Haftarah Parshat Naso
May 18, 2013
9 Sivan 5773
Manoah’s wife, Samson’s mother is the unsung heroine of the story of Samson’s birth. She is unsung, because despite being the most important character in the story, she remains nameless; heroic, because she is the one to whom the angel decides to tender the message of the birth of a child.
The sages relate an embellished version of the story of the meeting between Manoah’s wife and the angel. In this story they assign Manoah’s wife’s a name, thereby removing her anonymity, and make her a paradigm of the rabbinic virtue of self-effacement for the purpose of preserving peaceful relationships between people: “A dispute broke out between Manoah and his wife. He accused her, saying: ‘You are barren and that is why we are childless.’ And she responded to him: ‘No, it is you who are barren and that is why I have not given birth.’ ‘Now an angel of God appeared to the woman’(12:3) – From this one learns that Manoah’s wife was righteous for it was she who merited to speak directly with an angel and to bring peace between herself and her husband, for the angel informed her that she was barren and not her husband. The angel spoke with her and on this account she was called; Hatzlelponi, namely, for she faced (panah) the angel. The word ‘tzlel’ (literally ‘shadow’) is a reference to the angel. Why wasn’t she called ‘HaTzail’ and instead the ‘lamed’ is doubled so that she is called ‘Hatzlel’? This is because the angel appeared not just once but twice, once in the city and once in the field, [thus accounting for the doubled ‘lamed’.] He came to inform her that she was barren so as to bring peace between her and her husband since she was angry at him on account of their childlessness.” (adapted from Bemidbar Rabbah 11:7)
The sages teach in this passage something that seems counter-intuitive. It is commonly assumed that it is heroic to stand up for one’s rights. Backing down is considered an act of cowardice. Here, the sages want to teach that sometimes self-effacement is a heroic trait. Sometimes backing down in order to maintain peace takes more courage than to stand one’s ground. This particular form of courage turned Manoah’s wife, ‘Hatzelponi’, into the hero of this story and a model for a kind of behavior that in certain situations we all might want to consider.
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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