Shabbat Naso 5778

Who had the most famous hair in the Hebrew Bible? If your answer is Shimshon, you would be in good company. Hair is the source of his prodigious strength, and when he is betrayed by Delilah to the Philistines, he is doomed. But you might also have offered Avshalom’s locks as the Bible’s primary exhibit of great hair. Of course, his hair is the cause of his downfall as well, for it impedes his escape from King David’s pursuers when it gets caught in a tree.
Hair is a hot topic in this week’s Torah portion, Naso, as well as in the haftarah from the book of Judges, which foretells the miraculous birth of Shimshon. The connecting thread between the two passages is the vow of the nazir, who is in a state of sacred self-denial. Alcohol and haircuts are off-limits to the nazir, usually for the length of the vow, and in Shimshon’s case, for his entire life. What would cause someone to undertake such an extreme vow of abstinence? And why would the Divine messenger insist to Manoah and his wife that their long-awaited child be a nazir?
Rashi offers a hint at the reason for the laws of nazir in this famous comment: “Why is the passage about the nazir juxtaposed with the passage about the sotah (the woman accused of adultery)? Anyone who sees the sotah in her state of degradation will take a vow of abstinence from wine, for it was wine that led her to adultery” (Rashi on Numbers 6:2).
Notice that there’s no mention of hair in this passage, but in fact, it’s implied. How does hair play a role in Rashi’s interpretation? And what other (above the waist) part of the body is a key actor in the dynamic that Rashi outlines?
On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at this question, as well as the stories of Shimshon and Avshalom, and a Talmudic tale about great hair gone bad.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise