Sefer Shofetim Chapter 13
This chapter is the first of four that present the story of the famous Shimshon. The Jews have reverted to their idolatrous ways and the Pelishtim oppress them mercilessly for forty years. Manoah and his wife, members of the tribe of Dan, have not yet been blessed with children. Manoah’s wife is visited by an angel of Hashem who informs her that she is going to bear a child who is destined to save the Jewish people from their Pelishti oppressors. Because the baby in her womb will be consecrated to the service of Hashem, during her pregnancy she must abstain from wine as well as impure food; once born, his hair must never be cut as long as he lives.
Manoah’s wife tells him the news and he is skeptical; he prays to Hashem to send the messenger again so he can verify the story. Hashem obliges and the angelic figure appears once more to Manoah’s wife, who runs to bring her husband to meet him. The angel reiterates his message to Manoah, who offers to prepare him some food. The offer is rejected, as is Manoah’s request to learn the name of the mysterious figure. Instead, Manoah is told to present the bread and meat as a sacrifice to Hashem; when the fire miraculously rises heavenward, the mysterious visitor disappears.
At first, Manoah fears that he and his wife will die after having beheld a divine being’s countenance. His wife reassures him that Hashem would gain nothing from assigning them such an important task and accepting their offering only to kill them before they had the opportunity to fulfill the mission they had been given. The chapter concludes telling us that Shimshon is born, Hashem blesses him, and inspires him to take action on behalf his people.
There are a couple of very unusual elements to this story. Most striking is the fact that the Jews show no interest or inclination to repentance; for the first time, a savior or judge is dispatched to them without their requesting help from Hashem. Shimshon is also the first figure in the book of Shofetim whose birth and mission is foretold to his parents in advance – he is groomed as a leader from birth. And without any clear explanation or reason, Shimshon is expected to abstain from cutting his hair.
It seems that these odd aspects of the narrative of Shimshon all point to a single, unifying theme – the Jewish people as a whole are not reachable at this time, and Shimshon must separate himself from the collective from the beginning in order to protect and defend them. The nation doesn’t deserve any salvation per se and is not quite “saved” during the period of Shimshon; in fact, they never rally around him or follow him. He acts alone and operates to the best of his ability as a “vigilante” who does the best he can to foil the designs of those who wish to harm the Jewish people.
Shimshon’s being “separate” is what allows him to merit divine assistance at a time when the nation is unworthy of that benefit. It signifies the fact that his arrival on the scene is not as a member of the Jewish people, a leader of the Jewish people or even the answer to any prayer of the Jewish people (not even of his parents!) – he is a messenger of Hashem, standing apart from the Jewish and non-Jewish culture around him, a loner whose sole focus is to minimize the damage inflicted by the Pelishtim upon the Jews to the extent he can.
Shimshon’s career is the ultimate example of salvation wrought only “for the sake of Hashem’s name” – not the function of any merit of the Jewish people but purely for the purpose of allowing the nation to survive so that at some future time it can find its way once again and achieve the glory for which it was originally chosen. The Jews of that period were not deserving of Hashem’s help but Hashem could not abandon His promise to preserve and protect them for the sake of generations to come who would return to embrace that path of Torah as intended.