Torah Sparks

United Synagogue (USCJ) is proud and delighted to bring you Torah Sparks, with insights and learning materials on the Parasha (Torah portion) of the week. Torah Sparks is produced by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Each week there will be a Dvar Torah - a discussion on some aspect of the reading, by CY faculty, alumni and friends; a Vort - a short thought from Chasidic rebbes or other thinkers about some point in the text; and Table Talk - questions to stimulate discussion on the Parsha around the Shabbat table. Torah Sparks is available here on the Conservative Yeshiva's Shiurim Online Beit Midrash website, as well as by subscription to weekly graphical emails. Please select the Parasha you would like to see - it will display articles from each year. A printable PDF is linked at the end of each week's presentation.


Introduction to Nazir

Introduction to Nazir   The Torah discusses the laws of becoming a nazirite in Numbers 6:1-21.  There are three things prohibited to a nazirite:  1)  drinking or eating anything that comes from grapes; 2) cutting hair; 3) contracting impurity from a dead body.  The Torah provides rules for a nazirite who became impure by having […]

Nazir, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah is very similar to the first mishnah of nedarim, indeed the first line of our mishnah is quoted there.  The mishnah discusses vow substitute formulas.  People were afraid to mention the entire vow formula because of the awe they had in the power of a vow.  […]

Nazir, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction This first section of this mishnah teaches that if one accepts some of the prohibitions for which a nazirite is liable, he is obligated for all of the regulations.  The second section deals with becoming a nazirite like Samson. The third section deals with the distinction between a […]

Nazir, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter One, Mishnah Three   Introduction As we explained above, the minimum period of naziriteship is thirty days.  However, a person can accept upon himself more than one “naziriteship”, and thereby become a nazirite for 60 days, 90 days etc.  In such a case, after each thirty day naziriteship he would bring the sacrifices, […]

Nazir, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah discusses a person who seemingly accepts upon himself an extremely large number of naziriteships.  The question is, is he considered a life-nazirite, or one who is observing an endless series of naziriteships, who must shave his head between each period.   Mishnah Four 1)                     [If one says,] […]

Nazir, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Nazir, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah introduces a situation in which it is unclear what type of nazirite vow a person took and in order to clarify the matter, they ask him to explain what his intention was.  As we shall see, even after he explains his intention it is still somewhat […]

Nazir, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6

Nazir, Chapter One, Mishnah Six   Introduction In mishnah three we learned that if one says “Behold I am a nazirite from here until the end of the world” he is a nazirite for only thirty days, because he did not specify the length of his vow.  Our mishnah teaches that if he does specify […]

Nazir, Chapter 1, Mishnah 7

Nazir, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Mishnah seven continues to teach that a person may make an extremely large number of nazirite vows, as we learned in mishnah four.   Mishnah Seven [If one says], “Behold I am a nazirite, as the number of days in a solar year” he must count as many […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction Our mishnah deals with a person who says that he is nazirite but says also that he will abstain from figs, which are normally permitted to a nazirite.  The Talmud understands the tannaitic dispute on this debate to be about a larger issue of how to interpret self-contradictory […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 10

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Ten   Introduction The final mishnah of chapter two continues to deal with nazirite vows made on the condition that the one vowing will have a son.   Mishnah Ten [If one says] “Behold, I am a nazirite when I shall have a son, and I will be a nazirite for […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah discusses a person who may have made a nazirite vow using an extremely strange formula.   Mishnah Two If one says, “This cow is saying ‘Behold, I am a nazirite if I get up,” or “This door is saying ‘Behold, I am a nazirite if I […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah deals with a person who tries to become a nazirite in regard to one cup of wine alone, without being a total nazirite.   Mishnah Three 1)                     If they mixed for him a cup of wine, and he said, “Behold, I am a nazirite in regard […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Introduction The first section of this mishnah deals with a person who tries to take upon himself a partial naziriteship.  The second section deals with one a person who vowed a nazirite vow but did not have full comprehension of the prohibitions involved.   Mishnah Four 1)                     [If one […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Introduction At the end of his naziriteship a nazirite brings three offerings, a sin offering, a burnt offering and well-being offering, and shaves his hair (Numbers 30:13-18).  Together these three offerings are called “the hair offering”, for they are accompanied by the shaving of the hair.  Our mishnah deals […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah is a continuation of yesterday’s mishnah.  It deals with a situation in which a person vows that he will bring the offerings of half of a nazirite.   Mishnah Six [If one says,] “I take it upon myself to bring the hair offering of half of […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 7

