Parshas Vayechi.




In this parsha, the blessings of Yakov to his children are described. Judging from the long commentaries to these verses, these prophetic blessings were quite obscure, but still a lot of information can be drawn from them. In the blessing to Dan, Yakov said: “Dan will judge his people[1] like one of the tribes of Israel[2]. Let Dan be a snake on the road, a viper on the path biting the horse’s heel, so the rider fall backwards. I am hoping for Hashem’s salvation.” What is hinted in the brocha and why is Hashem’s deliverance mentioned here?



According to our sages[3], the prophesy of Yakov applied to Shimshon, a judge of Israel who came from Dan. In fact, Shimshon from his early youth based his strategy on the words of Yakov’s blessing. The mother of Shimshon gave birth to him after being told by an angel that she will have a special child who will “start” saving the Jewish people from the Plishtim (Shoftim 13:5). The Plishtim had been probably the worst of our neighbors, oppressing us more than once throughout history. After all they were the closest neighbor, living right in the Land of Israel[4]. Shimshon knew that his deliverance from the Plishtim will only be partial. Examining the words of Yakov he realized that they hint to guerrilla warfare. Since his generation was not worthy of great miracles and wondrous deliverances from the hands of the enemy, Shimshon had to look for natural ways to fight the foe[5].


The most important condition in Shimshon’s struggle had to be that the Plishtim will not think that he is fighting for the Jewish people. After all, they could kill ten Jews for every one of their men killed. Had they suspected that Shimshon loves the Jewish people and cares for them, they could tie his hands by keeping some Jews hostage as “collateral”[6]. The only solution to the problem was to severe all ties with the Jewish people and to become a close friend of the Plishtim themselves. Shimshon had to show in the most obvious way that he had broken any connection to the Jewish nation. Then any fighting that he will do will become a personal matter rather than the Jewish revenge.


The clearest way for Shimshon to show that he has nothing to do with the Jews was to marry one of the Plishti women! According to our sages[7] Shimshon actually got his first wife converted. However, under normal circumstances a conversion for the sake of marriage is forbidden. Shimshon was following a very dangerous path: a sin Leshem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven). Under certain circumstances, as such a sin is deemed by our sages to be even greater than a mitzvah[8]. However, one of the conditions is that the person acting is not trying to derive any enjoyment from this act. This way, his act is considered to be under duress[9]. 


In general, our sages (Talmud, Sotah 9b) criticize Shimshon for going after his eyes. The reason[10] is that Shimshon’s acts were not just dedicated for the sake of delivering the Jewish people but had an element of personal pleasure[11]. In the end he got so accustomed to forming relationships with non-Jewish women that he even gave himself away to one of them[12]. He told her the secret of his strength: that his hair is never cut. As soon as she shaved of his hair, Shimshon’s tremendous strength vanished and he became an ordinary individual.


The Plishtim captured Shimshon, put out his eyes and brought him into their Temple. By that time his hair started growing again and he prayed to Hashem to be able to take revenge this one last time. His strength returned and he pulled down the beams of the Temple, killing himself and thousands of Plishtim.


Rabeynu Bachye (49:17) and Bereishis Raba (98:14) explain some of the hints of Yakov’s prophesy that were fulfilled by Shimshon. Shimshon waged guerilla warfare alone against the Plishtim, just as a snake coming quietly and unexpectedly and fighting against larger enemies. Just as a snake can be pacified using a charm, so too Shimshon was pacified by a charming woman. Just as a snake’s poisonous bite burns inside, so too Shimshon burned the fields of the Plishtim. Just as a snake has its whole strength in its head, so too Shimshon’s strength came from the hair of his head. Just as a snake’s poison can continue killing even after its death, so to Shimshon killed thousands as he died. Just as a snake bites at the very bottom but affects the entire body, so too Shimshon pulled the beams holding the Temple and the whole structure collapsed. Just as a snake kills without a sword, so, too, Shimshon killed without a sword[13]. Just as a snake is taking revenge, so did Shimshon.


The last point to discuss regarding this story is that of freedom of choice. This is a very old question asked by many thinkers: if everything is predicted, where is our freedom of choice? Moreover, since Hashem knows the future, how could he punish the sinners and reward the righteous? This ancient question is discussed in the Mishna in Pirkey Avos 3:15[14] (see Tosafos Yom Tov there); in Tikuney Zohar Chadash 89c, in the GR”A’s edition it’s on page 49, see GR”A’s commentary there; in Rambam (Laws of Repentance 5:5, see also Raavad and Ohr Sameach there)[15]; Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 7b; Teshuvos HaRivash, 118; Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh, Bereishis 6:5; Bereishis Raba 2:5 and Yafes Toar there. We will only slightly begin to understand this, if we consider that Hashem’s knowledge is not similar to the knowledge of a human being. Hashem is outside of, or above time. He created time, and for Him the future already happened. Even though the future to a large extent depends on our actions based on free choices, Hashem can look at the end of history and then predict the historical events to those at the beginning of history[16].  The prophecies are stated in such a manner that they can be fulfilled in different ways[17]. In general, the opposite of freedom of choice is not “knowledge” but “coercion”[18]. Hashem’s own knowledge does not force the future; the sinner is not forced to sin, nor is the righteous to do the commandments[19].


