It has been a decade since I first shared this musing, and I thought it was time to give it another look. It was originally called Northeast-Gaza-Side Story, but that’s geographically inaccurate, as the site of biblical Tzorah is likely that of the former Palestinian-Arab village Sura, 25km east of Jerusalem. At that distance, I think it’s a stretch to say “East-Side-Jerusalem Story” so I went with “West-Tzorah Side Story” this time.
Random Musing Before Shabbat – Nasso 5765
(With apologies to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim)
[to the tune of “Maria” from “West Side Story.”]
The haftarah for Naso from Judges derives
Manoakh, Manoakh, Manoakh, Manoakh
Chapter thirteen verse two unto twenty-five
Manoakh, Manoakh, Manoakh, Manoakh Manoakh, Manoakh..
Manoakh, there once was a man named Manoakh
In Tzorah lived his clan, his lineage was tribe of Dan.
Manoakh, there once lived a man named Manoakh
His wife’s name we know not, but barren was her lot in life.
An angel of the Lrd came to her to say
To a son she would give birth one day
Yet till then drink no wine nor eat food that’s treif
So, what’s this all about? Seems like a familiar story – an angel of the L”rd come to tell that a barren woman shall bear a child. Notice, all you feminists out there, however, that in this case, the angel comes to the woman herself first, and not her husband. She is warned to abstain from intoxicants and impure food. Seems like a reasonable request. Yet we still don’t get to know her name. Don’t you just hate that?
Now, back to our song (for you purists, we go back to the beginning again-without the intro…)
And further, the Angel told Mrs. Manoakh,
Let razor touch him not, for nazirite his lot shall be.
A hero, your son shall be known as a hero
For all of Yisrael he shall save from the Philistines
With this tale, Mrs. M. to Manoakh runs
Who then pleaded to G”d for for instructions
G”d answered and sent back the angel again
So the Mrs.. goes back and relates the tale to her husband. There’s no real hint that he disbelieves her, though some may try to eisegete that back into the text. (Eisegesis is the opposite of Exegesis. Look them up if you’re still not sure…) Despite the penchant of some to insist that Manoakh wants confirmation of what his wife has told him, all the text says is that he asks G”d to send the angel again so that he and his wife might know how to treat their child once he is born. I guess G”d finds this request reasonable, and complies.
Back to our song (again, for you purists, we go back to the beginning again-without the intro…)
An angel again comes to Mrs. Manoakh
She runs to tell her man, “come quickly if you can, he’s
“So tell me,” Manoakh then says to this stranger
“Are you the one who came and spoke of future fame to
The stranger answered “yes” and Manoakh gave praise
Then he asked how their young boy they should raise
“Your wife, sir, must not drink any wine or eat treif”
Don’t you love those answers that never answer the question asked? When Manoakh asks the stranger (whom, at this point, Manoakh does not appear to view as an angel of G”d) how they should care for and raise the child, the stranger only reiterates his instructions that Mrs. M should not imbibe in intoxicants nor eat impure foods. Perhaps this is G”d’s way of saying, “Hey, look.-I created the miracle enabling your barren wife to conceive. Raising the boy is your problem.” Sort of like the Torah. “Here is it, people of Israel, now you go figure it out!”
As a side note, I take liberty in using the term “treif,” for what Mrs. M is told is to not eat foods that are impure, using our old friend, the word “tuma,” meaning (ritually?) impure. And speaking of this, why the instruction to Mrs. Manoakh regarding what she drinks and eats? Her son is indeed to be a nazir from birth-so perhaps this was to insure that even the developing fetus was untainted by wine, intoxicants or impure foods, which, as a nazir, he would not be permitted to consume? Consider the implications this has for the “when does life begin” question that now so troubles our society. I don’t think it alone might outweigh all the other sources within Judaism that assist us in defining when life begins, yet it’s something to ponder. If nothing else, this is surely a caution to any and all mothers to be careful when they eat and drink (or smoke, or use drugs-legal and illegal) while pregnant, lest they injure their unborn child. Just as believing that anyone you encounter might be moshiakh can lead us to treating each other respectfully, the idea that the child that one carries might be a nazir, or even moshiakh, ought to enable pregnant women to think carefully about how their treat their own bodies and the possible impact upon their unborn child.
And now, back to our song (again, for you purists, we go back to the beginning again-without the intro, although now we go on to the middle and end sections…)
Kind stranger, please let us proffer you a meal now
But “no” the stranger said, pay homage now to Gd instead
“Please tell me,” Manoakh then asked of the stranger
“Your name I do not know, please tell it to me now, I pray”
“This question, it is one not to ask” said he,
“For unknowable is what you ask me.”
Manoakh, and so goes the tale of Manoakh….
[underscoring] Manoakh, Manoakh, Manoakh, Manoakh
Mano-akh, Mano-akh, Mano-akh, Manoa-akh
Manoakh, made an offering, feared the L”rd
His wife calmed his fears, sure of Gd’s reward
Manoakh, and so ends the tale of Manoakh…..
[Outro] The most beautiful son you ever saw—named
As the angel rises to the heavens inside the flames of his offering, Manoakh realizes he has had an encounter with the Divine, and fears for his life. Mrs. M reassures him that all these things must be for good, as G”d accepted our offering, and sent us this prophecy. How often have we looked upon a miracle, and seen it not as something beautiful and wonderful, but as a dire warning or portent? We see a darkening sky and fear the impending storm, yet we know that the rains bring water and renewed life to parched soil.
After the parallel to the Abraham and Sarah story with the pronouncement of an impending birth to a barren woman, we get yet another parallel when Manoakh, like Jacob before him, asks the name of the being he has encountered, and the being answers with the very same words given to Jacob.
I think there’s even a connection to our middle ancestor, Isaac. My challenge to you this Shabbat is to see if you can find it.
© 2015 and 2005 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings On This Parasha
Naso 5773 – Guilt. Self. It.
Naso 5772 – Keeping Me On My Toes II
Naso 5771 – The Nazarite Conundrum
Nasso 5770 – Cherubic Puzzles
Naso 5768 – G”d’s Roadies
Naso 5767 (Redux 5759) – The Fourth Fold
Naso 5763–Lemon Pledge
Naso 5759-The Fourth Fold
Naso 5760-Bitter Waters
Naso 5761-Keeping Me On My Toes
Naso 5762-Wondrous Names (Haftarah Naso from Judges)