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah deals with a person who stipulates that he will be a nazirite if he has a son, or, alternatively, if he has a child. The question is, what is the definition of a son or child. As an aside, we can see from this mishnah that […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah is a continuation of yesterday’s mishnah where a man vowed to be a nazirite if he had a child.  Our mishnah deals with a case where his wife miscarries.  The question is, do we consider the miscarriage to be a case where the child was viable […]

Nazir, Chapter 2, Mishnah 9

Nazir, Chapter Two, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah discusses a person who makes a nazirite vow on his own behalf and promises to serve another naziriteship if he has a son.  The question is, if he has a son, in which order does he serve the naziriteships?   Mishnah Nine 1)                     [If one says,] […]

Nazir, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction We have already had several opportunities to mention that a nazirite vow of unspecified duration is thirty days.  Our mishnah deals with two related rulings.   Mishnah One 1)                     If one says, “Behold, I am a nazirite,” he shaves on the thirty-first day. a)                                           If he shaved on […]

Nazir, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues to illustrate the principle which we learned in yesterday’s mishnah, that observing part of the day as a nazirite counts as a full day’s observance.  Yesterday we saw that this means that one who shaves on the thirtieth day has fulfilled his obligation.  Today’s mishnah […]

Nazir, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction When a nazirite becomes impure he renders void the entire term of naziriteship that he has already observed.  He must purify himself in the standard procedure, which takes seven days.  He then shaves, brings a bird sacrifice and then he begins to count again (see Numbers 6:9-12). Our […]

Nazir, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction Yesterday’s mishnah contained a debate between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages concerning a case in which a person who had made a nazirite vow of unspecified duration became impure on the thirtieth day, the last day of his naziriteship and the day on which he could shave.  Today’s […]

Nazir, Chapter 3, Mishnah 5

Nazir, Chapter Three, Mishnah Five   Introduction As we have already mentioned, if a nazirite becomes impure, he must bring a sacrifice and begin to recount his naziriteship.  Our mishnah deals with a person who takes a nazirite vow while he is in a graveyard, a place of high impurity.    Mishnah Five 1)                     If […]

Nazir, Chapter 3, Mishnah 6

Nazir, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six   Introduction According to the Talmud, the Sages decreed that land outside of Israel is ritually impure, and therefore anyone who walks there or touches the earth is impure.  However, this impurity is only considered “derabbanan”.  In a sense then, taking a nazirite vow while outside of the land of […]

Nazir, Chapter 3, Mishnah 7

Nazir, Chapter Three, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah, while ostensibly discussing nazirite laws, is really discussing the laws of testimony.  Generally, when two sets of witnesses disagree, two saying one thing and two saying the other, the testimony is invalid.  However, if one set says that the defendant owes two hundred, and the other […]

Nazir, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah teaches that a person can become a nazirite by seeing his friend take a nazirite vow and saying “I too.”  The Talmud teaches that in order for this to be effective he must state “I too” as soon as he hears his friend vow, for only […]

Nazir, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with when a husband can annul his wife’s nazirite vow.   Mishnah Two 1)                     [If he says in conversation with his wife,] “Behold, I am a nazirite. What about you?” and she answers “Amen,” he can annul her vow, but his own remains […]

Nazir, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three   Introduction A person who intentionally breaks their nazirite vow receives up to forty lashes, the same punishment received for breaking any negative commandment.  This mishnah deals with a woman who broke her nazirite vow but did not know that her husband had already annulled it.   Mishnah Three 1)                     […]

Nazir, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction At the completion of a naziriteship a person must bring a sin-offering, a burnt-offering and a peace-offering (can also be translated as an offering of well-being.  In Hebrew well-being, whole and peace are all from the same word “shalom/shalem/shlamim).  Our mishnah deals with a woman who took a nazirite […]

Nazir, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Nazir, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss the point until which a husband retains the right to annul his wife’s nazirite vow.   Mishnah Five 1)                     If one of the kinds of blood has been sprinkled on her behalf, [the husband] can no longer annul [the vow].   a)                                           Rabbi Akiba […]

