June 19, 2024
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Remembering Our Divine Mission

Parashat Naso

This week, we read the story of Shimshon from Sefer Shoftim as the Haftarah, a selection that connects to the laws of the Nazir but not to the major themes of the parsha, which is the function of the leviyim and the gifts of the nesi’im. This decision of Chazal is not unprecedented or especially surprising. However, given the inherent difficulties in understanding the behavior of the biblical hero as portrayed in the Tanach (something we have discussed in previous articles), we might have expected a selection that would not raise such controversy.

Unless Chazal had a specific lesson to share with us. And I submit that they did.

The story of Shimshon is one of a man who had remarkable, God granted talents and abilities; a hero whose parents were told that he would deliver His nation from the oppressive hand of the Plishtim. A man who could have – and should have – removed the Philistine threat from Am Yisrael. And yet, it does not seem that he did. After the victories of the shofet Othniel, the text tells us that the people lived securely for 40 years. After the leadership of Ehud,we read how the land was silenced for 80 years. After the victory of Devorah there were 40 years of peace; the victory of Gideon over Midian brought 40 more years of calm. But nothing at all is mentioned about the post Shimshon era!

So why did Shimshon “fail” in his mission?

With some hesitation, I would suggest that Chazal were leaving us a message which they derived from the parsha and which they call upon us to remember.

As I mentioned, the final section of our Torah reading this Shabbat tells of the donations of the nesi’im. Rashi quoted R. Natan from the Tanchuma both here (7: 3) and in Shemot (35; 27) that these tribal leaders were reprimanded for having been the last ones to donate to the construction of the Mishkan and so they made sure to be the first ones to bring their gifts at the dedication. Although these leaders had good reason to delay their initial donation – so that they could “fill-in” what the people failed to donate – the very act of postponing their contributions may well have been seen by the nation as an act of hubris, i.e., that their God given status freed them entirely from any obligation. Humbled by the unintentional result of their initial act, we read in this parsha how they eagerly gave their gifts before anyone else.

So what of Shimshon? Is it unreasonable to see his actions as those of one who believed he was chosen by God and therefore, above the people? Wouldn’t that explain why he never gathered an army to fight the Philistines? Or why he never thanked Hashem for his victories? Or why his victories came only when he was personally offended or threatened but NEVER when he chose to defend Israel?

And might we possibly believe that he lost sight of his Divine mission?

Those who are given special talents or elevated status can easily fall into that trap. The importance of seeing Hashem’s hand in our successes and in our abilities takes on even greater significance when understanding that our successes come from God and that our abilities must be used to further the glory of Hashem – and not of ourselves.

And that, truly, is the mission that we all are given.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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