Samson is perhaps one of the most infamous figures from the Prophets. Powerful, dangerous, enigmatic, easily seduced: from his annunciation to his death, Samson perplexes.
At his birth, the angel announces he is to be a Nazir – separated from wine, his hair to grow long. What impact did that have on his persona?
During his ongoing encounters with the Philistines, were his encounters with women part of a subterfuge to wreak havoc on the enemy, or did he succumb to his emotions, love or anger?
Why did he choose to live among the Philistines with Delilah, as an enemy within, rather than attacking directly, and why did he give away his secrets?
Much ink has been spilled plumbing his mysteries. Our Sages (BT Sotah 9b-10a) offered an ambivalent tone: He is credited with “judging the people in the same way as the Almighty,” yet acknowledge that he “followed his eyes, and thus was punished in his eyes [when he was blinded by the Philistines].”
Most striking is their comment that his strength was, “created as an example of the Divine, yet he was smitten with it.”
Samson was blessed with a miraculous strength, and he was fully cognisant of his gift; it seemed to overpower his persona, and coloured the lens through which he viewed the world, and choked the conduits through which he channelled his emotions and desires.
He vacillated between being the ‘saviour of Israel’, terrorising and neutering the Philistines, and lacking the self-control to save himself.
In his final days, in the depths of the enemy camp, it seems almost as if this responsibility was too much to bear, and so he gave his secrets to Delilah, and sacrificed his life to inflict a serious wound to the Philistines.
Beyond the narrative, the character of Samson seems so remote, yet so uncomfortably close at the same time.
We know our strengths, but the fear of not being able to master them is terrifying.
Rabbi Garry Wayland is an educator with US’s Living & Learning