For the week of May 29, 2004 / 9 Sivan 5764
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 4:21 - 7:89
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 13:2-25
Originally published the week of June 14, 2003 / 14 Sivan 5763

Sometimes It's Up to Us

The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins'" (Bemidbar / Numbers 3:1-3).

One of the customs described in the Torah is that of taking a special type of vow, called a Nazirite vow. A vow was a self-imposed promise to God. The Nazirite vow was one of giving oneself to God's service for a particular time.

If a person took upon themselves a Nazirite vow, they had to abide by additional restrictions besides those imposed upon the rest of Israelite society. While God's people had to follow certain dietary laws for example, Nazirites were to be even more strict in that they were not to drink fermented drink or eat or drink anything made from grapes.

The Nazirites were not the only ones in Israelite society that were to abide by special restrictions. This is also the case with the Levites, the Priests, and the High Priest. The level of each one's calling determined their level of lifestyle restrictions.

The main difference between these people and Nazirites was that a person usually became a Nazirite by their own personal choice. It was only after that choice was made that they were under special restrictions.

I think there are some things we can learn about biblical spirituality from the concept of the Nazirite vow. First, God gives us room in biblical spirituality for people's own choices as to their level of commitment they give to God. While a discussion on God's minimum level of commitment would be helpful, we should be careful not to create standards of spirituality that God himself is not expecting from us.

Second, we don't have to wait for a personal calling from God before we pursue greater levels of commitment to him. We are free to give ourselves to God in greater and greater ways just because we want to.

Third, it is acceptable to intensively give ourselves to God's service for a particular period of time. There may be times in our lives where we feel we need to completely focus on spiritual matters. That doesn't necessarily mean that we will live our entire lives that way.

Finally, if we do give ourselves in this special way to God, we must do so on his terms, not our own. Though a person was not obliged to take upon themselves a Nazirite vow, once they did, there were obligations they needed to abide by. We shouldn't think that we are free to relate to God and his service any way that we wish. He welcomes our dedication to him, but reserves the right to determine our conduct.

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