Avraham ben Yaakov


* * * The story of the birth of Samson, who was a Nazirite, Judges 13:2-25, is read as the Haftara of Parshas Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89, which includes the commandment of the Nazirite * * *


From the time of Shimshon (=Samson) until that of David, the Philistines were foremost among the oppressors of Israel (just as the "Palestinians" who have adopted the Latinized version of their name are today). The Philistines originated from the descendants of Ham, whose son Mitzrayim gave birth among others to the Pathrusim and Kasluhim (Genesis 10:13). It was from between the two of them that the Philistines "emerged" (i.e. they were a "bastard" people, see Rashi ad loc.). A sea-faring nation, they spread to Crete and throughout the Greek islands into Greece proper, where they lived until the Dorian Greeks invaded and began to oppress them, causing many to migrate eastwards to the coastal regions of the eastern Mediterranean . They were no match for the powerful Egyptians, who fought against them, but they were able to settle in the Land of Canaan and became particularly strongly entrenched along the entire coastal strip all the way from present-day Ashdod to the eastern arm of the Nile delta.

The Philistines were new immigrants to the Land in the time of Abraham, who was also a new-comer. The fact that both had come to live in a new country might help explain why relations between Abraham and Avimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar, were cordial to the point that Abraham swore an oath not to harm Avimelech or his descendants to the fourth generation (Genesis 21:23ff). However, with increasing pressure on the Philistine communities in mainland Greece and the Greek islands, more and more were moving in waves into Canaan . Many came in the period of the Israelite exile in Egypt , and more entered during the early period of the Judges. They were fierce fighters and far more powerful than the Israelite settlers, who were mainly farmers without a centralized government or regular army. Through the sins of the Israelites the Philistines were able to gain power over them and dominate them.

Kabbalistically, the "bastard" nation of the Philistines are emblematic of the most severe concealment of God's light. The Hebrew letters of their name, PHILISHTIM, are Peh (80) + Lamed (30) + Shin (300) + Tav (400) + Yud (10) + Mem (40) = 860 = 10 x 86. 86 is the gematria of the divine name ELOKIM expressing the attribute of GEVUROT, "mighty powers", restraint, severe judgment. In the Philistines, this attribute dominates in all their 10 Sefirot.

It could be that Abraham, as the embodiment of CHESSED, kindness, knew that his offspring would have to be tested by and would have to overcome the husk of the Philistines and for that reason swore the oath allowing them to remain in the Land for the necessary period of time. By the time of Shimshon, the time had elapsed. As the Angel tells Manoah's wife, "For the lad shall be separated to God from the womb, and HE WILL BEGIN (YACHEL) TO SAVE ISRAEL FROM THE HAND OF THE PHILISTINES" (ch 13 v 5). "Said Rabbi Hama ben Hanina: The oath of Avimelech was annulled (HUCHAL), as it written, Do not betray me, my grandson and my great grandson" (Sota 9b).

Those who imagine Shimshon as a muscled superman out of a wham-bam cartoon animation will be greatly disappointed on trying to penetrate the deeply-veiled allegory in our text with the help of our rabbis. The first surprise is that Rabbi Yochanan states that while Bilaam was lame only in one leg, Shimshon was lame in both! (Sotah 10). Who ever heard of a lame Superman? We may begin to unlock the mystery if we ponder the verse R. Yochanan cites as proof. While of Bilaam it is said "And he went SHEFI (has connotation of lame)" (Numbers 23:3), it says of Dan, "a serpent (SHEFIFON) by the path" (Genesis 49:17) - it is the doubled form of SHEFIFON that is the hint that Shimshon - the outstanding Judge from the tribe of Dan - was "lame".

"Dan will judge his people like one of the tribes of Israel " (ibid. v. 16) - this refers to Shimshon, the only judge contributed by that tribe. He is described as "biting the heels of the horse, his rider will fall backwards" (ibid. v. 17). In the wilderness, the tribe of Dan marched last, gathering in all the weak remnants and saving them from the Amalekite "serpent". It was now Shimshon's task to bite back - to use the bite of the serpent against the serpent itself in order to redeem Israel - except that he failed in his lifetime and succeeded only in his death.

Shimshon's lameness has the deepest roots, as revealed by the ARI (in Likutey Torah on Judges), who explains that Shimshon was the GILGUL (incarnation) of ADAM HARISHON, the first man. Shimshon had the power to rectify Adam's sin, which came about through the eyes ("and the woman SAW" Gen. 3:6), but he failed, because "Shimson rebelled with his eyes, as it says, 'And Shimshon said to his father, take HER for me because she is right in my EYES' (Judges 14:3)". Accordingly, Shimshon was punished by having his eyes gouged out. After his capture by the Philistines, he was taken in "chains of copper" (NECHUSHTAYIM, related to the root NACHASH = serpent) and placed in the House of the Bound = Domain of the Kelipot, the "husks" (ch 16 v 21). Just as the serpent was condemned to crawl with no legs, so was Shimshon "lame".

