t exist. Therefore, someone who vows to be a nazir in this time is a lifelong nazir, because we don’t have a Temple for him to bring his sacrifices at the end of his period of nezirut.
The Smag, Smak, Sefer HaChinnuch, and Kaftor VaFerach all rule likewise, as we have brought above, and all the other rishonim rule likewise.
It follows that whoever vows the lifelong vow of the nazir is clearly acting for its own sake (lishmah), and everything that is for its own sake exists forever, and isn’t dependent on time. Therefore, the guardians of the covenant were specifically lifelong nezirim, which is nezirut for its own sake.
And it is brought in Tractate Nedarim 9b:
It is taught, Rabbi Shimon the Righteous said: I never ate the asham of an impure nazir except for one. Once, a man who was a nazir came from the south, and I saw that he was beautiful of eyes and good of appearance, with curly locks.
I said to him: My son, why did you decide to destroy your beautiful hair?
He said to me: I was a shepherd for my father in my town. I went to fill up water from the well, and I saw my reflection, and my desire rushed upon me and sought to divert me from the world. I said to it: Wicked one, why are you priding yourself in a world that doesn’t belong to you, upon someone who will be maggots and worms? By the Temple service, I will shave you off for heaven!
Immediately, I stood and kissed him on his head. I said to him: My son, may there be many nezirim like you in Israel. About you the verse says (BaMidbar 6:2), “If a man or a woman expressly vows the vow of a nazir, to separate himself to HaShem.”
Rashi comments there that “to HaShem” means “for the sake of heaven.”
It is clear from here that Shimon the Righteous never ate from the sacrifice of a temporary nazir, which is the sacrifice of a sinful nazir. Therefore, this barayta is an exceptional case, when a temporary nazir became a nazir for the sake of heaven, which is why Shimon the Righteous said to him, “May there be many nezirim like you in Israel,” by which he expressed his desire that there be many who become nezirim for the sake of heaven.
And the Rambam writes in Laws of Nezirut 10:14:
If someone says, “I am a nazir if I do such-and-such,” or “If I don’t do it,” and similar things, this person is wicked, and such a nezirut is the nezirut of the wicked. But one who vows to HaShem in a holy manner is beautiful and praiseworthy, and about this it is said (BaMidbar 6:7), “The crown of his God is on his head, he is holy to HaShem.” And the verse likens him to a prophet, as it is said (Amos 2:11): “And I established prophets from your sons, and nezirim from your youths.”
A lifelong nazir can never be released from his nezirut.