June 3, 2006 in Israel
June 10, 2006 in the Diaspora
The story of the birth of Samson is one of a number of stories in the Bible which contend with the problem of infertility. The tradition recognizes the pain and anguish of couples who desire children but cannot have them and it is considered miraculous when God visits couples who were previously infertile and grants them the gift of children. This is the case with Manoah and his wife who were visited by a angelic messenger and promised a son who would be the redeemer of Israel.
The Talmud records a painful episode where someone who was otherwise a heroic figure showed incredible insensitivity to Samson\’s father before his birth and the consequences of such coarse behavior: Rabbah the son of Rav Huna said in the name of Rav: Ibzan [a judge mentioned in Judges 12] is Boaz. What does he come to teach us [by identifying Boaz with Ibzan]? It comes to teach what Rabbah taught in another teaching in the name of Rav: Boaz made for his sons a hundred and twenty feasts, for it said: \”And he [Ibzan] had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he sent abroad, and thirty daughters he brought from abroad for his sons; and he judged Israel for seven years.\” (Judges 12:8) In the case of every one of these he made two wedding feasts, one in the house of the father and one in the house of the father-in-law. He did not invite Manoah to any of them, for he said, \’How will this barren mule reciprocate my invitations?\’ All these children died in Boaz\’s lifetime. (Adapted from Baba Bathra 91a)
Before we discuss the meaning of this story, let me offer a word or two about this strange identification of Boaz, the hero who marries Ruth in the Book of Ruth and the lesser known character, Ibzan. Ibzan is the name of a relatively unknown judge in the chapter immediately preceding the story of Samson in the book of Judges (chapter 12:10-12) Since he is described as having a great many children whose fate is totally unknown, Rav\’s tragic accounting of their fate fills in details of their story. The sages of the Talmud often liked to identify lesser known biblical figures with more commonly known ones. They also often felt compelled to fill in gaps in the story. These story telling properties made the story and its message more compelling. (Y. Heineman, Darchei HaAggadah, ch. 4)
Boaz\’s disturbing behavior is answered in a dramatically tragic case of poetic justice (middah k\’neged middah – measure for measure), where he is forced to face the same fate as those for whom he showed no sympathy. In this way, the story makes it very clear how it feels about treating people without compassion and empathy.
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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