On yesterday’s daf we learned that not all the Sages viewed nezirut as desirable, and that only once did Shimon HaTzaddik meet a nazir whose motives he approved of. On our daf, Rabbi Yehuda presents another group that had a specific ideological reason for accepting nezirut. He tells of hasidim ha-rishonim – the early pious ones – who had a strong desire to bring a korban hatat – a sin offering – but could not do so because God always protected them from committing any sin. To solve this problem they accepted nezirut upon themselves, so that they could bring the sin-offering, one of the standard sacrifices brought at the end of the nezirut.
Who were these hasidim ha-rishonim?
The concept of a hasid in the Talmud is a person on a particularly high religious level, who – in every aspect of his life – goes over-and-above what is required by the letter of the law (as opposed to someone who is scrupulous in his activities and does exactly what is required, who is referred to as a tzaddik). It appears that during the Second Temple era, the hasidim were a loosely organized group. These hasidim were among the first supporters of the Hasmonean rebellion against Greek/Hellenist rule, but were also among the first to abandon the Hasmonean dynastic rule. It is likely that the hasidim ha-rishonim mentioned here and in other places in the Talmud have their roots in this group. According to Talmudic sources, the hasidim ha-rishonim devoted most of their lives to prayer and to developing a relationship with God, and they were careful in both mitzvot ben adam le-havero (between man and his fellow man) and ben adam la-Makom (between man and God).