Talmud

Nazir 45

Transparent motivation.

At the end of their naziriteship, a person must shave and bring three sacrifices: a sin offering, a burnt offering and a peace offering. But at what point in the process does the shaving occur? A mishnah on today’s daf records a difference of opinion on this matter. According to Rabbi Yehuda, a person shaves after bringing the peace offering. Rabbi Elazar says after their sin offering.

In unpacking the thinking behind the opinions in the mishnah, the Gemara cites a teaching concerning the verse in the Torah that mentions the shaving ritual. Numbers 6:18 states: “The nazirite shall then shave the consecrated hair at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” The Gemara then asks:

Do you say the verse is speaking of the peace-offering? Or perhaps it is only the actual entrance to the Tent of Meeting? 

Although it appears the verse is talking about the location where the shaving takes place — at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting — the Gemara suggests that it may be talking about when a nazirite is supposed to shave instead. How so? The baraita explains:

When the Torah states, “And the nazirite shall shave at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers 6:18), the verse is speaking of the peace-offering, as it is stated: “And if his offering is a sacrifice of peace-offering … and he shall slaughter it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 3:1–2).

The rabbis here make use of a familiar interpretive tool in which a phrase that appears in two places equates the situations in both verses. Since the phrase “at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting” is used in Leviticus when peace-offerings are introduced, it is possible that the verse in Numbers, where the same phrase appears, is also talking about peace-offerings. With the help of this reading, we could then say that Numbers 6:18 is talking about when the nazir cuts their hair  — i.e. after the peace-offering — and not where. 

In this case, the rabbis are not employing midrashic creativity solely to find a way to read the verse from Numbers in a way that supports Rabbi Yehuda. There is an additional factor at play. If the verse from Numbers were only talking about the location of the shaving … 

If so, that is a degrading manner of service. 

In other words, if the verse from Numbers were understood to be talking only about location, it would be suggesting that the nazir shaves at the place where peace-offerings are made, which the rabbis considered disrespectful. So the verse must be saying something else. Clearly, the Torah could not be commanding the nazir to shave in a sanctified space, even when the shaving is done for ritual purposes. 

Often, the rabbis are silent about what motivates them to utilize their midrashic creativity to interpret a verse in a way that departs from its plain meaning, which leaves it to us to do the heavy lifting and figure it out. In this instance, however, they are transparent — there is a proper way to behave in and around the Temple. And they will hold a nazir to it, even when the Torah might appear to be suggesting otherwise.

Read all of Nazir 45 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 9th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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