See: "War is not new to Israel" (Oct 16, 2023); "Jewish wisdom during war" (Oct 23, 2023); "Abraham's principles in war and peace" (Oct 31, 2023); "Facts and truths amid the fog of war" (Nov 13, 2023).
Like so many others I have been thinking about the paradoxes about Israel in recent times. On the one hand Israel is a modern miracle: A relatively tiny country that was basically a neglected dust bowl until the Jews came back to live in it in modern times and then turned it into a paradise and virtual colossus of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. On the other hand, like in the history of the Jewish People, the people of Israel have been subjected to many struggles and wars, having to continuously fight for their survival time and time again. Like in the swinging pendulum of Jewish History, Israel has had to face ups and downs from surprising seeming defeats that then turn around and become great and miraculous victories. Examples are the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Israel went from the brink of defeat and miraculously snatched victory from the jaws of impending doom with the help of God.
I was thinking of the biblical person of Samson (Judges 13, 14, 15, 16) as some sort of original example of the yin and yang that so typifies Jewish History and the history of modern Israel. The Biblical Jacob and Joseph also had to confront seemingly insurmountable odds that they eventually overcame, but they were essentially great diplomats and not so much men of war. Moses, Joshua and King David were triumphant warriors and always had victory on their side. In post biblical times there is the Jewish rebel leader Bar Kochba who was regarded as the potential Mashiach by none other than Rebbi Akiva, but they met death at the hands of the Romans and died during the onset of the two thousand year exile of Edom/Rome that we are only now emerging from with the rebirth and resettlement of the Jewish People in its own original homeland in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.
In the context of the recent events leading up to the horrific October 7, 2023 massacres and kidnappings of Jews in Israel, there is an interesting parallel between the life and death, the rise and fall, the aftermath and rehabilitation of Samson and to how things led up to and then came out of the Simchat Torah massacre of the 2023 Hamas attack on Israel and the resultant 2023 Hamas–Israel war that is still raging.
Samson's life and fate was intertwined with that of the ancient fearsome Philistines with who he has a literal love-hate relationship. He fights and kills Philistines in battle after battle, yet he marries a Philistine woman from Timnah and then has a powerful relationship with Delilah, also a Philistine woman who is obviously a very skilled seductress loyal to the cause of the Philistines. Samson is lulled into trusting Delilah and eventually is worn down by her and reveals his secrets to her that he is really a Nazirite who is not allowed to cut his hair as a religious observance and then the revelation of that allows her to have his hair cut while he was asleep and he thereby loses his extraordinary strength that came from God's special blessings to him.
This pattern seems so much like what happened to latter day Israel as many left-wing Israelis, as well as both left and right wing Israeli governments, put their trust into the hands of the modern day stubborn tricky Palestinian Arab murderous ingrates. Since the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 Israel was lulled into thinking that it could make peace with all the Palestinian Arabs, not just with the devious Jew-hating PLO but also with the blood-thirsty Hamas Islamic fanatics as long as they kept their hostility to themselves.
Once right wing Prime Minister Sharon was willing to do the unthinkable 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza without getting any concessions in return and even uprooting Jewish settlements in Gaza especially the destruction of Gush Katif in August of 2005. Successive Israeli governments down to right wing Prime Minister Netanyahu actually gave Hamas-ruled Gaza (some called it "Hamastan") water and electricity and even monetary payoffs as long as the Gazans toned down their rhetoric and cut down on attacks against Israel.
But just like Samson they were fooled and taken for a ride as Israel and its Jews were to be betrayed just as Samson was betrayed by his Philistine playmates. Instead of receiving back the love that he gave the Philistine women and their society, Samson was stabbed in the back by Delilah and her Philistine handlers. In similar fashion the modern day Palestinian Arabs repaid Israel's dreamy wishful thinking of longing for peace and a misplaced trust in the Arabs with a barbaric stab in the back on October 7, 2023 the likes of which had not occurred since the Holocaust.
At the core of Samson's mistake with regard to the Philistines of his time and that of the modern Israelis of our own days is the fatal error of misplaced trust. Even though they should have known better from all the experiences with wars against Israel by the Arabs. Perhaps it was an Israeli war-weariness syndrome worthy of a PhD dissertation. For many left-wing Israelis it is an actual misplaced love that they have for the illusion that they can have peace with the perennially belligerent Palestinian Arabs at the same time that Palestinian Arabs chant Itbach al Yahud – "slaughter the Jew/s" and as Arab men, women and children rejoice in the streets of Gaza and the 'West Bank' with mass eruptions of joyous celebrations when they see Israeli Jews being murdered or killed by Arab terrorists!
But there is also another dimension and aspect to Samson's relations with the ancient Philistines that is mirrored by modern Israel's relations with all Arabs, and that is that just as Samson is an original superhero who single-handedly slays myriads of belligerent enemy Philistines in battle, similarly so can and has Israel defeated the Arabs of today's times in fights, battles and wars multiple times since its founding in 1948. Yet after each round of fighting it always seems like a sort of epochal "groundhog day" as Israel has to keep on putting the Arab jack back into its box!
Samson was the last of the biblical judges, part of the special leaders who judged over and led the People of Israel before the times of the Israelite kings. Those judges were the spiritual, religious, executive, political and military leaders of the ancient Israelites all rolled into one. Samson was therefore not just a great and mighty man, he was also the supreme ruler of the Jewish people during his lifetime in a line that stretched all the way back to Joshua after the death of Moses. On the one hand he was not afraid to fight his enemies and kill them if they were evil and deserved it according to his judgment, but on the other hand he was not averse to entering into dangerous amorous liaisons with Philistine women and entering into their society.
