The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Department of Bible
The Haftarah for the Torah portion of Naso contains the prophecy about the birth of Samson, the son of Manoach (Judges, chapter 13). A careful reading of this story will enable us to learn new details about the characters and their actions.
The story opens with the statement "And there was a certain man of Zor'ah of the family of the Dani whose name was Manoach" (13:2), but the text then speaks of his wife: "And his wife was barren, and bore not". Manoach is no longer mentioned, and an angel of God then reveals himself to the wife when she is alone, and addresses only her: "Behold now you are barren and bear not; but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore beware, and drink neither wine... and eat no unclean thing, for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son" (3-5). The son is to be a Nazarite and he will rescue the Israelites from the philistine oppressor. The excited wife tells her husband about the revelation and details the angel's instructions. In response, Manoach prays to God and asks for further revelation (8).
In Manoach's prayer his wife is clearly ignored; he does not mention her at all: "Oh my Lord the man of God whom you sent" does not say to whom God sent the angel. Manoach thrusts himself into the story: "Let him come again to us and teach us what we shall do to the child that will be born". He explicitly mentions himself in his appeal: "My Lord", and changes the active verb which appears twice in the words of the angel to the wife -- "You shall conceive and bear" and "for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son" -- to a passive verb that does not require an explicit reference to his wife: "the child that will be born (8)".
Why does Manoch ask for the angel to return?
Our sages have said (Bamidbar Rabba 10, 5):
"Now let your words come to pass" (13:12). Manoach said to the angel: Until now I heard from the woman, and women are not entitled to instruct and one cannot rely on their words, but 'Now let your words come to pass' - I want to hear it from your mouth, for I do not believe her words, just in case she changed her words, or subtracted or added.
Our sages hear in Manoach's words contempt for his wife. Furthermore, they make his words even harsher as they describe his approach as a chauvinistic affront toward all women: "And women are not instructors, and one cannot rely on their words...". In response the text takes a critical and ironic stance toward Manoach. When one reads the words "And God harkened to the voice of Manoach" (9) the reader expects a revelation to Manoach himself, and is not prepared for what actually happens: "And the angel of God came again to the woman" (9). As if that were not enough, the text emphasizes that "She sat in the field, but Manoach her husband was not with her". This emphasis is a clear rebuff to Manoach's explicit request for a revelation to them both. The text makes it clear that the angel intentionally came to her alone.
But Manoach is oblivious to these signs: "Now let your words come to pass, what shall be the rule for the child and what shall be done with him?" As it is to say, 'Now let worthy ears hear you...'. In these words of Manoach, there is no reference to the duties and responsibilities of his wife. He completely ignores her.
Now Manoach gets a response that clearly prefers his wife over him: "And the angel of God said to Manoach, of all that I have said to the woman take heed".
In order to understand better the hidden controversy between Manoach and the angel about Manoach's wife, let us see the words in the form of a table:
|Angel's words||Wife's report||Manoach's request||Angel's answer|
|News of son's birth||You shall conceive and bear a son||You shall conceive and bear a son|
|Duties of the wife||Beware and do not drink wine nor strong drink and eat no unclean thing||drink no wine nor strong drink nor eat any unclean thing||Of all that I said to the woman let her take heed. She may not eat anything that|
|Duties of the son||No razor shall come on his head for the child shall be a Nazir to God from the womb||For the child will bw a Nazir to God from the womb to the day of his death.||Teach us what we shall do to the child that will be born. Now let your words come to pass. What will be the rule for the child and what will be done with him||comes of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing. All that I command her|
|Mission of the son||He shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.||let her observe.|
Note the following based on the chart: The angel in his first appearance and Manoach's wife in her report to her husband both refer to the woman and the promised son. On the other hand, when Manoach requests another divine revelation and when he questions the angel, he ignores his wife and speaks only about the son. In reaction to this, the angel in his answer refers only to the wife. The reader who doesn't see these "faulty lines of communication" misses the message between the lines: because Manoach ignored his wife, the angel reproves him to his face.
From verse 15 to verse 21, which ends with the words "Then Manoach knew that he was an angel of God", Manoach investigates the identity of the angel.
First of all, he invites him to a meal: "Let us detain you until we shall have made ready a kid for you" (15). The reader must notice that here, too, there is a discrepancy between Manoch's language, which is said in the plural form: "Let us detain ... we shall have made", and the angel's answer in the singular form, to Manoach alone: "Though you detain me, I will not eat of your bread" (16).
The angel thus makes a clear distinction between Manoach and his wife, who understood from the very beginning (6) that an angel was talking to her.
Manoach's question in the next verse (17): "What is your name?" is answered by the angel with a direct rebuke: "Why do you ask thus after my name, seeing it is hidden" (18). Let us not forget the excited report of the wife in the beginning of the chapter, "But I did not ask him from where he was, neither did he tell me his name" (6). a sensitive ear will hear in the words of Manoach's wife answers to the doubting questions of her husband, who listens to her with misgivings and who comments on her great naivete for accepting the appearance of the angel and his news without checking on it. Here, then, in verse 18, the angel reproves Manoach, who, unlike his wife, does ask for the angel's name.
In the continuation, the phrase "And Manoch and his wife were watching" appears twice (verse 19,20). Here, too, there is a lack of agreement between the plural language of the sentence and it's outcome, which is said in the singular: "Then Manoach knew that he was an angel of God" (21). Both of them saw, but only Manoach needed this proof that indeed this was an angel of God.
The theme we have been following throughout has a final note:
"And the wife gave birth to a son and she called him Shimshon"
(24). Manoach is not mentioned. Although in other stories about
God remembering barren women we also find an ending in which
only the woman giving birth is mentioned (Genesis 30:22; II Kings
4:17), and there are many stories of births where the mother is
the one who names the child (Genesis 4:25; ibid. 19:37.;
ibid. 29:32; ibid. 29:35; I Sam. 1:20; ibid.
4:21; I Chron. 4:9; ibid. 7:16; etc.), here one must connect
the ending to the entire story, and see it as an additional sign
of the preference for the wife over her husband, and as a last
reproof to the husband who had expressed scorn toward her by ignoring
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