Naso: Great Things From Unexpected Places

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Naso

The good news is, we’re back, and this week’s haftarah is one the most
interesting of the year. The haftarah is from the book of Shoftim, or Judges,
chapter 13, and tells the story of the birth of Shimon, or Samson, the first
Biblical “superhero,” who has a miraculous birth and a life of amazing deeds of
strength, bravery, and some really puzzling decisions (which we’ll discuss
another day.) Our haftarah tells us that Shimshon’s birth was announced to his
parents by an angel, who gave them clear instructions that he was to be raised
as a “nazir,” that is, one who took a special oath of sacred dedication and
refrained from cutting his hair or drinking any sort of intoxicating beverage.
The status of nazir is a bit more complicated than I’m discussing here, but it’s
the clear link between our Torah portion, Naso, and our haftarah; the rules for
the nazirite are given in Bamidbar/Numbers 6, read this week.

The story of Shimshon and his parents is both funny and poignant, and told with great attention to detail. One such detail comes right at the beginning of the story:

“There was a certain man from Zorah, of the stock of Dan, whose name was Manoah
. . ” [Shoftim/ Judges 13:2]

The Bible often tells us about a character’s origins, both geographical and
genealogically; in this case, we learn that Manoach, Shimson’s father, is from a
small place of no particular distinction. In fact, what’s interesting about
Zorah is that the Bible itself tells us that it was first given to the tribe of
Judah (near the modern Israeli city of Beit Shemesh), but then the tribe of Dan
settled there- i.e, Judah apparently didn’t fight over it! Eventually Dan lost
some of its territories, including Zorah, in war and moved north, to the edges
of the kingdom. (I’ll post a map and some references below.) In other words,
Shimson, the great hero, is born in a marginal town to an undistinguished family
of one of the smallest and weakest tribes of Israel.

As R. Hirsch puts it, this fact “could not be without significance.” As I see
it, just as the Torah portion, in teaching us the laws of the nazir, reminds us
that extraordinary spiritual dedication is not reserved for the hereditary
classes of priests and Levites, the haftarah reminds us that extraordinary
individuals can come from the most humble of circumstances. This, in turn, has
two powerful implications:

1) Great things can come from ordinary people who live in undistinguished
places. Therefore, treat everybody as if they were capable of extraordinary
deeds !

2) Great things can come from ordinary people who live in undistinguished
places. Therefore, there’s no excuse for not doing extraordinary deeds !

Not everybody will win great battles over the Philistines (even in the
contemporary sense) but the story of Shimshon reminds us that history is not the
exclusive domain of the elite. Encounters with the Divine can transform us
anywhere, any time, setting us on a new course, no matter where we were born or
how well-connected our parents were. You just never know where an angel might
show up to tell you something important!

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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