Some of the commentators say that Samson as a great man of God may have wished to convert at least the Philistine women he loved to monotheism, but nevertheless they were ultimately incorrigible and could not change their inherent pagan idol worshipping antisemitic war-like evil nature.
Likewise in modern day Israel far too many politicians and opinion makers and their gullible camp followers were too enamored with the sweet words of nothing emanating from the double-crossing lips of Palestinian Arab leaders who go by the code of hudna: meaning "a truce, armistice, or cease-fire or a pause to regroup, rearm, and prepare for the next fight. The word comes from the Arabic and means 'calm' or 'quiet'" which is exactly what happened especially in the two year period preceding October 7, 2023 where Hamas took to acting like a wolf in sheep's clothing putting the vaunted Israeli military and intelligence leadership to sleep as if hypnotized by the false calm emanating from Gaza.
In spite of knowing that the Philistines were his enemies and that they were idolaters and killers, Samson was nevertheless fooled and fell asleep in the lap of Delilah, not once but a few times as Delilah teased him until he could not take it anymore from her until he spilled the beans, and he thereby missed all the red flags and warning signs and dangers that comes with "sleeping with the enemy'! This is the fate of those who are led by fanciful dreams and emotions rather than sechel or common sense or simply clear rational and logical thought based on facts and the history of who you are dealing with. For as the saying goes "the leopard does not change its spots and the zebra does not change its stripes"!
Ah, but the lures of a neighboring human being's seeming charm and beauty, feigned love and maybe even a misdirected missionary sense of winning a trophy enemy over to your side by converting them to the way you see the world and the values you live by can be intoxicating and misleading to say the least. Not just Israel's left, but most of the Israeli left and right establishments bought into this fallacy and farce being peddled by the Arab snake oil salesmen of Gaza and the 'West Bank' and indeed in Israel proper where Arab Israelis enjoy equal rights with Jewish Israelis with all the makings of a fifth column and a Trojan Horse! To be forewarned is to be forearmed!
In the end we know what happens to Samson: Delilah seduces him, he gives out the secret of his strength, he falls asleep, he is taken prisoner by the Philistines, they poke out his eyes, they make him into a slave, at a banquet in their pagan temple they bring him out to be taunted and he is placed between two big central pillars, he realizes his mistakes and the error of his ways and repents, he prays to God to return his strength one more time, he utters the immortal words תָּמוֹת נַפְשִׁי עִם פְּלִשְׁתִּים "Let me die with the Philistines" (Judges 16:30) and he pushes out the pillars he is holding on to and makes the entire Philistine temple in Gaza collapse killings thousands of Philistines together with him, then his body is retrieved for proper burial by his brethren.
This narrative sounds so much like what happened on October 7, 2023: The Israelis were seduced by the Arab Hamas Palestinians into thinking they desired peace over war and so Israel let its guard down. Somehow the enemy found out the secrets of Israel's strengths and weaknesses in its self-defense against intrusion from Gaza. Many Israelis are killed and kidnapped as prisoners by Hamas. Many Israelis are tortured and abused and brutalized by the barbaric Gazans. The global cabal of the enemies of the Jews and Israel rejoice and taunt the Israelis. Israel gets sudden shock therapy and is galvanized and mobilzes into action and the 2023 Hamas–Israel War begins and Israel fights back on the road to securing its borders and safeguarding its citizens again.
Hopefully many in the Israeli leadership and in Israeli society, as well as among the Jews of the world, will do Teshuva and repent the way that Samson did to come to their senses and regain their strength as their fighting force did and become a victorious people close to God.
There is another more general and universal lesson that Samson's life story teaches our own generation. Those are the dangers of intermarriage that stretches from the most ordinary of Jews to the upper echelons of Jewish communal leadership in our own times. In Israel there is the small phenomenon of Jewish Israeli women who marry non-Jewish Arab men.In America and the rest of the world where Jews live there is widespread assimilation, intermarriage and even apostasy as Jews convert to Christianity in large numbers and the intermarriage rate between Jews and non-Jews has skyrocketed to frightening proportions. The warning from the story of the failed marriage of Samson to the Philistine Canaanite woman of Timnah and his subsequent passionate relationship when he falls in love with Delilah is that ultimately intermarriage is doomed and is bound to not only fail but to backfire against those Jews who have drunk of the intermarriage poisoned hemlock and eaten of its forbidden fruits.
Samson is known in Judaism as שמשון הגיבור Shimshon HaGibor, meaning Samson the Mighty or Heroic. In spite of his liaisons with Philistine women, in the end he evidently learns his lessons of his personal failures and learns to put his trust in God only and thereby regains his former strengths and is able to inflict one final devastating defeat on the Philistines when he kills thousands of them by pulling down the foundations of their temple and thereby crushing them to death. The Hebrew word for "mighty" is גיבור (Gibor) and the Jewish Sages of the Talmud taught in the Mishna of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1) that "...איזהו גיבור? הכובש את יצרו" "Who is [a] Gibor (mighty, powerful)? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), 'Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit, than the captor of a city'."!
The Jewish People and Jewish History did not end with Samson but have continued for thousands of years after him to this very day always with vigor and vibrancy. Although Samson the individual died, the Jewish People has continued to live on and survive all the trials and tribulations, the challenges, wars, crusades, pogroms, exiles, genocides and holocausts and still live on as a strong, vibrant and special nation dedicated to Kiddush HaShem, Sanctification of God's Name and awaiting the Geulah Sheleimah, the Ultimate Salvation with the coming of the true Jewish Mashiach may it happen speedily in our days!
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.
He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]