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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 13
The Birth of Shimshon 

Chapter 13 begins with the familiar refrain: “the children of Israel continued to do what was evil in the eyes of God” (13:1). As a result, God delivers them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. The cycle of sin and punishment is still unbroken. However, the difference is that the enemy is new. The Philistines, who most likely originated in the Greek islands, lived in the coastal plains of Israel. They had a strong army with modern technology and would cause problems for the Jewish people from now until the reign of King David.

 

Following this opening verse, the chapter focuses solely on the birth of the new Shofet (Judge), Shimshon. Manoach, from the tribe of Dan, and his wife have not had children. Manoach’s wife, who is never named, is visited by an angel of God who informs her that she will have a son who will save the Jewish people from the Philistine enemy. This is like other birth stories about barren women who are given Divine reassurance about the future birth of their children, such as Sarah (Bereshit Chapter 21) or Chana (Shmuel Aleph Chapter 1-2). However, here a unique set of rules is given: the child must be a “nazir of God from the womb” (13:5). He may not shave or drink wine.

 

The woman reports this to her husband, Manoach, leaving out some of the key details. Manoach prays for God to send them more information. The angel appears a second time and tells Manoach to listen to what his wife has said. The father never hears the part of the prophecy that Shimshon will save the Jewish people from the Philistines. The Abarbanel (late 15th century Biblical commentator) explains that the mother feared that if the prophecy was commonly known about, then the Philistines would kill her to prevent him being born. The child is born, and the mother names him “Shimshon”.

 

Questions about Shimshon’s Story

The concept of a nazir and its rules are outlined in the Torah (Bamidbar Chapter 6). It is an elevated status that one can choose to accept upon oneself for a period of time. It is questionable whether this is an ideal state or not. This story is unique in that Shimshon has this nazirite status enforced upon him.

 

Additionally, Chapter 13 focuses entirely on his birth story. In fact, it discusses his parents more than him. His father is presented as a secondary character and is even called an ignoramus by our Sages (Talmud Eruvin 18b). Meanwhile, his mother is not named which is often seen as a criticism. Why is so much detail surrounding his birth given by the text?

One approach is that both the nazirite status and detailed birth story serve to differentiate Shimshon from all preceding Shoftim. The chapters leading up to this tell stories of civil war, military struggles, social problems and spiritual decline. The situation is becoming desperate. By marking Shimshon out as something special, God is conveying a message of unexpected hope that matters can improve.

 

The real question is whether Shimshon can live up to this prophecy. This discussion will continue over the next few chapters.

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