Cultivating Self-control

Yael Eckstein  |  June 8, 2022

Close up image of Yael Eckstein holding hands with an elderly Jewish woman.

They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the LORD is over… — Numbers 6:5

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Naso, which means “count,” from Numbers 4:21–7:89.

As a mother, I put a lot of thought into teaching my children self-control. In today’s world when everyone has a smartphone and can access any entertainment they want at any moment, when we can go online and shop while sitting on the couch, kids grow up thinking that it’s normal to be able to access anything they want, quickly and easily. Needless to say, this isn’t a healthy situation.

This is one of the many reasons I’m so grateful for living as an observant Jew. For example, because of the prohibition against mixing milk and meat, Jewish custom dictates that after a meat meal, we don’t eat any milk products for six hours. In other words, we can’t have a steak for dinner and end the meal with ice cream for dessert.

Or take Shabbat, when we are prohibited from using electricity or driving our cars. This means one day a week with all our electronic devices switched off completely. It’s a weekly “fast” from technology, and it does wonders.

Cultivating Self-Control

We see the biblical value of cultivating self-control in this week’s Torah portion. The Bible describes what happens if a person decides to make a Nazirite vow. This vow would prohibit an individual from drinking wine or consuming any grape products, shaving or cutting his hair, and coming into contact with a dead body.

In the middle of this passage outlining the requirements of the Nazirite vow, the Bible adds this interesting phrase, “They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the LORD is over.”

Why is the Nazirite called “holy?”

The Jewish sages of the Talmud explained that if the Bible calls the Nazirite “holy” merely for depriving himself of the pleasure of wine and grapes, anyone who deprives himself of a worldly pleasure for spiritual purposes is called “holy,” as well.

God gave us bodies, and He wants us to enjoy the world He created for us. But we sometimes let the material side of things get out of control. From the Nazirite, we learn the biblical value of cultivating self-control by taking on small “fasts,” the temporary withholding of certain enjoyments. By reminding ourselves that we are in control of our desires, we strengthen our spiritual side and draw closer to God. In that way, we become “holy,” too.

Your Turn:

Is there a small “fast” that you can take on? Choose a day or week to grow closer to God in this way.

Stay informed about issues affecting Israel, the Jewish people, Jewish-Christian relations, receive daily devotionals, and more.