"For the entire duration of his abstinence, he shall not eat any product of the grape vine, from seeds to skins" Bemidbar 6:4

By Rabbi Benjamin Rickman, June 2, 2011

Before self-help groups and 12-step programmes, the Torah had already proscribed a methodology for helping individuals manage personal growth. The law of the Nazir (Nazirite) is introduced this week. The law is a paradox. The individual becomes kadosh, holy, yet the Nazir is described as a sinner because aestheticism is not the Jewish way.

The yearning for spiritual experience is intense, but the young future Nazir lacks only one thing, the necessary kedushah, holiness. By taking this vow, one could rise to the level of the kedushah of the high priest.

The Torah does not offer any set time for the duration of an individual's Nazirite status. What determines how long one's nezirut will last? The Meshech Chochmah, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, says, "however long the person thinks it will take him to get back under control". Nezirut also takes as much time as is necessary for a person to reach the spiritual point where he is in control of his passions rather than his passions being in control of him.

Many people erroneously believe that extreme shifts in behaviour are needed to achieve growth. The law of the Nazir teaches us that changes happen with temporary adjustments to one's life, perhaps even some slight discomfort. Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopes Cardozo says: "It's not the abstinence from wine and other alcoholic drinks which is the major achievement, but the art of enjoying them in the right spirit and the correct intentions." The success of any growth programme will be determined by how we cope after the change period has ended.

    Last updated: 10:54am, June 2 2011