7 June 2008, 12:36 PM
Parshah Naso contains (among other things) the rules for the trial of the sotah, the wife accused of infidelity, and the rules for the Nazarite, the ascetic set aside for the Lord. The haftorah, Judges 13:2-25, begins with a wife who is secluded with a man not her husband, and ends with a famous Nazarite:
And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name [was] Manoah; and his wife [was] barren, and bare not. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou [art] barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean [thing]: For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance [was] like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he [was], neither told he me his name: But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean [thing]: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death. Then Manoah intreated the LORD, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born. And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband [was] not with her. And the woman made haste, and ran, and shewed her husband, and said unto him, Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the [other] day.
And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, [Art] thou the man that spakest unto the woman? And he said, I [am]. And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and [how] shall we do unto him? And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware. She may not eat of any [thing] that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean [thing]: all that I commanded her let her observe. And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee. And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he [was] an angel of the LORD. And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What [is] thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour? And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it [is] secret? So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered [it] upon a rock unto the LORD: and [the angel] did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.
For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on [it], and fell on their faces to the ground. But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he [was] an angel of the LORD.
And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God. But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these [things], nor would as at this time have told us [such things] as these. And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.
I don’t think we’ve talked about Samson here at all, or the annunciation to his unnamed mother. It’s a bizarre scene, isn’t it? The Scripture makes a point of Manoah being thick as two planks, and his wife being comparatively sensible; at makes his discomfiture at her conversation with the Messenger seems unthreatening and buffoonish. Not, however, after reading the portion where they describe the sotah being forced to drink the bitter curse-bearing water, and the appalling afterthought that if she dies from the brew, then she was clearly sinful and the man is absolved of any responsibility for her death.
Also, when we’ve just read about the restriction on the Nazarites, who not only must avoid grapes, wine and strong drink, and do without haircuts, but avoid touching corpses, it’s hard not to think about the corpses that Samson will pile up, heaps upon heaps. I guess he’s exempted from that particular rule, for some reason.
What I noticed this time, though, was the Messenger going up in the smoke of the offering to the Divine. The text seems very specific: he ascends in the flame of the altar. Does the Messenger catch a ride on the smoke? If Manoah had not thought to bring a kid (and had not caught on to the rather heavy hinting of the Messenger), would the Messenger have been able to return? And another thing, when Mrs. Manoah says that the man looked like an angel (very terrible, or awesome or scary), how did she recognize that look? Why did he inspire such fear, first in her, then in him?
It’s a screwed-up annunciation for a screwed-up hero. The reaction of the barren woman and her husband fall conspicuously short of elation, and the foretold hero falls conspicuously short of any reasonable behavioural norms, even if he does rid the people Israel of the Philistines. Who, you know, are back by the beginning of Samuel.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,