Haftarah Parshat Naso
June 4, 2011
2 Sivan 5771
Samson was intended to be an unusual child. His mother was barren so everything about his birth and childhood was miraculous. When an angel appeared with a message that she would become pregnant and give birth to the “savior of Israel”, most certainly she viewed this occasion with great awe: “You are barren and have born no child; but you shall conceive and bare a son; let no razor touch his head, for the boy is to be a nazirite to the Lord from the womb on. He shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines.” (5-6) In her excitement, she reported this matter to her husband: “A man of God came to me; he looked like an angel of God, very frightening… He said to me: You are going to conceive and bear a son. Drink no wine or other intoxicant, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy is to be a nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” (7) Samson was intended to have a special status as a nazirite with all of the above proscriptions. It was this special status which made him unique and was responsible for his special powers.
In a late midrash, the sages took notice of the difference between the angel’s account and that of Samson’s mother. The angel reported that boy would be a nazite without specifying the length of his commission while Samson’s mother told her husband that their son will be a nazirite until the day that he died. This discrepancy prompted the midrash to note: “She added ‘until his death’ because she did not know the future, but the angel, who foresaw the future, knew that Samson would lose his status as a nazir at the hands of Delilah. This explains why he did not mention ‘until his death’”. (Numbers Rabbah 10:5)
Samson’s mother’s words, of course, speak of her son’s potential. He had the capability to be truly extraordinary provided he staid the course and had the necessary disciple to cultivate his abilities. The angel understood reality. It is one thing to have talent and innate capabilities. It is another thing to take these talents and to utilize them to their maximum. Samson may have been “the savior of Israel” but “his distractions” denied him his potential. The shame of the Samson story is that so few pay attention to this message and we seem destined to live it over and over again in the annals of human behavior.
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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