Haftarah Parshat Naso (Judges 13:2-25)
May 31, 2014 / 2 Sivan 5774
The barren woman who is remembered by God and miraculously made fertile is a recurrent motif in biblical literature beginning with the first matriarch, Sarah. Manoah’s wife, the mother of Samson, is one in this line of examples: “There was a certain man from Zorah, of the stock of Dan, whose name was Manoah. An angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her: ‘You are barren and have born no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son’.” (13:2-3)
The regularity of this motif, in and of itself, represents a very real human concern, namely, the inability to perpetuate oneself and to generate a future for one’s family as well as for one’s people. Manoah’s wife’s great efforts to guarantee the birth of her son represent this struggle for survival. Similarly, God’s miraculous intervention to ensure the future is not just a victory for a single family; it also defines the fate of a people and the message that God has imparted to them.
This idea is reflected in a midrash on the verse, ‘…who makes the woman in a childless house a happy mother of children’ (Psalm 113:9) which catalogues the episodes of this sort of miraculous intervention (Pesikta deRav Kahana 20:1 Mandelbaum ed. pp. 310-11): “There are seven childless women [in the Bible]: Sarah. Rebecca. Rachel, Leah, the wife of Manoah, Hannah and Zion.” The plight of each of these women is described as episodes where God brought about a happy ending. Regarding Manoah’s wife, the midrash notes: “’…who makes the woman in a childless house a happy mother of children’, This refers to the wife of Manoah: ‘An angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her: ‘You are barren and have born no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son.’ ‘As a joyous mother’ (Psalm 113:9) – And you shall conceive and bear a son.’ (Judge 13:3)” The midrash tops off its list with a final female character, the personified nation Zion, which had been seemingly abandoned, destroyed and without child. The above examples were meant to encourage the nation that its tragic situation was also not hopeless. Zion, also, will ultimately be redeemed.
All of us know that the lives that we live do not always have the “happy endings” reflected in these stories. Tragedy does not always turn into triumph. Still, where there is no hope, succumbing to despair is a certainty. God’s hand is the triumph over defeat. That in itself is a miracle.
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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