1) Fasting While Eating; the Concept of the Nazir
2) Two accounts of the Service of the Baal ShemTov
Our Parsha (Numbers 6), presents the concept of the Nazir,
the consecrated one.
The 15th century physician and Torah commentator, R' Ovadiah Seporno, offers this perspective. "The one who wishes to separate himself in order to become Holy to Hashem, needn't accept upon himself lengthy fasts and self-mortifications which are dangerous for his health and weaken his ability to engage in his divine service. Rather he need only follow a simple course of action, he abstains from wine and all related grape products. In this way he weakens and subjugates his baser inclinations." (Num. 6:2-3, with my paraphrasing)
The Sfas Emes also has a take on this idea. A man must learn, ". . . to be detached from the desires of the physical world, yet at the same time live a worldly existence." A person must eat drink sleep and attend to the rest of his physical requirements. Nevertheless he must understand that his essence is his Torah learning and his prayer.
This is the idea of Fasting while Eating. One eats, yet restrains himself from filling his belly. A certain food which he loves to eat, he will deny himself for a period of time. Instead of eating everything which is put before him, he leaves a bit sitting on his plate. Although he is partaking of the food, his self control in eating is tantamount to fasting. This kind of eating transcends the realm of mere pleasure. It is l'shaim shamayim, totally for the sake of maintining his health in order to be prepared for divine service.
This is the lesson of the Nazir. The Nazir vows to abstain from drinking wine, cutting his hair and coming into contact with the dead. His is effort and sacrifice is minimal, yet the result is a greater measure of Holiness. A sincere endeavor to remain mindful while partaking of the physical world, begets a discipline which leads to a greater level of Holiness and attachment to Hashem.
A Short Biography: The Sfas Emes, Rebbe Yehudah Leib Alter, (1847-1905), was the 2nd Gerrer Rebbe and the grandson of the Chiddushei HaRim. (See his biography in Parshas Vayakhel.) He orphaned at the age of one year and therefore raised by his grandfather. He was a prodigy at a very young age and studied without interuption for 18 hours at a time. When he was only nineteen, his grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim passed away and pressure was put on Reb Yehudah Leib to become the new leader. He felt unworthy however, and instead went to Alexander giving his alliegence to Rebbe Chanoch Chenoch. (See his biography in Parshas Ki Thissa.) After only four years, Rebbe Chanoch Chenoch passed away, and then Reb Yehudah Leib was left with no choice but to comply with the wishes of the Chassidim to become the leader of Ger. Until his guidance, Ger became the largest Chassidic group in Poland. The Sfas Emes, named after his magnum opus, was a supporter of building up the chassidic community in Eretz Yisrael, and greatly supported activities to that end. His son, the Emrei Emes, escaped the Nazis, came to Eretz Yisrael and rebuilt Ger, restoring it to it's former glory.
Once, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the main disciple and the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, related how once the Baal Shem Tov was leading the prayers on the first day of Pesach. The Baal Shem Tov was praying with great desire and fervor and his voice was booming like thunder.
Just before the Mussaf service which include the sublime prayer for dew, the Maggid stepped out to seclude himself in meditation for a few moments in a side room. Without notice Baal Shem Tov came in to the room to put on his Kittel (special white robe prayer robe) for the Mussaf sevice.
The Maggid observed that the Divine Presence of Hashem had descended upon his master, and he did not seem to be at all in this world. The Baal Shem Tov put his Kittel on, and the Maggid saw that it was wrinkled on the shoulder. He put out his hand to smooth the wrinkle and the moment it touched the shoulder of the Baal Shem Tov, his whole body began to tremble. (The Baal Shem Tov was already trembling due to the Divine prescence resting on him). Even after the Baal Shem Tov had left his presence, the Maggid continued to tremble uncontrollably until he beseeched Hashem in prayer to stop it since was clearly not yet prepared to have such an experience of the Divine Presence.
The Baal HaTanya related that he heard from his master, the Great Maggid of Mezeritch, that once the Baal ShemTov was teaching a group of his close disciples. He began to reveal to them secrets and hidden mysteries of the Torah that had never before been heard by human ears. One must keep in mind as well, said the Baal HaTanya, that the Maggid, even before he met the Baal ShemTov was a tremendous sage in his own right. He was a master of Halacha and Talmud and there was not a tome of Jewish mysticism that he had not learned at least 101 times!
Yet, the Maggid was incredulous, how could a man born of woman could actually be privy to such esoteric wisdom. He was sure that the soul of the Baal ShemTov had broken loose from its moorings in his body and it alone was now expounding to them the secrets of the Torah.
Finally, with great trepidation and wonderment, two of the disciples approached the Baal ShemTov and began to pat him on the arms and shoulder in utter disbelief to find that a flesh and blood man was standing before them.
Short Biography: Rebbi Yisroal Baal Shem Tov was the founder of the Chassidic movement. He was born around 1700 and lived for 36 years lived an austere and pious life in relative seclusion without ever revealing who he was. When he did reveal himself, he won the hearts of the simple people as well as those of some of the greatest scholars of the day who then became his dicsciples. He opposed ascetic practices and self castigation. His approach was to spread joy and to gently turn the heart towards Hashem. He travelled constantly, spreading his message of prayer, joy and humility. His successor was Rebbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch.
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