Here is the law for the Nazarite:
[This is the law] when a man or woman expresses a nazirite vow to God. He must separate himself completely from wine and wine-brandy. He may not even drink vinegar made from wine and wine-brandy. He shall not drink any grape beverage, and he shall not eat any grapes or raisins. As long as he is a nazirite, he may not eat anything coming from the grape, from its seeds to its skin. As long as he is under nazirite oath, no cutting instrument shall touch [the hair on] his head. Until he completes his term as a nazirite to God, the uncut hair that grows on his head is sacred. As long as he is a nazirite to God, he may not have any contact with the dead. He may not ritually defile himself even when his father, mother, brother or sister dies, since his God’s nazirite crown is on his head. As long as he is a nazirite, he is holy to God. – Naso 6: 2-8 (bible.ort.org)
How am I like the Nazarite? How can I relate to those foreign and restrictive sounding rules? How can I relate to the story?
The Nazarite self-selects him or herself. He chooses to follow the restrictive laws of not eating or drinking any thing made from grapes. He chooses not to cut his hair, and chooses to separate himself from his family and friends during important death and mourning rituals.
I grew up in the midwest. I was a child of WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants). My childhood was very “American” and nominally Christian. We participated in all the “American” holidays and rarely a day existed where we stuck out. I don’t ever remember feeling like we were not part of the whole community.
In my 20′s, I decided to convert to Judaism. I never had an attraction or feeling that I was Jewish growing up. I do not even recall having known a Jewish person. However, becoming Jewish in the assimilated Jewish world reminds me of the Nazarite in the Biblical Jewish world. Firstly, my family and I do not do Christmas. This was the hardest thing for most of my family and friends to understand when talking about conversion. “How can you not do Christmas?” “Does that mean you won’t have a Christmas tree anymore?” Nope. Next I took on a whole new set of holidays that do not intersect with my previous holidays (except Thanksgiving). This, of course, makes scheduling family visits much easier because we do not have to pick which family we go over to break fast or have Passover dinner. Finally, I took on a whole set of rituals around Shabbat and Judaism.
Each of these separate me from the community I was in. I live within the same community but now have things that make me stand out.
These things that make me stand out are all good. I have replaced Christmas with a year full of wonderful holidays that I have incorporated into my family’s rituals. These Jewish holidays mark each season and provide a celebration in its place. We have eight days of lights for Channukah in Winter, the festival of Purim in the late winter and Passover in Spring. Summer is concluded and fall started with Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kippur, Succot and Simchat Torah.
When there are no holidays we have Shabbat each week. The weekend flies by if I do not have the chance to sit down with the lit candles and say the prayers over wine and challah. I look forward to this end of week marker as well as the full day with my family and without my work. These holidays and rituals bring me into a warm community, provide context and guidance to daily life and give me comfort and guideposts through lifecycle and holiday events.
Like the Nazarite I have chosen to be different than the general population. The Nazarite is a Jew who chooses to do things different for a greater sense of commitment to God. I chose to be different to participate with my family in a community and to provide a path to live my life .