Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Naso 5762

Wondrous Names

In Haftarah Naso ,Judges 13:2-25, we learn of the visitation of an angel of Gd to Manoakh and his barren and nameless wife (is there a connection there?) The angel tells the wife that she shall bear a son, and that she must refrain from wine and unclean things, as her son will be a nazarite, dedicated to Gd. The text tells us clearly it is a Malakh Adnai, an angel of Gd, but it seems our protagonists aren't so sure.

The wife is visited once alone, and she tells Manoakh she was visited by an "ish haelokim", a "man of Gd.". He prays to Gd that the "man of Gd" visit again. (Does he not trust his wife? Is the reported word of Gd's messenger from his own spouse insufficient and untrustworthy? Or are we just seeing a misogynistic layer painted on by later redactors or the culture at the time the book of Judges was written?)

Of course the angel returns and reiterates the promise and the instructions. (Notice the covenantal pattern here-promise AND instructions to be followed. Recall anything similar elsewhere in the Torah? :-)

And perhaps a little bit of the feminine point of view asserts itself, for the angel's response to Manoakh, when he asks what the son will need to do, it is a sort of curt "your wife knows what to do, I have told her." The angel neatly sidesteps Manoakh's question, which is focused more on how they should raise the child, than on the instructions of the angel to Mrs. Manoakh on how to behave, which is the topic at hand. Still, the angel does repeat the instructions to not drink wine or eat unclean foods.

Interestingly enough, although Manoakh asks the angel what rules must be observed by their as yet unborn son, he and his wife never confirm or promise to the angel that they will do as instructed, either for themselves or the as yet to be son. They simply seem overjoyed at their own good fortune. Not all that unusual behavior on the part of human beings, is it? You don't exactly find the Israelites constantly muttering "na'aseh v'nishma" all over the place, do you?

Showing that appropriate and oft modeled behavior of hospitality that dates back to Avraham, Manoakh offers to cook a meal for the man of Gd. The angel refuses the hospitality, and suggests that Manoakh offer up the food he was going to cook as a sacrifice to Gd.

At this point, perhaps, Manoakh begins to suspect this is no mere man of Gd. He asks "What is your name, so that when your words come to be we might honor you?" The clue that he is not simply asking to know the name of a man so that they might remember and honor him is in how the question is asked--not "mah shimkha-what is your name?"--as might be expected, but instead "mi shimkha--who is your name?"

And now we come to what prompted me to write this week about this haftarah Naso. The angel of Gd answers "Why is this, that you for my name, for it is my wonder." Now that's not the translation that anyone officially uses, but in plain meaning, that could be it. "Lamah zeh tish'al lish'mi, v'hu-feli." JPS translates "v'hi-feli" as "it is unknowable." But we all know this word, we recite it each and every day as part of the Mi Khamokha. "Feleh." Wonder, or wondrous things. Linguists can argue, because the spelling and pointing of "feli" is out, but certainly orally it sounds like the singular first person possessive form, "my wonder, " or, if you view it as a collective noun, "my wonders."

We humans are always seeking to know and understand Gd. Gd was even good enough to allow some of us to even know Gd's name. Yet how can we know the unknowable? How can we put a name to that which is Gd, or even that which might be Gd's angel?

Gd's name, or at least this angel's name is, according to this text, the wonder that is the universe, the wonder that is Gd, the wonder that is humanity, the wonder that just is. It's a name, an answer we never seemed satisfied with, yet perhaps the lesson to be learned here yet again is that it should be enough of an answer for us.

How many times have any of us observed something natural and wondrous and simply proclaimed to ourselves that this alone is proof of the existence of a force beyond ourselves? (I say it that way because not all of us automatically draw the conclusion that this force is Gd.) That is what Gd's angel is affirming here-that sense of awe and wonder- that is what Gd is, and we'd need not understand any more than that.

This does not mean that I will stop seeking to know more, stop trying to understand Gd better than I do now. Yet it does mean that I can continue on this lifelong search secure and acknowledging within myself that it is OK to keep looking even though I know I might never find the answer, or even learn more than I know now. That is what it means to me to know the Gd's name is Gd's wonder. And how appropriate that Gd created with words, and that we say "Blessed be the One who spoke and the world came into being."

What better thought to end this musing on, and enter into Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous Musings on this parasha

Naso 5761-Keeping Me On My Toes
Naso 5760-Bitter Waters
Naso 5759-The Fourth Fold

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