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 The human drive to be unique and special, to stand out in a crowd, to identify one's self in terms of being of a different status than others, is common to all of us. Many times in life we measure ourselves not by our own lives but rather how we differ from all of the people that surround us. This is true in the usual and mundane events of life that occur to us daily. But it is also true in the holy drive for eternity and meaningfulness that is manifested by the soul that exists within each of us.

Because of this, we look for exceptionalism in areas of life that we deem to be the realm of the soul and of potential holiness. The Torah provides such an example of this inner drive for exceptional and more meaningful feelings of holiness in this week's Torah reading. The entire topic of a person becoming a nazir, a person of special holiness, with additional restrictions on one's personal life and behavior, is an example of this yearning. This is the drive to have ones soul achieve an exceptional holiness that will differentiate this person from his surroundings and from other human beings.
In the view of the Torah here, as in many other instances in religious life, motive is the key. What are the true forces and motives that drive this decision? Are these motives holy and noble, driven by pure altruism and religious fervor or are they merely an expression of ego, arrogance and one-upmanship being played out against the background of religious ritual?
Because of this question and the almost impossibility of answering it, the rabbis of the Talmud took a negative view of the entire concept of declaring one's self as being a nazir. There is something intrinsically dangerous and wrong in using religious ritual as a means of self–aggrandizement. In the tome of uses, as an example, only one case, where according to one of its opinions, the creation of the status of a nazir washeld to have been completely justified.
The drive for personal holiness and for raising oneself spiritually higher, especially in an age of decadence and moral depravity, is a positive one. However, to express that drive in a sincere, unobtrusive manner is a very challenging task and it is one where most people fall short. Others are repelled by public displays of holy zeal and alleged religious fervor.
Instead of introducing greater holiness to society, this quest for personal holiness at the expense of others only serves to diminish the content and force of holiness in that society. This fact lies at the heart of the rabbinic disapproval, generally speaking, of those who invoke becoming a nazir as the means for their own spiritual attainments and perfection.
All through the history of Jewish religious observance, it is recorded for us in the Talmud and in the later works of the great Hasidic masters and the holy men of Mussar, modesty and self-effacing were encouraged above all else in the pursuit of holiness. This lesson of the nazir applies to our time and place as well.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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