Throughout my years of studying the story of Shimshon HaGibor, whose miraculous story of his birth is detailed in this week’s haftarah, I have struggled with understanding this biblical personality—both his successes and his failures. Some might recall that I have shared with you in past articles some of these difficulties, and some of my problems in uncovering the personality of this biblical hero.
Among the “curiosities” in the story included the fact that, despite his unexpected birth to his once-barren mother, we read of no words of gratitude or praise from his parents, nor does his name reflect those feelings. We begin the Shimshon story with his strange demand to marry a Philistine woman against his parents’ wishes, and then, we read of his personal battles against with the Philistines (rather than battles fought in defense of the nation), we continue studying his story and realizing that he is unsuccessful in uniting the surrounding tribes (seemingly, not even attempting to unite them), and almost no words of gratitude directed to Hashem for his successful endeavors. It is this—somewhat—inexplicable behavior that contributes to our difficulty in fully comprehending the character of this biblical “gibor.”
On the other hand, Rav Soloveitchik takes a very different approach in understanding the personality of Shimshon, an approach that focuses on his uniqueness as a God-commanded nazir. The rav begins his analysis by wonderinging why Shimshon revealed to Delilah that the source of his strength lay in his hair when, as a nazir, he was also prohibited from imbibing wine—an act that would have been far simpler and which, therefore, could have removed Hashem’s gift of strength as equally as a haircut would.
The rav responded by stating that the hair of the nazir is the central defining characteristic of nezirut, as the Torah states (Bamidbar 6:7): “Ki nezer Elokav al rosho—For the crown of God is upon his head.” This is also indicated by the fact that, upon completing the nezirut period, the individual must cut his hair and burn it upon the mizbeach.
In effect, Rav Soloveitchik contends that Shimshon’s hair, his “crown of God,” functioned like the head tefillin shel rosh, of which the Torah states (Devarim 28:10): “Vra’u kol amei ha’aretz ki shem Hashem nikra alecha—v’yar’u mimeka.” This pasuk, stating that, “when the nations see how Hashem’s name is upon you, they will fear you,” is explained in the Gemara (Brachot 6a) as referring to the tefillin shel rosh—the head tefillin that is “upon you” and that causes fear in the hearts of the enemy. It was this that was the “power” of Shimshon and that struck fear in the hearts of the Plishtim. This power of Shimshon, emanated from his unique spiritual personality that paralyzed others in confrontation with him. They did not understand the power that he held over them, which is why they asked Delilah to ascertain his secret.
But the rav did not suffice with this explanation, for he then adds: “A similar paralysis was obvious in the Six Day War of 1967, when Arab armies were overcome by fear and fled in panic before the Israeli Army. This was a manifestation of the special sanctity that Bnei Yisrael have always had in their land. It is the ‘crown of Hashem.’”
Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.