The birth of Shimshon

Summary: After describing forty years of Philistine oppression, we are introduced to Manoach from the tribe of Dan and his barren wife. An angel informs her that she will bear a child who will save the Jewish people from the Philistines. Therefore, she should refrain from consuming any grape products so that the child will be a nazirite from the womb. After she related this to Manoach he prayed to see the angel, who reiterated the message. Manoach gave offerings to God and his wife gave birth and called the child Shimshon (Samson).

A deeper look: While Manoach’s wife is not mentioned by name, the Talmud explains that she was called Tzelelponit,identifying her with a woman of that name in Chronicles I 4:3 (Bava Batra 91a). The Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 10:5) explains that her name reflects the distinction in which she merited to see an angel. The word tzel literally means shadow, but can refer to an angel and the word poneh means ‘to whom she turned’. After Manoach requested to see the angel it returned and related the same message directly to him. At the end of the dialogue, Manoach asks the angel its name, since the name of an angel defines its mission (see also Genesis 32:30 with respect to Jacob and the angel of Esau). After the angel replies ‘why do you want to know my name?’ the verse concludes with the words והיא פלאי– ‘v’hi peli’ (Judges 13:18). The word peli means ‘wondrous’ implying that the Angel was astonished by the question, or ‘hidden’ meaning ‘my name is hidden [from you]’. Nevertheless, Rabbi Yaakov Culi (d. 1732) rendered the phrase to mean ‘it [my name] is Peli’. The root of the word peli (פלא) can also mean to separate and links with the verse which relating to Nazirite abstention (Numbers 6:2) כי יפלאי נדר… – ki yafli neder… ‘when you shall separate by means of a vow’ (Yalkut Meam Loez on Judges 13:18). Samson will be a Nazirite who will separate himself from wine and refrain from cutting his hair. His mission was planned by God from before his birth. Yet in the next three parts we will examine how his separation from normality defines his heroic but often tumultuous life.