June 7, 2008
4 Sivan 5768
The Torah recounts a religious institution known as \”nezirut\”. This unusual religious status requires of its adherents, who become nazirim through a vow, to refrain from wine and grape products, to refrain from impurity and to grow his hair, usually for the period of a month. (See Numbers 6:1-21)
The haftarah relates the story of the birth of one of the most fantastic Biblical heroes of all, the miraculously strong, Samson. His birth and life also involve \”nezirut\”. An angel of God appears to Samson\’s mother, who is barren, and says: \”You are barren and have born no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or other intoxicant, or to eat anything unclean. For you are going to bear a son; let no razor touch his head, for the boy is to be a nazirite to God from the womb.\” (Judges 13:3-5)
The nezirut in the story of Samson differs from that of the Torah in two ways. First, it is Samson\’s mother who is told to refrain from wine and from impure things. Abstention from these things does not seem to apply to her son who later eats honey drawn from the skull of a dead lion and has no trouble coming into contact with dead bodies in battle. His mother is told that he must refrain only from having his hair cut. It is also significant that Samson\’s status as a nazir was to be lifelong.
Samson\’s status as a nazir is only related twice in all of his remarkable episodes, once at the beginning of the story before his birth and later, in his inglorious self betrayal to the temptress, Delilah, after she has tried three times to lure him to tell her the source of his strength, she beckons him once more and he says: \”No razor has ever touched my head, for I have been a nazirite to God since I was in my mother\’s womb. If my hair were cut, my strength would leave me and I should become as weak as an ordinary man.\” (16:17) This admission obviously proves to be his downfall.
What role then does this strange form of nezirut play in the story of Samsom? Samson is the only Biblical hero who has superhuman power. It would be a natural tendency amongst some to ascribe to him a supernatural status. It is his nazirite abstention that makes known to all that the gift of his tremendous strength is from God and not a sign that Samson himself is a deity. (Y. Amit, Shoftim, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 228-229)
It is a human temptation to aggrandize human beings with exceptional talents, to look upon them as more than human. The story of Samson is a reminder that such gifts are God given and that those who bear those gifts are still human with all that that entails.
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.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
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