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The Prophecy Project Samson the Brave?

Striking ambivalence dominates tradition Jewish perspectives on the Judge Samson of Don, whose birth is prophesied by our Haftorah (Judges Chapter 13). Indeed, R. Yochanan (Sotah 10a) declares ‫“ ,שמשון על שמו של הקב"ה נקרא‬Samson is called by the name of the Holy One, blessed be He”. They praise Samson for his ethical commitment, and valiant protection of the Jewish people to his own detriment. Alternative traditional statements, however, note Samson’s spiritual weakness, easily seduced by Philistine women. As a Nazirite, he refrained from wine, a fortuitous decision, according to the Midrash Raba(Gen. 10:16): “Even while he was a nazir he followed his eyes; if he would have been permitted to drink he would have been beyond hope for all his pursuit of lechery.” R. Moshe Lichtenstien notes that the ambivalence toward Samson reflects a similar confusion to Chazal’s general approach to the Nazirite vow. This perspective is best reflected by Shimon HaTzaddik’s refusal to eat from Nazirite offerings save one. The focus of the Nazirite experience, refraining from wine and impurity, highlighted an extremism eschewed by the predominantly moderate Rabbinites. Nevertheless, they understood the need for some to embrace extreme commitment in order to return to the golden mean. Nachmanides and Maimonides similarly weigh in on this issue debating the merits of the Nazirite’s sin offering. Whereas for Maimonides, the sacrifice atones for his ascetic lifestyle; for Nachamanides, he regrets his failure to continue that existence. Our Haftorah indicates that the Lord pre-ordained Samson’s Nazirite experience. Manoach and his wife are warned to oversee their son’s commitment to this vow. Perhaps, Samson’s responsibility reflects the very confused nature of the time. The transitional period of the Judges that preceded the Jewish monarchy was marked by tribalism, idolatry, and failed alliances. Leadership often parallels the failures of the nation. In that sense, Samson’s desires and selfishness reflected the failures of his own constituency; it was only Samson’s intensive commitment to his vow that preserved the spiritual core.

Another Nazirite
Samson is not Tanach’s only eternal Nazirite. The prophet Samuel, the final leader of Israel’s premonarchial existence, similarly refrained from wine and haircuts. However, God does not ordain Samuel’s vow like Samson; rather his commitment emerges from his mother Chana’s vow of thanksgiving to the Lord for granting her a son (I Samuel 1:11). The alternative experiences represent the maturing Israel. While once God demanded their leader’s submission, the grown Israelite nation embraces its commitment more profoundly.