Tel Aviv sits in Gush Dan, the Dan bloc. Israel has no states, provinces or counties per se, but it does have millennia of history. The name of the region goes all the way back to the Bible, in which the tribe of Dan receives territory from Zorah in the lowlands to Joppa on the coast (Josh. 19:40-46). In fact, tomorrow we will read from the thirteenth chapter of Judges, the origin story of Samson, which begins: “And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites,” and concludes: “And the spirit of the LORD began to move him in Dan’s camp, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
So why do we read this prophetic passage this weekend? It has two links to the Torah portion, Naso. Num. 6 explains what it means to be a Nazirite, which Samson is ordered to be from birth, while Num. 7 tells us about the dedication offerings of the tribal princes, including Ahiezer, Prince of Dan, on the tenth day. The Midrash (Num. Rabbah) explains that “He brought his offering to correspond to Samson, as Jacob’s blessing to Dan focuses solely on Samson.”
(If you’re wondering how Ahiezer knew the details of his latter-day tribesman’s life — forget it, Jake, it’s Midrash Rabbah.)
Consider, for example, how it tackles the final element of the dedication offering: “And for the sacrifice of peace-offerings, two oxen…”
This corresponds to the two times it is written of him that he judged Israel for 20 years, and these are they: “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines 20 years” (Jud. 15:20); “And he judged Israel 20 years” (Jud. 16:31). This teaches you that the judged Israel for 20 years of his life; then, for 20 years after his death, the reverence of Samson was upon the Philistines, and they dwelled in tranquility.
This is intriguing, as it means that Samson, like so many other early Jewish leaders — from Moses; to fellow Judges Othniel, Deborah and Gideon; to Kings David and Solomon — had a tenure of forty years. However, unlike his colleagues, half of his was after his death!
The Midrash here distinguishes between two types of peace: one based on mishpat, and one based on mora. Mishpat is usually translated as justice, but as amusing as it is to imagine Samson’s confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, that’s not the sort of Judge we find ruling over Israel and leading it in war during the pre-monarchial period. Perhaps Judge Doom. Or Judge Dredd.
Dread is one of the translations of mora, but I translated it above as “reverence,” describing what the Philistines felt once Samson was dead. It certainly was not the worry of what Samson might do–the Philistines did not fear a zombie strongman. Mora is a term which parallels kavod, honor or respect. The Talmud (Kiddushin 31b) explains: “Mora — neither stand in his place nor sit in his place, nor contradict his words, nor tip the scales against him.” Mora, on the national level, means not seeking to dispossess or disinherit another people.
Thus, Pax Samsonia had two distinct periods: that of reactive mishpat in his life and that of preemptive mora in his death. The former involved a lot of smiting, as the Midrash notes; but what’s truly wondrous is the latter, two decades of peace based on the final sacrifice of Samson.
As we consider the horrific terror attack this week in Tel Aviv’s Sarona market, in the heart of ancient Dan, we have to ask ourselves: how do we get to the era of mora? How do we reach a place of mutual respect in which we say that the slaughter must end, in which killing is decried by all people of good conscience? How do we find the period of peace that lies beyond awful tragedy? When, at last, will we all dwell in tranquility?
It is high time for our 20 years of peace to begin.