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Friday, February 8, 2008

Apologies and Greek Myths

Our deepest apologies, but through a series of almost comedic miscommunications, we have no Dvar Torah to offer on this week's parsha. That said, here's something of wild interest, from Nazir 4b:

אמר שמעון הצדיק מימי לא אכלתי אשם נזיר טמא חוץ מאדם אחד שבא אלי מן הדרום יפה עינים וטוב רואי וקווצותיו סדורות לו תלתלים אמרתי לו בני מה ראית לשחת שער נאה זה אמר לי רועה הייתי לאבי בעירי והלכתי לשאוב מים מן המעיין ונסתכלתי בבבואה שלי ופחז יצרי עלי וביקש לטורדני מן העולם אמרתי לו ריקה מפני מה אתה מתגאה בעולם שאינו שלך שסופך להיות רמה ותולע' העבודה שאגלחך לשמי' עמדתי ונשקתיו על ראשו אמרתי לו כמותך ירבו נזירים בישראל

Shimon HaTzaddik said: In my entire life, I never ate from the guilt-offering of a defiled Nazir (i.e. I never trusted the sincerity of their Nazir vow) except for one man who came from the South. He had beautiful eyes and great looks and his locks were set into curls. I said to him, "My son! What made you destroy such beautiful hair!" (i.e. A Nazir must let his hair grow unchecked, only to have it eventually shaved off.) He said to me, "I was a shepherd for my father in my city, and I went to draw water from the spring. As looked at my reflection approaching the water, my Inclination seized hold of me and sought to destroy me. I said to myself: Empty thing! What are you so proud about, in this world which isn't yours, where you will end up as maggots and worms! I swear, I will shave off these locks!" So I kissed the man on his head and said, "There should be more Nazirs in Israel like you."

Sound familiar? It's the Narcissus story, retold. Whereas the Hellenistic version (eg. Ovid Metamorphoses III, 302ff) has Narcissus trapped by his own beauty, unable to leave the spring, our young man chooses to see the fleetingness and meaninglessness in human beauty.

While I lack the space to give a full reading of the Gemara's commentary on the Narcissus story, here are some points to consider:
1) Both Narcissus and our Man remove themselves from the world - their greatly varied mindsets and reactions seem to actually lead them to the same place.
2) The context of the story is one who BROKE his Nazirite vows! While this could happen through contact with a dead body or drinking wine, maybe the Man failed in another way. Recall, he enters the Temple with a beautiful and neat head of hair, making us wonder if a few weeks after his spiritual epiphony, he was still tempted to visit his hair stylist. Shimon HaTzaddik is praising someone who ultimately fails to live up to his own ideals.



2 comments:

Peloric said...

How do you know he broke his vows?

Ibn Avraham said...

"The guilt offering of a defiled nazir" is brought when a Nazir accidentally breaks his vows. (Shimon HaTzaddik suspected most of these people of retroactively regretting they ever made the vow, so he refused to eat from their offering. Only the Talmudic Narcissus was considered sincere enough to not regret his vow, even after accidentally breaking it.)