Parshat Naso: Where sotah is inconceivable

The reference to Sotah in the Haftarah

Haftarot, as we all know, are excerpts from the Neviim (Prophets) that echo in some manner the week’s Torah reading.  According to tradition, Haftarot were introduced as substitute texts at a time when reading from the Torah was prohibited by the government of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Parhsat Naso, which contains the largest number of verses in the Torah (total: 176) alternates between the excruciatingly boring and the wildly exotic and interesting.

No doubt the two most interesting chapters are Bamidbar 5 and 6, the first dealing with the topic of Sotah, a wife suspected of infidelity by her suspicious and jealous husband, and her subsequent trial by ordeal at the hands of a Kohen; and the second dealing with the topic of Nazir, when one voluntarily withdraws from society in order to achieve a greater degree of sanctity through abstemiousness from wine and by letting his or her hair grow wild.

The choice of Shoftim 13 for the Haftarah of Naso is obvious.  This chapter describes the annunciation to Manoah’s barren wife that results in the birth of Shimshon.  Mrs. Manoah is instructed to raise her son from birth as a Nazir so that he will grow up to “begin the rescue of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (13:5).

She and her husband are then both told in Verse 7 to be Nazirites as well.

We can stop right here — fully satisfied that the haftarah is linked to the Torah portion of Naso.

But we could well ask, why would the choice of haftarah be based on the topic of Nazir alone — which, with 21 verses — is certainly significant — while ignoring the topic of Sotah which — with 20 verses — is hardly any less significant and a far more likely scenario. After all, jealousy and suspicion are nearly universal impulses, whereas the desire to avoid wine and grow dreadlocks is not exactly commonplace.

But if we examine Shoftim 13 more carefully we realize that it is indeed all about Sotah, or rather the inverse of Sotah.  We are dealing here with a situation that is a classic setup for jealousy and suspicion.  A long-barren wife wanders alone in a field and comes home to tell her husband the wildest tale:

“…  a man of G-d came to me  and his appearance was like the appearance of an angel of G-d, very awesome, and I did not ask where he was from and he did not tell me his name (6) And he said to me, ‘Behold you shall conceive and bear a son … (7)

If ever there was a classic scenario that would unleash an avalanche of suspicion in a husband this is it.  If ever there was a man who would be dragging his ‘Sotah’ off to the kohen, that man would be Manoah. This story is vintage Sotah.

Except that it is not.

Not only does Manoah not accuse his wife of deception, he takes her at her word and partners with her in accepting the stranger’s annunication – a stranger whom, even after he meets him, he sees only as a mortal.

Now let us note, parenthetically, that neither Manoah nor his anonymous wife are in a state of panic over their childlessness.  Unlike Sarah and Rachel and Hannah, we see no evidence of desperation, no arguing with G-d, no camping out in sanctuaries, no wild promises if only G-d would answer Mrs. Manoah’s prayers.

This is our first hint that the future parents of Shimshon are in fact a highly unusual couple, one that is preternaturally calm and in a state of absolute harmony.

In fact the name Manoah hints at this as well. Manoah means “at rest”. Here is a man who cannot be brought to anger. This is one very relaxed and peaceful guy. Or as we say in modern parlance, he is “very chill.”  And if he is calm, this is even truer for his wife.  Mrs. Manoah, unlike every other biblical heroine in her situation, is devoid of hysteria and at peace with her lot. Indeed she is so self-effacing, so ethereal, that we do not even know her name — at least not from this story.

The state of trust and balance between this husband and wife is underscored by the fact that Manoah has no issue with following his spouse;

”And Manoah rose and went after his wife … (11)

once again behavior atypical of most men whose egos might be bruised by not taking the lead.

What we see here, therefore, is a reflection of the Sotah chapter but in its purest and most opposite form.  We are witness to a relationship that is sublimely perfect and totally balanced, one in which suspicion and jealousy are inconceivable.

Manoah and his wife are introduced at the beginning of the chapter in verse two, as very ordinary, anonymous people

  • “And there was one man from Zorah from the family of Dan whose name was Manoah, and his wife was barren …”

What could possibly be less interesting than a childless couple from a secondary tribe?

But what we are in fact witnessing here is a couple whose connubial harmony is a harbinger of what we can expect in the era of Redemption. Indeed the text does not refer to Manoah as the husband (“baal”, i.e., owner) but as her man (“ish-a”) — which indicates a totally different kind of relationship, very much like the one between G-d and Israel ultimately predicted in the previous haftarah from Hosea chapter two. In Hosea, G-d tells His people whom He compares to a wanton wife who has betrayed her husband (the classic Sotah):

“And it shall be on that day (of Redemtpion), says G-d, and you will call me Ishi (my man) and will no longer call me Baali (my owner)” (Hosea 2:18).

In their personal relationships, Manoah and his wife have achieved this ultimate state of grace, which is why she “… gave birth to a son, and she named his Samson, and the youth matured and G-d blessed him. (25) And the spirit of G-d began to come to him …(26).

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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