Overview

The portion of Naso contains the mitzvot connected with a nazir (nazirite). This is an individual who accepts a vow to live a lifestyle which includes abstention from wine, haircutting and contact with a corpse. Through our history there were a number of famous nazirites, but perhaps the most famous one was Samson (Shimshon). The haftarah for Naso is the story of his birth, even before which he was ordained from On High to be a lifelong nazir.

Manoah was a simple man from the tribe of Dan. One day, a man with the appearance of a heavenly angel suddenly appeared to to Manoah’s wife. (The haftarah doesn’t give her name, but see below.) He told her that she would have a child, and that he would be a nazir all the days of his life. The nazirite life was to be so imperative that his mother had to keep to these laws even during her pregnancy with him. The boy was destined to begin the process of saving the people of Israel from the hands of the Philistines, their archenemies.

When the woman came and told Manoah what happened, Manoah prayed for the angel to appear a second time. He thought he must have missed something. Indeed, the angel had told Manoah’s wife about the care she should take with regard to keeping the laws of a nazirite, but aside from this there seemed to be no indication of any special way in which the boy should be raised to conduct himself. Manoah prayed to G‑d that the angel return.

The angel did appear a second time—again just to Manoah’s wife. She was alone in the field when he appeared to her once again. The woman ran to get her husband, and they came back together to the field where the man was. After confirming that he was indeed the one who appeared to the woman the first time, Manoah was sure that this was a message from G‑d, since he had reappeared soon after Manoah had prayed to G‑d for his return. The angel confirmed that there was nothing more they had to know. The woman was only to keep to the instructions he gave her on the previous occasion.

Although the man had an angelic look to him, Manoah had not realized that he was an angel and not a human being. He invited the man to partake of a meal, and asked him for his name so that he could give him due respect when his words come true. The man answered cryptically that he would not eat from the food, and that if Manoah desired to make a sacrifice, then he would surely not do it for him, but to G‑d. As for his name, he would not disclose it, for “it is hidden.”

Hearing this, Manoah took the goat he was going to prepare as a meal, and offered it as a sacrifice to G‑d. As the flame arose, the “man” ascended heavenward together with it.

The couple now realized that they had seen something G‑dly, and they feared death. It is known that as the soul begins its divestment from the physical body, it begins to experience that which it is impossible to experience when it is fully vested in the physical.1 Manoah and his wife thought for this reason that their end must be near.

Quickly coming to her senses, though, the woman reasoned that it was impossible for this to be true. G‑d could not be punishing them, for if He was, why would he accept the offering they gave? Moreover, they could not possibly be destined to die, for they had just received word from G‑d that they were going to have a child!

Eventually, a boy was born, and they named him Shimshon (Samson). G‑d was with the young man, who grew to be one the great Jewish leaders and warriors of all time.

Nameless heroes

Although the heroine in the story of the haftarah is the wife of Manoah, she nevertheless remains nameless. The Talmud2 gives her name as Tzlelponit, and likewise identifies a few other women who remain nameless in Scripture: Abraham’s mother was called Amatlai, and King David’s mother was called Nitzevet. These names are part of the oral tradition of the Torah that was handed down from generation to generation.

What the Talmud does not address is why Tzlelponit, the central character in the story, remains nameless, while her husband, the secondary character, is named. This kind of question is by far not limited to this particular part of Tanach: in numerous places the Torah chooses to name some people, while leaving some other—seemingly important—characters nameless. Furthermore, many times in Tanach we are given detailed lists of names which seemingly have no bearing on the subject at hand, while names of key characters are missing.

The classic Jewish attitude toward this subject is as follows:

The Torah is not a history book. It is a book of teachings. The Torah recounts names and stories only if there is a teaching for all generations that can be derived from them. Indeed, the Talmud contains lessons to be learned from some of the extensive lists of the family of Esau that the Torah gives us.3 Even if the lesson may not be apparent, the principle remains unchanged.4

It begins at pregnancy

The angel’s instructions to Samson’s mother were unique. Usually, even a lifelong nazirite need not begin this status while still in the womb; indeed, according to Jewish law, naziriteship can be assumed only by a person’s own voluntary commitment, or (for a minor) by his father doing so.

Ralbag, in his commentary to this verse, explains that idea behind these instructions was to prepare Samson for the mission that lay ahead of him. The laws of the nazir are prescribed in the Torah right after the law of the sotah (a woman suspected of adultery). The Talmud5 explains this juxtaposition to mean that naziriteship is, in effect, a swing to the extreme, to avoid the unfortunate scenario that calls for the law of the sotah. Abstinence from wine and haircutting are the kind of vows taken by a person who needs protection from sexual immorality. Now Samson, as Tanach describes him, was an incredibly holy person; the test that G‑d gave him, though, was one of involvement with women. In the end, indeed, it was such an entanglement that brought about his demise.6 To this end, the angel instructed Samson’s mother to begin observing the life of a nazirite even while she was just pregnant with him: her conduct in this manner during pregnancy would have a positive effect on the boy’s personality.

Jewish sources abound with the fact that the conduct of a mother during pregnancy has spiritual—and physical—effects on the child. This is especially true with regard to the food consumed by the mother, which in turn builds the body of the child. Although there are scenarios where a pregnant woman may partake of something non-kosher if abstaining would mean a danger for her and the child, we do the utmost to avoid even the possibility of such a situation: “One should warn the pregnant woman to guard herself as much as possible, so as not to come to a situation where she will be compelled to eat non-kosher meat or the like. Such conduct will cause that the child will be a G‑d-fearing person.”7

The custom throughout the ages was that a woman increases her care and observance of Torah and mitzvot during her pregnancy, as this will have an overall positive effect on the child in the long run.8