Just as Adam sinned and allowed his power to fall into the Kelipot, so did Shimshon. It was only with his death that he was able to take vengeance on the Philistines, the husks, and by pushing the PILLARS of their Temple - the LEGS that supported the entire structure - thereby redeem his own sin.

Shimshon was a NAZIR although the rabbis are divided about the exact nature of his particular form of Nazirite status, which diverges somewhat from the normal Nazirite status as set forth in Numbers ch 6. Shimshon was forbidden to cut his hair at all, while a normal NAZIR would make his vow only for a specified period, usually 30 days, after which he was at liberty to cut his hair. Shimshon, like a regular Nazir was forbidden wine or anything deriving from the grape, but he was evidently permitted to defile himself with the dead, which is strictly forbidden to a Nazir who takes the vow himself. But since Shimshon was dedicated from the womb, he was subject only to the restrictions explicitly stated in our text, and we find him defiling himself with the dead by stripping Philistine corpses of their clothes etc. (ch 14 v 19; see RaDaK on Judges 13:4 for a detailed discussion of Shimshon's status).

Zohar (Parshas Naso) explains that the NAZIR alludes to the divine PARTZUF of ARICH ANPIN, the "long face", which stands as KETER, the crown over ZEIR ANPIN, which is the "small face" where by God is revealed to the world. The sweetness of ARICH ANPIN rectifies the harsh judgments of ZEIR. Thus the attributes of the Partzuf of Arich Anpin include long white hair, which is bound up with the concept of the long hair of the NAZIR (each hair - SE'AR - is a SHA'AR or gateway - a channel of divine light. These revelations of kindness must not be "cut").

Because of the NAZIR's association with this exalted level, he is forbidden to drink wine or indeed even partake of any part of the grape left after the juice is squeezed out, the lees. Adam's wife Eve "squeezed wine" from the primordial grapes but gave Adam the lees and husks - harsh judgments. It was through this unpurified wine that Adam fell, and Shimshon was to make the repair by being separated from wine.

Shimshon was to go down into the very lair of the husks - the Philistines - and take out any remaining divine sparks in order to then destroy the remaining husks and waste. This is why our text repeatedly speaks of Shimshon "going down" (ch 14:1 & 5 etc.). However, he "went after his eyes" and fell, revealing his own secrets to his Philistine wives and thereby falling into the net of the Kelipot. It may seem strange that Shimshon the Judge took Philistine wives - yet he is not criticized for this in our text, whereas if he had done anything sinful he would have been criticized (see RaDaK on ch 13 v 4). Shimshon's sin was that he was drawn after the "beauty" of his Philistine wives and instead of drawing out the holy sparks, he revealed all his holy secrets to them, causing more holiness to fall into the clutches of the Kelipot.

Shimshon's tragic end should not be allowed to overshadow his tremendous power, which was not that of a Superman in the modern entertainment sense but literally that of ADAM. The rabbis stated that the fruit that Eve gave to Adam was wheat, figs or grapes. (In fact, because of the mysterious way in which midrash "works", it was all three!) The mystery of the FIG enters into the deep allegory of these chapters in ch 14 v 4: "And his father and his mother did not know, for it was from God, for he (? He ?) sought a PRETEXT (TO-A-NOH) against the Philistines". The word TO-A-NOH has exactly the same Hebrew letters as TE-ENAH, a "fig".

The fruit caused Adam to fall to the realm of the husks - for one hundred and thirty-years he had relations with demons, chief among them "Lilith". This was why Shimshon had to take DELILAH, who was the embodiment of Lilith. Had he accomplished the Tikkun and not revealed his secret to her, he would have rectified everything and been the Redeemer. But the time was not yet ripe. "He will BEGIN to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (ch 13 v 5), but he was not able to complete the task. However, he "sought a PRETEXT" - he initiated Israel 's war of liberation against the Philistines and showed the Israelites that they could become free.

He was called SHIMSHON from the root SHEMESH, the Sun = DAAS, Godly knowledge. The Rabbis said that Adam's very heel darkened the sun - i.e. through his sin, he darkened the light of DAAS. Abraham began the repair - "Abraham had a jewel which he hung on the sphere of the sun" - but the repair was still not complete. Shimshon had the power to finish it but he failed because the time was not ripe. Melech HaMashiach will complete the TIKKUN "and his name will continue AS LONG AS THE SUN" (Psalms 72:17).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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