Haftarah Parashat Naso
Parshat Naso introduces us to the vow of the Nazir, through which a person can take upon him/herself abstinence from grape products, haircutting, and ritual impurity incurred from coming into contact with the dead: all for a finite amount of time – usually a month. The intended purpose of this discipline seems to have been to heighten an individual’s sense of holiness – kedushah.
The practice also serves as the link to this week’s haftarah, where we meet Samson’s heroic mother, Eshet Manoah – the wife of Manoah, a childless woman, who is visited by a divine messenger. This angel promises her a son, provided certain conditions are met: “Now, be careful not to drink wine or other intoxicant, or to eat anything unclean… let no razor touch his head, for the boy is to be a Nazirite to God from the womb on.” (13:5)
Samson’s vow – imposed upon him from the outside rather than taken voluntarily – differs from the Nazirite vow recorded in the Torah. Though Samson’s mother was commanded to refrain from wine and hard drink, Samson does not seem to have had the same restrictions. And whereas the standard Nazirite vow is for 30 days, Samson’s was to last a lifetime.
But even were someone to make a specific vow to be a lifelong Nazirite, their status would still be different than Samson’s. The sages of the Mishnah explained: “If the hair of a lifelong Nazirite becomes too heavy he might lighten it (get a haircut) with a razor…and if he becomes ritually impure he brings the offering for ritual impurity; but a Nazirite the like of Samson, if his hair becomes too heavy he does not lighten it, and if he becomes ritually impure, he does not bring the offering for ritual impurity.” (Nazir 1:2)
This makes Samson’s life both easier and harder than a traditional Nazirite. He doesn’t have to worry about either alcohol or ritual impurity, but he can never “lighten his load.” All of this plays out in his tragi-heroic life, as he rebels against external expectations by drinking and engaging in other unsavory behaviors. The irony, of course, is that these selfsame expectations, symbolized by his uncut hair, are the source of his strength.
Surely we can identify with Samson, born as we are with identities we did not choose, but which are integral to who we are. But unlike Samson, who never quite reckons with the blessings of his identity, we can and must recognize that what makes us different makes us special, and what makes us special makes us powerful. It is a difference worth protecting.
For Discussion: What lessons from Samson’s life can we apply to our own? What can we apply to Jewish life in general?
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
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