Posts tagged " Samson "

The Harder They Fall

October 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

In 1956, Humphrey Bogart played sportswriter Eddie Willis in the last movie he made, The Harder They Fall.  After many ups and downs, Bogart’s character achieves greatness.  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t want to try too hard because I don’t need to be wildly successful,” or, “I don’t want to rise too far because the tallest tree catches the wind”?  Many of us have impeded our own progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall.

While there may be some good reasons not to clamber up the cliff, that old Humpty Dumpty rationale isn’t it. Impeding our progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall leads to not reaching our potential, a crime against ourselves and our Creator. It is so easy to succumb to wrong-headed thinking and sabotage our own potential that Scripture projects a powerful message to deter us.

Whenever a specific phrase is found in more than one location in Scripture, we are intended to compare and contrast the instances in which it appears.

For instance, the phase:   הִנָּ֥ךְ הָרָ֖ה וְיֹלַ֣דְתְּ בֵּ֑ן

appears in two places in the Bible; once in connection with Abraham’s first son, Yishmael, and again in connection with Samson.

The phrase has two meanings:

Behold you have conceived and will give birth to a son
(Yishmael; Genesis 16:11)

and

Behold you shall conceive and will give birth to a son
(Samson; Judges 13:5)

Since the tense of the English translation varies, many people with no access to Hebrew (and no rabbi) remain oblivious to the fact that both verses contain the identical phrase.

In fact, these are the only two instances in the Tanach of an angel directly informing a woman that she will soon give birth.  But that is where the similarities end. Among many other differences, the two sons marry differently.

Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, finds her son a wife:

…and his mother took him a wife from Egypt
(Genesis 21:21)

Samson finds his own wife, despite his parents’ disapproval of her (but in concert with God’s plan):

…get her for me as a wife
(Judges 14:2)

Yishmael’s life follows a steady trajectory from his birth in Genesis 16 until his death in Genesis 25.

Samson’s life is clearly divided into two sections.

From his birth in Judges 13 until the end of Judges 15, we see the Lord is with him constantly.

The second part of Samson’s life begins with him consorting with a harlot (Judges 16:1) and concludes with his death (Judges 16:30). During this time the Lord appears to have abandoned him.

Contrast the two phrases which conclude the two parts of Samson’s life:

And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
  (Judges 15:20)

…and he judged Israel twenty years. 
(Judges 16:31)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that during the first half of his life his purpose and mission was defeating the Philistines and protecting Israel from them.  During the second part of his life, he largely forgot his mission.

Yishmael, even though he and his progeny were promised blessing by God, lived a largely uneventful life.

Samson, the heroic Hebrew Judge, lived a turbulent life the beginning of which he lived in accordance with God’s wishes and enjoying His blessings.  Tragically the latter part of his life was lived without his mission, without God, and without His blessings.

The contrast is between two men both of whose births were heralded by an angel and both of whom were blessed.  One became an ordinary man who never achieved any great good and never did any great wrong. The other became a larger-than-life figure, a giant man with giant abilities and giant appetites.  He played a vital role in Israel’s history, achieving enormous triumphs but also sinking to tragic depths.

Samson remains a Hebrew hero; flawed but heroic.  His passion for life led him to heights and his weaknesses led to his downfall.  But it wasn’t inevitable and he serves as a far better model than Yishmael.

God created us with the potential for greatness.  We all possess the potential for doing great good, but also for failing disastrously.  Being great doesn’t mean never desiring to do wrong or never doing wrong.  It means developing our resistance to wrongdoing.  With the lesson of Samson fresh in our minds, we can throw ourselves into the struggle for greatness confident that we will reap its blessings and fight its dangers.

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Character, Not Chromosomes, Is the Culprit

December 6th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

Like English cuisine, French fortitude, and Italian military, the term toxic masculinity is an oxymoron.  If it is toxic, it’s not masculine and if it’s masculine it isn’t toxic.  Okay, I was joking about those old national slurs (I apologize, you social Stalinists, yes, I know it wasn’t funny!) But think of the phrase ‘cowering courage’.  Again, if you cower you’re not courageous, and if you’re courageous you don’t cower.  If you’re masculine, you’re not toxic; no, you’re a colossal asset to your family, your community, and your country.

As the brave feminist professor, Camille Paglia, put it in her 1990 book, Sexual Personae, “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.”  Her point: most of the dangerous and grueling jobs that make our comfortable lives possible are done by men.  Yet we’ve heard this mendacious phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ repeatedly uttered by hysterical pundits of both genders in the context of horribly behaved men in entertainment, politics and news media.  They usually intend more than a wisp of a suggestion that all men manifest ‘toxic masculinity’. 

