Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Naso

The connection between this week’s Torah portion, Naso, (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89) and Haftarah (Judges 13:2-25) is the Nazarite vow from Numbers 6 and the birth narrative of Samson (Shimshon). Before beginning with the haftarah, we need to back up one verse, (13:1) as it sets the stage for next four chapters. “The children of Israel continued to do what was evil in the eyes of Hashem and Hashem delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”

These forty years will be the longest judgment period in this book and will include both Samson’s and Eli’s tenure. Also noteworthy (though not in this portion) is that after Samson’s death (Judges 16) there is no judge or prophet mentioned to lead all of Israel. The book ends with the disparaging conclusion “In those days there was no king in Israel; a man could do whatever seemed proper in his eyes” (21:25).

One more observation before we move to the portion. It has been noted that Israel seems to have become desensitized to Hashem’s judgment; they did not cry out for deliverance as they had in earlier times (Judges 3:9; 3:15; 4:3; 6:6; 10:10). Thus it was purely an expression of Hashem’s grace that a deliverer was prepared. This sounds a bit like when Yeshua came on the scene, “He came to His own, but His own did not receive him” (John 1:11) and “Yeshua said to them, ‘Those who are healthy have no need for a doctor, but those who are sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but the sinful’” Mark 2:17).

Although there was messianic fever in the 2nd Temple period, the people were not looking for the deliverance that Yeshua was sent to bring, in fact many did not even see that they had a need. May it be that we never become so complacent or self-satisfied that we lose sight of our continual need for Yeshua.

Now to the passage:
As with the case of many wives listed in scripture Manoah’s wife’s name is left unknown. Even so it was to his wife that the angel of God appeared, the first time unsought the second time in response to Manoah’s request. A degree of piety or righteousness is attributed to Manoah’s wife in that she not only was pre-chosen to carrier a deliverer of Israel but she was also set apart by a portion of the Nazirite vow – the abstinence of wine or any grape products or any contaminated (טָמֲא) food (Numbers 6:3-4). Interestingly though, Numbers 6:2 states, “Any man or woman who desires to vow a Nazirite vow…” meaning that the choice of separation lies with the individual. However, in Manoah’s wife’s case as well as Samson’s they were set apart not by their choosing but by Hashem’s choice. Equally, Samuel had no choice as his lifestyle was determined by a vow made by Hannah his mother (another barren wife) (1 Samuel 1:11). Another difference between Samson (and Samuel) and the normal Nazirite vow is the duration. Numbers 6:13 indicates that the duration is a limited time of the individual’s choosing – not so with either Samson or Samuel – theirs was for life.

Just as a rabbit trail, why was Manoah’s wife described as “barren and have not given birth” (13:2). It seems kind of redundant, the two terms together. The one note I found on the situation states, “The child in such a case was a special gift of God, and marked out for a special career” (note on Judges 13:2, Pentateuch and Haftorahs 2nd Ed, edited by Dr. J. H. Hertz. London, Soncino Press 1988. p 602). This would coincide with Hannah’s barrenness and Samuel’s lifelong calling.

When Manoah’s wife reported the announcement to her husband (13:6) it is interesting that she used to terms “man or God” and “angel of God” as if she was not sure of who it was who spoke to her, could have been a prophet or could have been an angelic messenger. Manoah (in good company) prayed for confirmation of the supposed vision or announcement. When I say good company, Zechariah (though he heard the pronouncement – Luke 1:11ff) and Joseph (who didn’t ask for confirmation but received it anyway – Matthew 1:19-20). It is safe to assume that Hashem has no problem with us asking for confirmation of His direction. Even though there may be times when His answer is less than what we are seeking – (Acts 1:7; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9) He will in fact answer.

A couple of more thoughts on Manoah’s interaction with the angelic messenger; first he asked about how the boy was to be raised. The messenger gave no new information only the repeat of his Nazirite condition. This alone however would indicate that he was to be raised in the knowledge that he was set apart for service to Hashem. Sadly, Samson’s life did not always exhibit the expected training. As parents we are admonished to “Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The problem is, that we often forget that between childhood and “when he is old” there could well be a lifetime of choices – good and not so good that both the child and by proxy the parents must live with. It is best to remember Hashem’s words to Israel “See I have set before you today, life and good, and death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). The choice always remains with the individual and the community – Hashem is not interested in communities of robots, blindly following instructions rather He desires those who will fellowship with Him freely, “But an hour is coming—it is here now—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people as His worshipers” (John 4:23).

Second, probably out of gratitude and maybe a little fear, Manoah really wanted to first show hospitality to the messenger via a meal and later to offer sacrifice either to or on behalf of the messenger (13:15-19). The messenger affirmed that it was only to Hashem that offerings should be made (13:16) and that like with Ya’acov, the messenger would not give his name (13:18 & Genesis 32:29). The reality of Exodus 20:3-5 is that not only idols (false gods) are forbidden to be worshipped, but nothing and no one aside from Hashem is to receive worship. Rav Shaul affirms this when he wrote concerning Yeshua, “He humbled Himself— becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue profess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord—to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11) equating Yeshua with the Father and thus worthy of worship.

One final note, men listen to your wives, do not immediately discount their advice, thinking that you always know better. When Manoah finally realized that they had been in the presence of a messenger sent by Hashem, he was petrified (13:21). And he apparently had just cause to be concerned. In the account of Gideon’s tenure, “When Gideon realized that He (the angel) was the angel of ADONAI, Gideon said, ‘Alas, my Lord ADONAI! For I have seen the angel of ADONAI face to face!’ But ADONAI said to him, ‘Shalom to you. Fear not, you will not die’” (Judges 6:22-23). Manoah’s wife however, responded to his fears “… and said to him, “If ADONAI had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a meal offering from our hand, nor would He have shown us all these things or let us hear such things as these at this time” (Judges 13:23). Men, our wives are often wiser than we and we would do well to listen to them and heed their counsel. “A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but the wise listen to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). It is interesting but I am sure not accidental that both Wisdom and Ruach are feminine.

Shabbat Shalom

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.