Thursday, May 31, 2012

Haftarat Naso part i -- prophecy of Shimshon's conception and birth

Summary: Considering the haftara of parashat Naso, which is the story of Shimshon's miraculous birth. I present Malbim, and use his commentary as a jumping off point. In this first part, the malach's first communication.

Post: From Shofetim 13:
ב  וַיְהִי אִישׁ אֶחָד מִצָּרְעָה מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת הַדָּנִי, וּשְׁמוֹ מָנוֹחַ; וְאִשְׁתּוֹ עֲקָרָה, וְלֹא יָלָדָה.2 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bore not.
ג  וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ-ה, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ, הִנֵּה-נָא אַתְּ-עֲקָרָה וְלֹא יָלַדְתְּ, וְהָרִית, וְיָלַדְתְּ בֵּן.3 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her: 'Behold now, thou art barren, and hast not borne; but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.

The Malbim writes:
[יג, ב]
עקרה ולא ילדה -
כי יצוייר עקרה אשר כבר ילדה בטרם שנעשית עקרה גם יצוייר שלא ילדה מסבה אחרת, ולכן כפל דבריו.
"barren and bore not --  For it is possible a barren woman who has already given birth before she became barren, and it is also possible that she had not given birth due to some other reason {than barrenness}, and therefore it doubled its words."

The Malbim acts here true to form. While Radak, Ibn Ezra, etc., maintain that there is something called kefel inyan bemilim shonot, poetic repetition, Malbim disagrees. There are no absolute synonyms in Biblical Hebrew, and if there is repetition, it is to give additional shades of meaning.

Here, I would agree that it is present for some purpose. It is important to stress the miraculous nature of Shimshon's birth. It is not just Divine foreknowledge at play here, but Divine intervention in bringing about this miraculous birth. Thus, she is an akara. And that she had not bore yet is there in order to signal that this was about to end. It also is the perfect poetic setup for the contrast in pasuk 3. akara is contrasted with veharita, 'shalt conceive', and velo yaladt is contrasted with veyaladt. Indeed, akara means barren in that she cannot conceive, and yalada refers to the end product, giving birth. So it is repeated in the introduction as a setup for the reversal in the next pasuk.

The word יָלַדְתְּ should not be pronounced with a sheva na under the daled. If it were so, then there would be no dagesh kal in the tav, under the laws of beged kefet. So, it is v'yaladt as opposed to v'yalad't. This is rather difficult to pronounce because we pronounce every daled as a plosive. Pronounce it as they used to, as the /dh/ as is "either", and you will have no problem.

The next pasuk is:

ד  וְעַתָּה הִשָּׁמְרִי נָא, וְאַל-תִּשְׁתִּי יַיִן וְשֵׁכָר; וְאַל-תֹּאכְלִי, כָּל-טָמֵא.4 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink no wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing.

The Malbim writes further:
[יג, ד]
ועתה השמרי נא -
מדברים הגורמים היזק בטבע לאשה הרה, וחוץ מזה אל תשתי וכו' ומ"ש כל טמא פי' דברים האסורים לנזיר.
"Now therefore beware -- From things which cause damage in their nature a pregnant woman. And aside from this, drink not etc., and that which is stated any unclean thing, the meaning is [J: eating] items which are forbidden to a Nazir."

The Malbim is conducting a close reading of the pasuk. Perhaps he is noticing the vav in וְאַל-תִּשְׁתִּי יַיִן. In this way, the 'beware' is an entirely separate matter from 'and drink no wine', as well as from 'and eat no unclean thing'.

I would disagree, on the level of peshat. The malach's instruction is first general: Now beware. And then goes into the specifics, which is the drinking and eating.

A difficulty in this pasuk is what eat no unclean thing means, and why other laws of the Nazir, such as becoming impure to dead bodies, or not eating grapes, grape skins, or grape seeds, are not mentioned. Is this ignorance / divergence from the Torah law of Nazir?! Furthermore, what are these unclean things? Wouldn't any righteous Israelite not eat traif food as a matter of course? The Malbim solves this by equating eating 'all that is impure' with those items which are forbidden to a Nazir to eat.

Though one can point to the idea that Shimshon's nezirus was already different in one regard, namely becoming ritually impure, and in another, that it was accepted on his behalf. So if there was an extra prohibition of eating tamei and an absent prohibition of eating grapes, grapeskins, and grapeseeds, then that is certainly acceptable.

