Judaism is not a religion that demands man leave the pleasures of this world and abstain from the good things that G-d has put here. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the material things of life so long as they are disciplined by mitzvot such as the blessings (berachot) that we say and which allows us to partake of food.
Indeed, the Talmud considers it a sin to willfully refuse to partake of material benefits, and the Nazir (Nazarene) who vows to abstain from wine and all manners of intoxicating liquors runs the risk of being called a sinner unless his motive is pure and sanctified. This is why he must, at the end of his term, bring a sacrifice when he arrives to cut his hair.
Shimon HaTzaddik, who was not only one of the gedolim of his time but was also the Kohen Gadol, would never eat from the sacrifice that a nazir brought because he considered their actions to be sinful. There was, however, one exception:
One day, when Shimon HaTzaddik was serving in the Holy Temple, there approached a very handsome tall, young man whose appearance betrayed the fact that he was a nazir. His countenance was enhanced by the beautiful, long hair that hung low, for the nazir was not allowed to cut his hair until the term of his vow was over.
"Oh, Kohen Gadol," said the youth, "my term as a nazir is over and I wish to cut my hair and destroy its beauty."
Shimon HaTzaddik was appalled that the young man should have become a nazir knowing that his hair would be cut.
"Tell me, my son, why did you take upon yourself the vow of a nazir? Now your locks of hair that are so beautiful must be cut and burned in the fire."
"I became a nazir," replied the youth, "so as to defeat my evil inclination, my yetzer hara."
"Explain yourself, my son, for I am very curious to know your story," said the Kohen Gadol.
"I was a shepherd for my father's flock in the south, and one day as I brought the sheep to the spring to drink I beheld my reflection and I saw that I was indeed a handsome man.
"I saw that I was tall and that my bronzed face was topped by my hair so black and shiny. As I stood and admired my countenance, I heard my yetzer hara encourage me, as if to say: 'Rejoice young man in your youth, for you are capable of enjoying life instead of staying here and allowing the pleasures of the city to go to waste' "
The young man continued his story:
'As I heard the voice of my evil inclination I could feel myself tempted by the thoughts of material plesure that I could have. I felt the urge to leave the sheep and follow the dictates of my heart and eyes.
"Then as I looked into the waters I suddenly force myself to see something else. I saw the grave beyond this temporary world, this transitory existence. I saw the foolishness and the great danger that I was in; ready to give up eternal life for a few moments of madness.
'And I cried out to my yetzer hara: 'Oh, wicked one! Why do you tempt me? Why do I take pleasure in a world that is not mine? I vow that I shall destroy the source of this desire and will bespoil the beauty that tempts me to this madness.
"And so, Kohen Gadol, I vowed to become a nazir and now my term is up and I want you to cut this hair so that I will never be tempted to leave the path of G-d."
When Shimon HaTzaddik heard these noble words, he leaped from his seat and kissed the young man on his forehead crying:
"May the Almighty increase such nazirim as you in Israel!"
And for the first time in his life, Shimon HaTzaddik ate from the sacrifice brought by a nazir for he knew that this one was a man whose motives were indeed pure and holy.
The Death Of Shimon HaTzaddik
Shimon HaTzaddik served as Kohen Gadol for many,
many years Every Yom Kippur he would emerge from
the Holy of Holies with bright and magnificently shining countenance, and happy was the man who was privileged to live in his time and behold that wonderful scene.
One Yom Kippur, however, Shimon HaTzaddik emerged from the Holy of Holies and the people saw that his face was drawn and sad. The people sensed that something was wrong and they were greatly troubled.
Why He Was Sad
"Oh, Kohen Gadol, " they asked, "why is your countenance so sad and why do you appear so troubled?"
"My children," he replied, "this is the last year that I shall be with you, for this year I will die."
"What?" cried the people, "how do you know this thing?"
"Every year when I do the service in the Kodesh Kedashim I behold a figure, that of an old man - an angel - who is always dressed in white and who enters and leaves with me.
"This year, however, I beheld the figure and it was dressed in black as if in mourning. He entered the Temple with me but he did not leave with me. I know, therefore, that I will not survive the year."
The Prophecy Is True
And so it happened. Immediately after Sukkos of that year, Shimon HaTzaddik took ill and the doctors despaired of his life.
Calling together the leaders of Israel he told them.
"I am about to die and I desire that you appoint as Kohen Gadol to serve after me, not my eldest son, Shimi, but rather his younger brother, Chonyo."
And so speaking, Shimon HaTzaddik's soul departed his body, and one of the great tzaddikim of the Jewish people returned to his Maker.
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