In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) there is a passage that reads: “Ben Zoma said: Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it says, ‘. . . he who masters his passions is better than one who conquers a city.’”
Throughout the Bible, we find certain titles/attributes given to specific individuals; Abraham the Hebrew, Rachel our Mother, Joseph the Righteous, Moses our Teacher, Elijah the Prophet, Devorah the Prophetess, Mordechai the Judean, Haman the Wicked, and Shimshon (Samson) the Hero.
We are taught that Shimshon was the last of the Judges and served as a leader during a time when both the Israelites and Philistines were mortal enemies. His tribe, the Tribe of Dan, resided in the border area controlled by the Philistines. Much of his life focuses on the friction that existed between him and his arch-enemy. It’s a complex story. Shimshon is both a survivor and strong. He’s knocked down, and get’s back up. His story is our story.
The root of Shimshons’s description (Hagibor) is from the Hebrew word “Gevurah” – strength, which can be understood in a number of ways. In many paintings of “Samson,” he is depicted as an impressive muscular example of what we would imagine a long-haired “strong man” would look like. If the story of Samson teaches us anything, it’s that the source of his Great physical strength was not simply based on the number of Deadlifts he could do or the size of his six-pack. The strength of Samson went much deeper than that, both physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Something which I think we can all see from the narrative of Shimshon’s life is that it was a tumultuous one, to say the least. Definitely not your typical Hollywood “Happy Ending” story. In fact, I would argue, to get through all the things that Samson had to go through throughout his life required the Superhuman strength he possessed.
Tonight, my brother Shimmy (Shimshon) ob”m would have been celebrating his 61st birthday. He died from a sudden illness last year, two days shy of his 60th birthday. He is buried in the modern-day city of “Bet Shemesh”, the city in Israel that became his home for him and his family over the last couple of years, near the birthplace and burial place of his namesake, Samson. We just read in Synagogue on the Sabbath Day about the birth of “Shimshon Hagibor”, the very same Reading my brother Shimmy read on his own Bar Mitzvah Day.
Interestingly enough, my brother was named after our Great-Grandfather Shimshon, a man also of great strength and special humor, both attributes my brother ob”m inherited. It was from our Family that Shimmy gained his very special strength.
I believe that it is Human nature to sugarcoat things after a person’s death. It’s natural. We mostly remember the good and forget about the difficulties. It’s comforting. Truth be told, the life of my brother was a tumultuous one, a life fraught with great challenges that only made him stronger and stronger.
Shimmy suffered through breakups, hospitalization as a child, divorce, estranged children, business deals that soured, and succumbing in the end to the pain of sickness and death. What I’m writing here will come as a surprise to many who knew him. They will be surprised because the Shimmy you met was a person who exuded great, true, sincere joy, a wise man who possessed superhuman strength. There was not even a hint of the great challenges he had overcome. He was constantly moving up in life, improving, eventually making “Aliya” to Israel from the United States, a person who always had a smile on his face, and was always able to make you laugh and smile too. Like the Shimshon of the Bible, he was always making a comeback and rising to even greater new heights even after being knocked down.
I say this with absolute certainty based not only upon my own personal observations of Shimmy throughout his life but also based upon the countless people he touched throughout his too-short life. I say it based on the great strength his wife and family exhibit even after having suffered through this sometimes unbearable tragedy.
The greatest strength any of us can possess is to be a living example of how to deal with whatever challenges life may throw our way. That was my brother Shimmy. Although he is not physically with us anymore, he continues to inspire us.
Shimmy the Hero. “Shimshon Hagibor”.