Haftarah Parshat Naso (Judges 13:2-25)
May 30, 2015 / 12 Sivan 5775
Manoah’s wife, after years of barrenness, is visited by an angelic figure who promises that within a year she will give birth to a special child. This angel, who revealed himself to her exclusively, remained nameless. When he revealed himself again, this time to both Manoah and his wife, he repeated his message. Upon hearing the message, the couple wanted to show their thankfulness by making a sacrificial offering to this “divine” character: “What is your name? We would like to honor you when your words come true.” (17) The angel demurs, urging them instead to make an offering to God: “You must not know my name, it is unknowable.” (18) “Manoah took the kid and the meal offering and offered them up on the rock to the Lord; and a marvelous thing happened (mafli la’asot) while Manoah and his wife looked on.” (19)
The New JPS translation marks the words “marvelous thing happened (mafli la’asot)” meaning of the Hebrew uncertain. Its translation seemingly avoids the meaning of the words. This may be because the Hebrew indicates a verb which literally means something like “who make wonders to do”. These words certainly cannot be applied to the acts of Manoah. Most interpreters apply these words to the angel since the next sentence refers to his “miraculous deeds”: “As the flames leaped up from the altar to the sky, the angel of the Lord ascended to the sky, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flames of the altar.” (20) (See Yaira Amit, Shoftim, Mikra L’YIsrael, p. 225) According to Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence), the angel miraculously brought forth fire from the rock (not an easy task without matches!) and then rode the flame up to the heavens.
The words “mafli la’asot”, then, refer to a radically amazing unparalleled wondrous deed. It should not be surprising that this phrase reenters the Jewish tradition with reference to God in a debate over how to end the blessing thanking God for having the ability to relieve oneself: “When he leaves [the bathroom] he says: ‘Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is fully known before the throne of Your glory that if one of them should be [improperly] opened or one of them closed it would be impossible for a man to stand before You’. How does the blessing conclude? Said Rav: ‘[Blessed art You] who heals the sick – Rofeh holim’. Samuel said: Abba (Rav’s given name) has turned the whole world into sick people! No; what he says is, ‘Who heals all flesh’. Rav Sheshet said: ‘Who does wonders – Mafli la’asot’. Rav Papa said: Therefore let us say both, ‘Who heals all flesh and does wonders’. (Berachot 60b)
Rav Sheshet assigns to God’s having created for us well functioning bodies a miracle of inestimable proportions. This may surprise some since “going to the bathroom” is still the stuff of giggles in proper society. For Rav Sheshet, though, it is a no less a miracle than an angel riding the flames of a sacrifice heavenward and certainly worthy of the simple “thank you” to the Creator of all.
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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