"Samson and Delilah" by Anton Van Dyck, circa 1630. (Google Art Project)

Haftarah for Naso

The birth of Samson.

Commentary on Parashat Nasso, Numbers 4:21 - 7:89

The Torah portion of Naso introduces the concept of the Nazirite, a person who takes a voluntary vow not to consume grape products (including wine) or cut his or her hair. The haftarah tells the story of the birth of Samson, the Bible’s most famous Nazirite.

The haftarah begins by introducing a couple from the tribe of Dan who are unable to have a baby. One day, an angel visits the woman. He tells her that she will soon be pregnant, and warns her not to drink alcohol or to eat anything unclean, because “from the womb he is God’s” (13:5). The angel explains that the baby boy who will be born will be a Nazirite and prophecies that he will free Israel from the oppressive Philistine rule. The angel also issues a warning regarding the boy: his hair shall never be cut for as long as he lives.

The woman, scared, runs to tell her husband about the celestial visit. After hearing about it, the husband, Manoah, prays to God: “Please let Your messenger return to us and teach us how to bring up our child” (13:8). Upon hearing his prayers, the angel appears again. Manoah questions him further, and the angel relates the laws of the Nazirite, which he orders Manoah’s wife to obey: “She must eat nothing that comes from a grapevine, she must not drink wine or beer, she must eat nothing unclean” (13:14).

Manoah offers to prepare a meal of fresh goat for the angel. “Even if you were to detain me,” the angel tells Manoah, “I could not eat your food. If you want to make a burnt-offering, offer it up to the Eternal” (13:16). So, as the angel suggested, Manoah builds a fire and sacrifices the goat. As the flames rise, the angel goes up with them.

Manoah is shocked by the experience. He tells his wife: “We shall surely die, because we have seen a divine being!” (5:22). But his wife knows better and tells him that, had God wanted them dead, God would have killed them. Later, she gives birth to a boy and names him Samson.

The boy–the haftarah concludes, with a note of hope–has the blessing of God from his birth.

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