Monday, March 27, 2023

Although the lengthy parsha of Naso includes numerous different topics, the Rabbis chose the mitzvah of nezirut to be the bridge to connect us to the parsha and, by necessity, it had to relate the story of Shimshon HaGibor. “By necessity,” because there is no person in all of Tanach who is identified as a nazir except for Shimshon (there is an argument in the Talmud as to whether Shmuel HaNavi was a nazir precisely because the text never calls him such).

The haftarah is taken from the Book of Shoftim (chapter 13), which relates to us the miraculous birth of Shimshon to a once-barren woman and the laws of nezirut that would guide him throughout his life. We read almost nothing about Shimshon’s life in this haftarah and certainly that is understandable, as the theme that connects us to the parsha is that of the strictures imposed upon the nazir—which is precisely what the haftarah relates as well.

And yet, one can imagine that Chazal’s choice of only this perek may have also been based on the fact that much of the Samson story is troubling. Like the greats of Israel, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef and Shmuel, he was born to a barren woman and, like Yitzchak, his miraculous birth was harbingered by God’s angel. Shimshon would be the savior of Israel who would begin to cast off the yoke of Philistine rule and a man who, as the final words of the haftarah reveal, would have the spirit of Hashem “resound” in him.

But as we continue his story in the subsequent chapters, we read of a man who is the only shofet who fails to organize an army behind him and who battles the enemy only for personal revenge. His own people do not rally around him and even hand him over to the enemy! His marriage to a Philistine woman and his downfall through the hands of another Philistine woman, his rather hedonistic lifestyle and his ongoing attachment to the Philistines, hardly depict a nazir-like spiritual giant we would expect from one who had the spirit of Hashem “resounding” in him. The very fact that the Plishtim remained a powerful adversary of Israel throughout his life so that Shimshon, weakened and subsequently imprisoned, died having been blinded by the very enemy he was to subdue, makes us wonder if indeed he kept Hashem’s charge to begin casting off the yoke of the Philistines.

However, this troubling story of the final judge in the Book of Shoftim must also be understood as a criticism of the entire nation who, knowing of his miraculous birth and the promise he held for them—a promise given by an angel of God—nonetheless fail to join him and support him. They appear passive and submissive, fearful and meek. No leader, no matter how great, can be successful without willing followers. The nation’s lack of faith in Hashem and in His promises prevents Shimshon from living up to his potential.

God grants us opportunities—but it is up to us see them, believe in them and take advantage of them. A message we would do well to remember.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

Parshat Naso

 Rabbi Neil Winkler is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.


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