Nazir, Chapter 4, Mishnah 6

Nazir, Chapter Four, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah teaches that a father may impose a nazirite vow on his son, but that the vow is valid only if the son or the relatives do not protest.  Most of the mishnah discusses a case where the son or relatives protest, thereby voiding the vow, but […]

Nazir, Chapter 4, Mishnah 7

Nazir, Chapter Four, Mishnah Seven   Introduction In this mishnah we learn that under certain circumstances, a man may use for himself money that his father set aside to purchase his own nazirite sacrifices.  However, a woman cannot do so, even though she can potentially inherit her father.  This difference mirrors the difference in the […]

Nazir, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Five, Mishnah One   Introduction This chapter deals with a person who made a nazirite vow based on a mistaken premise.  The chapter is introduced by two mishnayoth which discuss cases where one mistakenly consecrated property to the Temple.   Mishnah One 1)                     Beth Shammai says: something consecrated in error is consecrated; a)                                           […]

Nazir, Chapter 5, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Five, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah is a continuation of yesterday’s mishnah, where we learned that Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel debate the status of something that was consecrated based on a mistaken premise.  Today’s mishnah is very similar to yesterday’s and quite simple to understand.  A question that we might ask […]

Nazir, Chapter 5, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter Five, Mishnah Three   Introduction This whole mishnah contains an argument between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel over consecration in error.    Mishnah Three 1)                     If a man vowed to be a nazirite and then asked a sage [to be released from his vow] but [the sage] bound him [to his vow] he […]

Nazir, Chapter 5, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter Five, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with the concept that a vow, in this case a nazirite vow, may not be released by a sage based on something that occurred after the vow was taken.  This concept was already taught by mishnah Nedarim 9:2, so look there for further reference.  Our […]

Nazir, Chapter 5, Mishnah 5

Nazir, Chapter Five, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah again deals with the debate between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel over mistaken nazirite vows.   Mishnah Five If [people] were walking along the road and [saw] someone coming towards them, and one said, “Behold, I am a nazirite if it is so-and-so,” and the other […]

Nazir, Chapter 5, Mishnah 6

Nazir, Chapter Five, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss the scenario in yesterday’s mishnah, that of an unidentified man approaching and a group of people “gambling” nazirite vows over his identity.  This mishnah discusses what is to occur if the person approaching turns away without being identified.  The whole mishnah goes according […]

Nazir, Chapter 5, Mishnah 7

Nazir, Chapter Five, Mishnah Six   Introduction In this mishnah nine (!) people “wager” their nazirite vows over whether a koy is a wild beast or a domesticated beast.  Already by the Talmudic period they did not know exactly what animal a koy really was.  Some said it was a wild ox, while others interpret […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah first lists what is prohibited to a nazirite and then delineates the minimum amount of products that a nazirite must eat/drink to be considered liable.      Mishnah One 1)                     Three things are forbidden to a nazirite:  ritual defilement, shaving, and products of the vine. 2)                     […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 10

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Ten   Introduction This mishnah deals with a person who offered one (or more) of his sacrifices, then shaved and then discovered that his sacrifice had been improperly offered.  When offering a sacrifice, the priest must have the correct intention in mind.  When offering a sin-offering he must intend to offer […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 11

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Eleven   Introduction This mishnah deals with a situation where a nazirite began to have his sacrifices offered and then during the process, he became impure through contact with a dead body.  The question is, when he becomes clean, does he have to bring again the sacrifice(s) which was already offered.    […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Two   Introduction Numbers 6:4 states:  “Throughout his term as a nazirite, he may not eat anything that is obtained from the grapevine, even seeds (harzanim) or skin (zag).”  Our mishnah discusses the meaning of this verse, and especially the meaning of the last two words.   Mishnah Two 1)                     He […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Three   Introduction As we have already learned, a nazirite may not shave.  This mishnah discusses what is included in the prohibition of shaving.   Mishnah Three 1)                     A nazirite vow of unspecified duration is for thirty days. 2)                     If [the nazirite] shaved himself or bandits shaved him, it overturns thirty […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Four   Introduction Every time that a person breaks a commandment s/he incurs a penalty.  A question can be asked about a prohibition that can be broken continuously for an extended period of time, such as the Sabbath.  For instance, writing is prohibited on Shabbat.  If I write a letter that […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 5