In terms of eating tamei, it might refer to:

  • impure species
  • neveilos
  • treifos
  • chullin which had become impure under the conditions which would render terumah impure
While Shimshon and his mother were no kohanim -- Shimshon was from the tribe of Dan -- and thus would not be eating terumah, perhaps this extra law of tamei refers to Chullin.

Or perhaps it refers to eating treifos. How could this be? Well, recall that Chazal say that Manoach was an am ha'aretz. Perhaps we could also say that he was not ritually observant. See how he makes the shidduch between Shimshon and Philistine women. See how he might not know the laws of Nazir (see Malbim below.) See how he does not know what to make of seeing a malach or navi. See how Shimshon conducted himself. So while they may have been God-fearing, especially after seeing the wonders of the malach, that does not mean that they would not regularly eat treif.

Or maybe they darshened the pesukim differently in those days. Recall that the prohibition of eating treifa appears twice. Once in Sefer Shemot, perek 22 (Mishpatim):
ל  וְאַנְשֵׁי-קֹדֶשׁ, תִּהְיוּן לִי; וּבָשָׂר בַּשָּׂדֶה טְרֵפָה לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ, לַכֶּלֶב תַּשְׁלִכוּן אֹתוֹ.  {ס}30 And ye shall be holy men unto Me; therefore ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs. {S}
where the addressees are the common Israelites. And once in Vayikra 22,
ח  נְבֵלָה וּטְרֵפָה לֹא יֹאכַל, לְטָמְאָה-בָהּ:  אֲנִי, ה.8 That which dieth of itself, or is torn of beasts, he shall not eat to defile himself therewith: I am the LORD.

where from the context, it is targeted towards kohanim specifically. Perhaps this repetition was darshened at the time of Manoach to exclude the common Israelite, with the Leviim and specifically Kohanim taking the place of the Yisraelim, as they do in other matters of holiness.

If so, not eating traif would indeed be an innovation for Manoach's wife.

Sefer Shofetim continues:

ה  כִּי הִנָּךְ הָרָה וְיֹלַדְתְּ בֵּן, וּמוֹרָה לֹא-יַעֲלֶה עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ--כִּי-נְזִיר אֱלֹהִים יִהְיֶה הַנַּעַר, מִן-הַבָּטֶן; וְהוּא, יָחֵל לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל--מִיַּד פְּלִשְׁתִּים.5 For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come upon his head; for the child shall be a Nazirite unto God from the womb; and he shall begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.'
The Malbim writes:

[יג, ה]
כי הנך הרה -
דומה כאילו הנך הרה עתה עד שצריכה את להשמר תיכף. 

וחז"ל (מד"ר נשא) אמרו: 
שהיה שכבת זרע במעיה ברגע שדבר עמה המלאך קלטה, וזה שאמר תחלה והרית בעתיד ואח"כ אמר כי הנך הרה בזו הרגע ולכן אמר ויולדת בחולם, מורכב מן ההוה והעבר המהופך, שכבר הוכנה ללדת.
"For lo, thou shalt conceive -- It was as if, behold, she was conceiving right now, such that she needed to beware immediately. And Chazal (in Midrash Rabba on Naso) said:
that there was semen in her womb at the time, and at the moment that the malach spoke with her it took,
and this is what is stated at first וְהָרִית, in future tense, and afterwards said כִּי הִנָּךְ הָרָה, at that moment. And therefore it states וְיֹלַדְתְּ with a cholam [chaser by the vav],  grafted from the present-tense and the reversed past tense, for she was already prepared for giving birth."

Again, a close reading from the Malbim in support of a derasha. And even if we don't take the derasha absolutely literally, in tone the text is transmitting this message, such that is is "as if" she was now conceiving.

Are there other reasons one could give for this repetition of כִּי הִנָּךְ הָרָה וְיֹלַדְתְּ? Perhaps this is to stress the certitude of it, and also, as a bridge / introduction. For the text moved past the mother's required conduct when she was pregnant and forward into the future (where the hara will be completed, and the yoladt will be completed), such that a new set of rules will be necessary, for the child. Also, since the child shall be a Nazirite from the womb, it pays to recall the conception and birth once more.

