Shofetim Chapter 14

Sefer Shofetim Chapter 14

Shimshon’s method of wreaking havoc on the Pelishtim is quite unorthodox. He becomes enamored with a Pelishti woman; over the objections of his parents (who do not see such a strange choice as part of the divine plan), he insists upon marrying her. One day Shimshon is attacked by a lion which he tears in half with his bare hands. Later he passes by the carcass of the lion only to find that some bees have settled inside it and it is now flowing with sweet honey, which he tastes himself and then brings home to share with his family. He tells no one of his encounter with the lion nor of his discovery of the unusual source of honey.

At the wedding feast, he challenges thirty of the groomsmen to answer a riddle, promising them thirty changes of clothes and thirty bedsheets if they can solve it. The riddle is “from that which eats comes food, and from the strong comes the sweet”, clearly a reference to the fierce lion that had become a veritable honeycomb. None of the Pelishtim could solve the riddle, and they pressured Shimshon’s new wife to ply him for the answer, threatening the lives of her family should she refuse.

On the seventh and last day of the festivities, Shimshon finally reveals to her the secret, which she smuggles to her fellow Pelishtim, allowing them to “win” the contest. Shimshon correctly accuses them of having wrested the solution from his wife illegally; however, honoring his word, he slays thirty Pelishtim, confiscates their clothing and bedsheets and delivers them to the “winners” as promised.

From this unconventional vignette, we develop the sense that Shimshon’s approach to confronting the Pelishtim is to remain within the bounds of “justifiable revenge” or “proportionate response”. He always maintains a veneer of fairness and judiciousness when he strikes, and he never strikes unless he is reacting to some provocation. Shimshon always provides his rationale and melodramatically expresses his indignation before making his moves so that it is clear that he has the right to do what he is doing.

In this way, Shimshon never openly “declares war” on the Pelishtim as a group, nor does he possess the authority to do so. He merely operates within the framework of what is considered in their society to be fair, appropriate and acceptable. By milking the loopholes of their dubious moral system and honor code to the extent possible, he inflicts maximum damage upon the enemies of Israel. His focus is not on the infrastructure, armies or government of the Pelishtim; rather, his target is the community of Pelishtim that he seeks to terrorize and harass so that their chokehold on the Jewish people is thereby loosened.