What moral demands can be made of an oppressed people living under occupation? What moral judgments can be made when the powerless fight back with the limited methods available to them, problematic as they may be?
These are the questions that need to be considered when reading of the exploits of Shimshon in chapter 14, which are taking place during the 40 years of Philistine occupation. The text testifies that Shimshon’s sagas of romance and revenge are actually a cover, perhaps human, perhaps divine, to strike against the Philistine oppressor. The Jewish people, apparently, were not capable of facing up to the Philistines on the battle ground. What other outlet could there be for their outrage, aside from Shimshon’s “lone wolf” attacks. Can you blame him?
According to the Talmud, the answer is a definitive yes. The Mishna (Sota 9b) suggests that Shimshon’s tragic end, as the blinded captive of his enemies, was a punishment for “following his eyes”. The Talmud asks the question of moral responsibility- this was a covert act of revenge which is divinely approved! Why is he being punished? The Talmud’s answer: his actions may have fulfilled a divine purpose, but the choices he made were his own, and they were the wrong ones.
Humans are moral agents with the freedom to choose. No greater purpose, divine or human, no oppression or frustration, can serve as excuse or justification for choosing immoral behavior. To apply a standard lower than that is to infantilize that person, indeed, to undermine their very humanity.
This blog offers a short reflection on a chapter of Tanach, following the program of daily study of the 929 project. The connection between the particular chapter of Tanach, wherever it is, and current events, has by now ceased to be suprising…