Not many details are given as to Shimshon's required conduct. Just that he shall have no razor pass over his head. We might extrapolate about drinking wine, eating grapes, [not eating impure], no contact with a dead body [though this last apparently does not apply to Shimshon]. Why? For one halacha of Nazir was mentioned, and he was called a Nazir. But maybe we cannot extrapolate.

Next, in Shofetim:

ו  וַתָּבֹא הָאִשָּׁה, וַתֹּאמֶר לְאִישָׁהּ לֵאמֹר, אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים בָּא אֵלַי, וּמַרְאֵהוּ כְּמַרְאֵה מַלְאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים נוֹרָא מְאֹד; וְלֹא שְׁאִלְתִּיהוּ אֵי-מִזֶּה הוּא, וְאֶת-שְׁמוֹ לֹא-הִגִּיד לִי.6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying: 'A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of the angel of God, very terrible; and I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name;

The Malbim writes:
[יג, ו]
איש האלהים בא אלי -
כי היתה מסופקת אם הוא איש או מלאך, רצה לומר מצד היותו מלובש בחומר הוא איש האלהים ומצד יראתו הוא כמלאך וזה שאמר כמראה מלאך כו' מצד שהוא נורא מאד. 

ולא שאלתיהו אי מזה הוא כו' -כי היה המנהג לשאול על מקומו, והמשיב היה מגיד את שמו, כמו שאמר ויאמר לו מיכה מאין תבא ויאמר לוי אנכי.
"a man of God came unto me -- For she was in doubt whether he was man or angel. That is to say, by virtue of his being clothed in a body, he was a man of God, and by virtue of his awesomeness, he was like an angel {malach}. And this is what is stated כְּמַרְאֵה מַלְאַךְ, etc., by virtue of his being נוֹרָא מְאֹד.

and I asked him not whence he was -- for this was the custom to ask upon one's place [of origin], and the person would respond with his [?] name, just as is said {in Shofetim 17:9}:

ט  וַיֹּאמֶר-לוֹ מִיכָה, מֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לֵוִי אָנֹכִי, מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה, וְאָנֹכִי הֹלֵךְ, לָגוּר בַּאֲשֶׁר אֶמְצָא.9 And Micah said unto him: 'Whence comest thou?' And he said unto him: 'I am a Levite of Beth-lehem in Judah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place.'


This is a wonderful multivalent approach by the Malbim. He knows the meforshim differ as to whether this is a malach in the sense of angel or a navi. For instance, the Ralbag insists it is a human navi, and indeed is Pinchas, for no prophecy would come to two people together. Thus:

[יג, יא-טז] והנה זה המלאך שדבר אל מנוח ואל אשתו היה נביא בהכרח כי אין מדרך הנבואה שתהיה יחד לשנים בזה האופן, הנזכר בזה המקום, והנה אחשוב שזה הנביא היה פנחס. והנה לא רצה לאכול מגדי העזים, כמו שלא רצה לאכול מהבשר והמצות שהביא אל פניו גדעון, כדי לישב יותר בלב מנוח ואשתו כי הוא מלאך ה', כדי שיהיו נזהרים מכל מה שאמר להם. 

Though the standard interpretation is a malach as heavenly angel. And each has textual evidence. Malbim reads this ambiguity back into the text, such that the deliberate ambiguity reflects the uncertainty of Manoach and his wife.

Malbim also deals with the divergence between her related non-asked question and his related non-response. That is, she does not ask אֵי-מִזֶּה הוּא, and he did not relate to her אֶת-שְׁמוֹ. The resolution is to make this into a custom.

I am not sure if the cut off quote from later in Shofetim is deliberate. Michah said to him 'whence comest thou?' and the man indeed responded 'Levi I am', though that is not his name but his tribal identity. And the answer is in the uncited continuation, 'of Beth-lehem in Judah'.

Perhaps et shemo means the name of the place. And perhaps that was even what Malbim meant. Or perhaps the idea is simply that this man is untraceable, such that if Manoach wants to ask the man/angel further questions, he would be unable to. For they don't have his name nor his location. And she neither thought to ask, in shock, as to either of these pieces of information, nor did the man / angel supply any of this sort of information. And the two actors (Manoach's wife and the malach) and the two bits of information are not strictly joined to one another, but perhaps function as a sort of hendiadys.

Perhaps to be continued...

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