This week’s haftorah shares with us an incredible perspective on sanctityand self control. The focus of the haftorah is the heavenly message sentto the pious Manoach and his wife informing them of her miraculousconception of a special son, Shimshon. Manoach’s wife, a righteous womanwho was barren for many years was suddenly informed by an angel that shewould bear a child. She was also given specific instructions duringpregnancy restricting her from all wine and wine-related products. She wasinformed that her son would be dedicated to Hashem from the day he was bornand could never shave off his hair. The angel also stated that Hashemwould bring much salvation to the Jewish people through this precious boy.
This is the first chapter in the life of the famous Jewish leader,Shimshon. However, in the subsequent chapters of his life we discover thelife’s trials of the most perplexing leader in all of Jewish history. Onthe one hand, Shimshon was a powerful and effective judge who maintainedthe highest ethical standard. In fact, our Chazal (Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana2:8) place Shimshon amongst the greatest of all Jewish judges parallelinghim, in some ways, to Moshe Rabbeinu himself. Shimshon also merited thatthe Divine Presence of Hashem preceded him to secure his every step withsuccess. And it was solely in Shimshon’s merit that Hashem constantlyprotected the Jewish nation (see Sota 9b, 10a). Yet, at the same time wediscover a man succumbing to physical passions being constantly enticed byPhilistine women. Eventually Shimshon fell prey to the persuasion of hisPhilistine wife Delila and forfeited all his sanctity and greatness. Howcan this glorious, yet so tragic life be understood and explained and whatcan be learned from this perplexing story? (See Derech Bina to Shoftim byRabbi Avrohom Shoshana)
We begin with the words of the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 10:5) in explanationof Shimshon’s unique experience of Nezirus (restriction from wine). Ingeneral, one accepts the abstentions of a Nazir for a period of a month ortwo but never for an entire lifetime. This week’s parsha reveals that thepurpose for the short restrictive period of Nazirus was to serve as a modellesson for life. Typically, the Nazir briefly abstained from certainmundane activities to gain control over his physical passions andcravings. This was obviously not the case for Shimshon who was obligatedin Nezirus since his birth. The above Midrash clarifies this matter andstates, “Hashem, knowing that Shimshon’s nature would be to stray after hiseyes, restricted him from wine which leads to immorality.” Chazalcontinue, “And if Shimshon albeit a Nazir did stray after his eyes onecould only imagine what would have happened without the restriction ofwine.” Our Chazal share with us an important insight into the life ofShimshon. Apparently, his nature and consequent role in life revolvedaround an attraction to women and it was intended for the Nezirusrestriction to hold him back from sin.
To put this into perspective we refer to the words of the Radak (Shoftim13:4) which explain the setting of Shimshon’s times. Radak explains thatthe Jewish people’s devotion to Hashem had severely fallen during thosetimes. Because of this they did not merit total salvation by Hashem andremained under Philistine rule throughout this entire era. However, thePhilistines deserved to be revenged for their harsh rule over the Jews andfor this reason Hashem sent Shimshon to the scene. The Scriptures indicate(see Shoftim 14:4) that it was the will of Hashem that Shimshon mingle withthe Philistines to cause them pain and strife from within their very owncamp. It can be understood that for this reason Hashem actually sanctioned,in principle, Shimshon’s marriage to Philistine women, given theirconversion to Judaism. Although they did actually convert (see Radak adloc. and Rambam Isurai Beiah 14:14) the potential did exist for Shimshonto be influenced by their foreign ideals and allegiances of their past.
In essence, Hashem provided Shimshon with the appropriate nature for hisrole and he was naturally attracted to the Philistine women heencountered. This allowed Shimshon to be regarded as one of thePhilistines and set the stage for a perfect inside job. The Radakexplains that Shimshon’s motive of bonding with Philistine Jewish convertsto secretly attack the Philistine nation was a proper motive. However,this powerful drive to marry Philistine women served as a double-edgedsword. And when Shimshon added to his pure motive small degrees ofattraction to beauty his actions were disqualified. Granted that theoverwhelming percentage of his motivation was proper and pure, nonethelessa subtle attraction to Philistine women’s beauty did accompany histhoughts. Eventually this soft physical drive overtook Shimshon, and aftersuccumbing to his wife’s seduction, lost his pure motives and forfeitedall of his sanctity and greatness.
We now appreciate Shimshon’s lifelong abstention period of Nezirus and itsprojected impact on his personal conduct. This perpetual state wasintended to serve as an anchor for Shimshon to control and subdue hisphysical urges and steer him away from immorality. The comprehensivepicture drawn from our haftorah is the following. Shimshon was ordained tolive a life of sanctity from the moment of conception until the end of hislife. His parents carefully protected him from all impurities and raisedhim in a perfect atmosphere of sanctity. This childhood groomed him to be aperfect candidate for the constant manifestation of the Divine Presenceitself. However, as we painfully discover none of the above guarantees onefrom foreign immoral influences. And when, alongside the purest ofmotives, one includes physical drives and passions the result can bedevastating. Even the pure Shimshon was then prone to plunging deeply intoimmorality and open to forfeiting all that life had in store for him. Fromthis we learn the importance of pure motives and that any degree ofintended personal gratification can undo all the good we seek toaccomplish.