Our long history with Gaza

In the Haftara for Parshat Naso (Shoftim 13:2-25), we read the opening of the story of Shimshon. Interestingly, the introductory passage (verse 1) which explains why we are in need of a good leader is left out: “B’nai Yisrael continued to do what was evil in the eyes of God, and God delivered them into the hand of the Plishtim for 40 years.” 

Shimshon is totally different from the other judges in the book of Shoftim. Rather than being selected as a leader later in life, God determined that Shismshon would be the leader even before he was born. The angel appeared to Manoach’s wife (Shoftim 13:3-5) who was unable to conceive a child and explained that she would conceive and give birth to a son. She was then told: “And now, be careful not to drink wine nor strong drink, and not anything contaminated. For you shall conceive and give birth to a son; a razor shall not come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazir to God from the womb, and he will begin to save Israel from the hands of the Plishtim.”

Shimshon’s mission was already laid out: to begin to save Israel from the hands of the Plishtim.

Radak explains that it says “he will begin to save Israel from the Plishtim” because he would begin the task but he would not complete it, because his salvation would only be partial.

Radak also mentions that the earlier judges didn’t fight the Plishtim.

Ramban points out that some of the judges did in fact fight the Plishtim to some extent but not the way that Shimshon did. In Breisheet 49:16 on the words “Dan shall judge his people” Ramban explains that Yaakov’s blessing to Dan is referring to Shimshon who will later come from the tribe of Dan. The Plishtim wronged Israel many times. In the days of Shamgar ben Anat they began their oppression of Israel and in the days of Yiftach and after in the days of Abdon ben Hillel. There was none among the judges who subdued them or had any victory over them. With Shismshon, it says that “he will begin to save Israel from the Plishtim” and he avenged the cause of Israel from them for he slew many people and killed all of the lords of the Plishtim. It says “Dan shall judge” since this avenger was a judge, not a king.

In the Talmud, Sotah 10a we learn that the previous judges were inhibited by Avraham’s covenant with Avimelech, king of the Plishtim in Breisheet 21:22-24:      

At that time, Avimelech and Pichol, his general said to Avraham, “God is with you in all that you do. Now swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me nor with my son nor with my grandson; according to the kindness that I have done for you, do with me, and with the land in which you have sojourned.” And Avraham said, “I will swear.”

Rabbi Chama B’Rabbi Chanina said: The oath of Avimelech was desecrated, and therefore no longer in effect. Since the Plishtim were the first to violate the oath, by subjugating the Jews, Shimshon was not bound to it either.

Shimshon was different from the other judges as he worked alone. While the others called up their troops and went out to battle, Shimshon used his God given strength to fight by himself. We even see the tribe of Yehuda trying to turn him in to the Plishtim so that their plight won’t get worse. We don’t see the nation praying, repenting or doing anything else that would make them worthy of salvation and therefore Shimshon is not able to complete the job and the Plishtim continue to haunt B’nai Yisrael in the book of Shmuel under the leadership of Kings Saul and David.

In the middle of the story of Shmishon, Shoftim 15:20, which is not in our Haftorah, we are told that “[Shimshon] judged Israel in the days of the Plishtim for 20 years.” That verse marks the end of the successful part of his career.

Shimshon’s downfall is in Gaza as described in the Talmud, Sotah 9b: Rebbi says: The beginning of his downfall was in Gaza, he was therefore smitten in Gaza. He married Delilah and finally gave her the secret to his strength. She cut off his hair and the Plishtim poked out his eyes. They put him in prison and then put him on display. At that point he prayed (Shoftim 16:28): “My Lord, HaSem Elokim! Remember me and strengthen me just this one time, O God and I will exact vengeance from the Plishtim for one of my two eyes.” He forcefully grasped the pillars and the building collapsed on everyone who was inside. He killed more people in his death than in his lifetime.

We see that up to the moment that he died, he continued fighting as many enemies as possible. The prophecy that the angel gave his mother came true: “he will begin to save Israel from the hands of the Plishtim.” Since the rest of the nation was not united behind him, he was unable to finish the job that would soon fall in the laps of the future kings of Israel.

We see from the story of Shimshon that we have always had issues in Gaza and we learn from Shimshon that we must do our best to defend ourselves from those who want to destroy us.