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah compares different stringencies that exist for each of the three nazirite prohibitions:  ritual defilement, shaving and the consumption of things which come from the vine.   Mishnah Five 1)                     Three things are forbidden to a nazirite: — ritual defilement, shaving and products of the vine. 2)                     […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 6

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Six   Introduction If a nazirite contracts ritual impurity, he must count seven days, shave his head on the seventh, bring two sacrifices on the eighth day, one a sin offering and the other a burnt offering, and then begin to count his naziriteship again.  This is spelled out in Number […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 7

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Yesterday’s mishnah dealt with a nazirite who had to shave because he had become ritually defiled.  Today’s mishnah deals with a nazirite who has successfully completed his term of naziriteship, and is shaving as part of its completion, as is prescribed in Numbers 6.  In our mishnah two […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 8

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Eight   Introduction The first section of this mishnah teaches that although in general when bringing sacrifices, a person must specify which animal is for which sacrifice, the nazirite need not do so.  The second section of the mishnah teaches what a nazirite does with his hair once he has shaved […]

Nazir, Chapter 6, Mishnah 9

Nazir, Chapter Six, Mishnah Nine   Introduction Numbers 6:17-20 read:  “He shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, together with the basket of unleavened cakes; the priest shall also offer the meal offerings and the libations.  The nazirite shall then shave his consecrated hair…The priest shall take the shoulder of […]

Nazir, Chapter 7, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Seven, Mishnah One   Introduction Just as it is forbidden for nazirite to defile himself, even in order to take care of his relatives (Numbers 6:6), so too this is forbidden for a high priest (see Leviticus 21:11).  An ordinary priest is allowed to take care of the burial of his close relatives, […]

Nazir, Chapter 7, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Two   Introduction There are two categories of defilement with the dead that are relevant to nazirite laws.  If he is defiled through actual contact with the dead, he loses his whole period of naziriteship and he must shave and begin to count his naziriteship over.  This contact can occur either […]

Nazir, Chapter 7, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Three   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned which types of defilement annul a nazirite’s previously served days of naziriteship, and make him liable to bring a sacrifice.  Today we learn the opposite cases:  defilement that does not force him to shave, does not annul his previously served days and does […]

Nazir, Chapter 7, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Four   Introduction The first section of our mishnah contains a discussion related to the categories of impurity explained in the previous two mishnayoth. The second section contains a debate over whether a quarter-log of blood forces the nazirite to shave. This section contains an interesting insight into the tension between […]

Nazir, Chapter 8, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Eight, Mishnah One   Introduction This extremely long mishnah deals with the case of two nazirites, one of whom was defiled, but it is uncertain which one it was.  The problem is that the one who was defiled must bring the sacrifices for defilement and shave, while the one who was not defiled […]

Nazir, Chapter 8, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Two   Introduction There is a good deal of background information that will help (some) in understanding this mishnah. The topic of the mishnah is someone who is not only a doubtfully defiled nazirite, but a doubtful metzorah, one who has scale disease (which I will, for convenience sake, call leprosy).  […]

Nazir, Chapter 9, Mishnah 1

Nazir, Chapter Nine, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah deals with the subjectivity to nazirite vows of three, typically somewhat marginal groups of people in rabbinic thought and society:  Gentiles, women and slaves.    Mishnah One 1)                     Gentiles are not subject [to the laws] of naziriteship. 2)                     Women and slaves are subject [to the laws] […]

Nazir, Chapter 9, Mishnah 2

Nazir, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Two   Introduction Our mishnah deals with a type of corpse defilement known as “defilement of the depth.”  This refers to a corpse found in a place where no one knew it had been.  Figuratively, it is as if it came out of the depths.  Our mishnah shall illustrate a case […]

Nazir, Chapter 9, Mishnah 3

Nazir, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Three   Introduction Yesterday’s mishnah ended with the phrase, “for there are grounds for such an assumption” (raglayim ledavar).  This can be translated literally as “the matter has legs”, but it means that an assumption is probably correct.  The following two mishnayoth are brought here in this tractate because they too […]

Nazir, Chapter 9, Mishnah 4

Nazir, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah continues to bring cases that involve the concept of “there are grounds for the assumption.”  The first section discusses doubtful skin afflictions. The second case involves doubtful cases of “zivah”, usually translated as flux, an unusual genital emission.  The third case involves estimating the cause of […]

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