Can You Spare Some Change?

The Gemara (Nazir 4b) records how Shimon HaTzaddik once met a man who decided to become a Nazir, and would thereby cut off all his hair at the end of the process. Despite its beautiful curls, the man explained that he once looked at his reflection and was taken aback by his own beauty. Perturbed by his own self-indulgence, he committed to become a Nazir in order to counteract his inclinations. Upon hearing these words, Shimon HaTzaddik kissed the man on his head, saying ‘may there be many more Nazirs like you, who fulfill the verse “… consecrate himself to G-d” (6:2)’.

 

The story is jarring, but also somewhat strange. The implication of Shimon HaTzaddik is that there are other kinds of Nezirim, who don’t fulfill that verse. What about this Nazir was different than any other? Rashi simply comments that this Nazir did so “For the sake of Heaven”. The Torah Temimah, Rav Baruch Halevi Epstein, explains that this comment is made to exclude other Nezirim, who, while making a holy commitment, do so for ulterior motives. Some might do so for the merit to be released by Hashem from a difficult struggle, or to gain forgiveness for a sin they committed. This man, however, had no pretense other than to correct his values. He didn’t gain from this decision. It wasn’t necessary; It was simply a voluntary change.

 

Change is typically preceded by a self-serving need. We want a better job, so we work harder. We want to look better, so we go on a diet. We want a new car, so we start to save money. Businesses create “Burning Platform” scenarios to motivate change. But how often does change come simply from a voluntary value assessment? Shimon HaTzaddik’s praise was not for this man becoming a Nazir. It was for his unnecessary change, for the sake of Hashem. The Ibn Ezra explains that the word “Yafli” (6:2), which many translate as ‘dissociate’, might instead mean ‘wondrous’, because most people simply tolerate their own desires, with no sense that they need to change. But change shouldn’t be relegated to situations where we stand to benefit. Instead, it should be determined by what is right and wrong. When we look at it that way, maybe change isn’t something we can spare after all.