(In the Diaspora)
June 6, 2009
14 Sivan 5769
Samson numbers among several tragic figures, found in Mishnah Tractate Sotah, who allowed their senses to lead them to disastrous sins which ultimately caused their demise. The Mishnah takes account not only of their sins and what caused them, but also measures the significance of the punisments for these sins. The sages coined an idiom to describe these actions and their \”poetic\” consequences – \”mida k\’neged midah – measure for measure\”.
We, of course, in this week\’s haftarah, only meet up with Samson\’s heroic promise and not with those things which brought his downfall, but most of his life story is filled with these episodes. The Mishnah describes Samson\’s behavior and its results using the above mentioned model: \”Samson followed his eyes; therefore the Philistines gouged out his eyes, as it says\” \’The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. (Judges 16:21)\’\” (Mishnah Sotah 1:8) What is the Mishnah alluding to? The Tosephta adds another verse to fill in this missing detail: \”And Samson said to his father: \’Get me that woman, for she is pleasing to my eyes.\’ (Judges 14:3)\” (See Tosephta Sotah 3:15 Lieberman ed. pp. 163-4 and Judges 15-16 for the whole story.) The sages claimed that Samson was overly influenced by outward appearance and that this made it impossible for him to be morally discerning. As a result, his punishment \”measured up\” to his foibles.
Why does the Mishnah take up dealing with Samson in this manner? The Mishnah takes up its treatment of Samson immediately following drawing its own moral conclusions from the Torah\’s description of the rite of the woman suspected of adultery – the sotah. After concluding that such a woman would have been seduced by her senses to sin, it brought Samson as an example of someone who also fell prey to sensual weakness. The Mishnah amassed several more examples. In all of these cases, it emphasized the poetic justice of the consequences – all for good reason. The rabbis seem well aware that even \”heroic\” characters can fall prey to these kinds of problems. They were also aware that when a person is caught up in the moment, rational thought is the furthest thing from his or her mind. The very idea of \”midah k\’neged midah – measure for measure\” seemed to them an idea that was bold enough to make even those who were \”under the influence\” aware of the consequences of their actions.
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 .
Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: