Sunday, June 5, 2011

Manoach's Doubts

Last week I posted my first post on this blog, and in my dream I had an overwhelming response. People were chiming in from everywhere, trying to get their two cents in and clamoring to enlist as a follower. I was beside myself and overcome with joy. At last I was being a really big way. I had responses from people all over the world. Many were talmidim of the great yeshivos: Torah Vodaath and Chaim Berlin, the Mirrer Yeshiva (here in Brooklyn) and Beis Hatalmud. Others were affiliates of Hillel Houses on some of the nation’s major campuses: Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, and Penn. With all that feedback and encouragement, I built up the impetus to extend the venture and see if I could post another post. What you read in the ensuing paragraphs is this other post. Please continue to keep me informed.


Manoach’s barren wife was visited by an angel who told her that she was going to bear a son, who would help defend the Jewish people from the Philistines, and who would be a nazir from birth. He instructed her not to partake of wine and what emanated from it; neither was she to partake of what was tamei. She was to conduct herself as if she were a nazir. Though she was not going to be a nazir, her son was. And if she were to partake of these things, her as-yet unborn son, being nourished in her womb, would be exposed to, and impacted by, them too. She was not, however, instructed to adopt the other prohibitions to which a nazir is subject, since the fetus would not be impacted one way or another.

After hearing this from the angel, she ran over to where her husband was and told him of what had transpired. He prayed to G-d that the angel return, so that he might be further instructed in regard to the way the child (to be born) was to be handled and reared.

His prayer was answered and the angel returned. As was the case the first time, the angel appeared to Manoach’s wife in the place where she was situated – which was apart from where Manoach was, at that moment, situated. Immediately she ran over to where her husband was and told him that the angel had reappeared. Immediately Manoach got up from his place and (following his wife) made his way over to where the angel appeared. Catching sight of the angel, he asked to be instructed with regard to the things he needed to observe in bringing up his to-be-born son. Replying, the angel said to him that the instructions that had initially been given his wife should be observed. He went on to repeat them.

This, of course, is from the Haftarah, read on Shabbos (yesterday) in shul. Someone might think to ask: Why did Manoach need to see the angel and be instructed on what to do and how to raise the child, given that his wife had already been instructed by the angel on precisely these matters? All he had to do was receive the information from her! (Which undoubtedly he did do!) Another point of curiosity is that: the angel responded to him, telling him to observe what his wife had learned the first time that the angel had appeared. Why did the angel put it that way? Why didn’t the angel just repeat the instructions he had originally given?

I interpret it as meaning that Manoach didn’t trust his wife. It wasn’t that his wife was not a trustworthy person or that he, for some reason, harbored a personal, visceral distrust of her. But she was, after all, a woman. And women lack mental acuity. They have a tendency to misunderstand, especially when their emotions get the better of them. And here Manoach’s wife was being informed that, after years of being barren, she was going to bear a child. And she was told this by an angel of G-d. How could she fail to be very emotionally affected? Impossible. So to Manoach, her recounting of the instructions she’d received was suspect. This is why he had to find out for himself. And this is why it was appropriate for the angel to tell him that he should follow the instruction he had given his wife. This was, for Manoach, the main issue. Had his wife gotten it right? The angel let him know that she had. (I think this interpretation might be corroborated by the Midrash in Bamidbar Raba, 10.)

No comments:

Post a Comment