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Say Little and Lead Much

March 21st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

Leaders enjoy many benefits.  People seen as leaders get promoted and opportunities come their way.  Parents whose children respect them as leaders have more functional families.   But how do you begin the process of getting others to see you as a leader?

We have all seen leadership in action.  Perhaps one participant at a meeting emerges as the clear leader of the group.  Or people listen more attentively to one person than to another.  Groups coalesce around the one individual who is regarded as more authoritative than anyone else.

I’m sure you’ve seen parents who enjoy such excellent rapport with their children that obedience is almost automatic.  It is clear that the children view the parents as leaders.  Authentic leadership skills that are effective in a work environment are also effective in a family or social environment.  We just need to know what these skills are.

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Wonderful Wives – Lesser Husbands

September 7th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Wildly unpopular as the observation may be, the overwhelming majority of people who get into serious trouble with the police share certain important demographic similarities.  These three characteristics are the only ones that matter: these people are male, they are not married, and few were raised in a stable home environment by a mother and father married to one another.

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Believe It or Not

July 27th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

 

“What
do you do for a living?” asked my seatmate on the flight to Dallas. “Well,” I
responded, “My wife and I create unique and terrific products that make ancient
Jewish wisdom accessible and useful to everyone. How about you?”

 

He
answered, “I’m an accountant and I can’t wait to retire.”  I told him how sorry I was to hear that and
why I wrote a book starting off with why one shouldn’t describe one’s
occupation as “making a living” and ending with why one shouldn’t retire.

 

We
both enjoyed the remainder of the flight discussing how important are the
beliefs you hold about your work. 
Extracting a Bible from my briefcase, I showed him the following account
from the book of Judges, chapter 16:

 

When
Delilah entreated Samson to share the source of his strength, he lied to her
saying that if the Philistines shackled him with wet string his strength would
fail him.    When she persisted, he lied
again.  If only she would bind him with
new ropes, he explained, he would be like other men. She continued nagging and
Samson explained that if his hair was braided he would weaken.  For the third time he lied to her.

 

Delilah
persevered.  Finally, exasperated, Samson
truthfully said that if his head was shaven, his strength would leave.

 

Delilah
saw that he had told her all that was in his heart

(Judges 16:18)

 

Why
did she believe him?  After being lied to
three times, she should have been highly suspicious.  Yet, Delilah was so confident, that she
summoned the Philistine officers to witness Samson’s fall.

 

Contrast
Delilah’s credulity with Jacob’s reaction to his sons:

 

And
they told him that Joseph was alive and that he ruled

over
all Egypt but his heart rejected it, for he did not believe them
.

(Genesis 45:26)

 

Earlier
in Genesis 37, the brothers misled their father into believing that Joseph was
dead.  Not surprisingly, when they
returned from Egypt to announce the astounding news that Joseph was alive,
Jacob was skeptical. After lying, most people are not believed.

 

Yet,
the question remains. How did Delilah recognize that Samson was finally being
honest while Jacob did not believe that his sons were telling the truth even
though they were?

 

Ancient
Jewish wisdom points out the most important distinction between the two
examples.  Samson knew he was lying when
he gave Delilah three false explanations for his strength.  However, when Joseph’s brothers allowed Jacob
to draw the conclusion that Joseph was dead, they actually believed that to be
true.  After all, what chance of survival
did Joseph have upon being sold as a slave in Egypt?

 

There
are two kinds of liars: those who know they are lying and those who believe
their own lies.  Joseph’s brothers
believed their own lie thus Jacob had trouble discerning when they spoke truth.

 

Samson
knew that he was lying to Delilah those three times, which made his truthful
statement sound quite different.

 

Polygraph
machines or lie detectors are used by law enforcement agencies because people
who know they are lying have physiological reactions which can be detected.  These subtle body signals can also be sensed
by some people.  However, it is almost
impossible for polygraphs or sensitive individuals to detect a lie when the
liar believes what he is saying to be true. 
Belief is so powerful that it can even make a lie behave like the truth.

 

Happily,
the power of belief can be harnessed for good. 
A coach uses it before a game when he helps his team believe it will
win.  To be successful, sales
professionals must believe in the quality and value of their product or
service.  To thrive in our professions,
each of us needs to believe in the value and morality of how we spend our days.
Work is not simply what we do as we aim for retirement.

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