In the case of Shimshon, he was supposed to lead partisan warfare, but he did not have to sin. If he needed to marry a Plishti woman, he could have found one that was interested in Judaism and willing to convert “Leshem Shamayim”. Even if this was impossible, and he was forced to do a sin “Leshem Shamayim”, he had to work very hard not to be tempted and to realize all his life that this type of living is a “horaas shaa” – a special permission given for the time being[20]. The danger of sins “Leshem Shamayim” is that one gets accustomed to living not according to the law, which can usually lead to sins for their own sake[21]. As we mentioned, the first wife of Shimshon converted to Judaism. Later however he took non-Jewish women without even converting them[22]. In the end, he got so attached to his non-Jewish wife that he gave over his most treasured secret, she betrayed him and he lost his life. Our sages teach[23] that when Yakov foresaw Shimshon, he thought that he is the Moshiach. However when he realized his mistake, he prayed for Divine salvation: “For your deliverance I hoped, O Hashem”, just as we are still waiting for the true Moshiach!



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[1] The word “Dan” itself comes from judgment. Rachel named him this way, when she gave her maid to Yakov and the first child that was not Leah’s was born (Bereishis 30:6). In the context of this verse, some explain the brocha of Yakov as “Dan will fight for his people” (see Rashi and Ramban 49:16).


[2] This can also be translated as “like the special tribe of Israel”, meaning Yehuda (see Rashi 49:16).


[3] Targum Onkelos 49:18; Targum attributed to Yonasan 49:18; Talmud, Sota 9b; Bereishis Raba 98:13; Midrash Tanchuma , Vayechi, 12; Rashi, Ramban, Rabeynu Bachye, Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh on Bereishis 49:16; Radak on Shoftim 13:25. However Rashbam (Bereishis 49:16) holds that Yakov’s prophesy applied to the tribe in general, not to Shimshon in particular. It could be however that even Rashbam will agree that on the level of Remez (hint) the Torah is predicting Shimshon.


[4] The Plishti territory including their five cities (Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron) is part of the Holy Land. See Rashi on Bereishis 26:2 that Yitzchak was not allowed to leave the Holy Land and this is why during the hunger years he descended to Eretz Plishtim. Nothing changed since then, the people residing in that area (the Palestinians) still cause most problems to the Jewish people, the enemy from the within. Even the names of cities in this area did not change: Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza (Aza, spelled with “Ain” as the first letter, but the Europeans who can’t pronounce it changed it to “G”).


[5] See Malbim to Shoftim 14:4, Ralbag Shoftim 14:2. See also “Samson's Struggle” by Rav Arye Kaplan and Rav Gershon Weiss.


[6] In the same way the terrorists do today.


[7] See Talmud, Sota 9b, Yerushalmi Sota 7a, Ralbag, Metzudos Dovid to Shoftim 14:2, Rambam, Isurey Bia 13:16.  


[8] See Talmud, Nazir 23b. See also Hanhagos Tzadikim, advices of Rav Asher Hakohen, the ways of repentance, 3, in the name of Rabbi Chaim from Volozhin, a similar idea is printed at the end of Nefesh Hachaim, in his sayings, 84, also see below. 


[9] As a possible example one may consider a rabbinical court that is faced with an issue of a wife that may have betrayed her husband and possibly became forbidden to him. In order to issue correct judgment, the judges are presented with indecent photographs of the wife and her possible lover. The sages have to look at the pictures in order to make the decision of whether the husband has to divorce his wife. If however, a judge decides that he might as well enjoy staring at this, he will be considered a sinner rather than doing a mitzvah.


[10] See Talmud, Sota 9b, also see the Meiri there.


[11] To be sure, his only sin was going after the non-Jewish women. In all other ways he was totally righteous. The book of Shoftim states that he judged the Jewish people for 20 years. In order to be a Jewish judge, one has to be extremely knowledgeable in Torah and very righteous (see Rambam, laws of Sanhedrin, second chapter). Regarding Shimshon in particular, the Talmud says (Sotah 10a) that he judged the Jewish people like their Heavenly Father! One may question how Shimshon could “judge” the Jewish people when he tried to show the Plishtim he is no longer with the Jews. The answer is that he was not spied upon day and night. After getting into fights with Plishtim, he was living on the Jewish territory. The important goal was accomplished: Plishtim were trying to kill him but not the rest of the Jews. Note, for example, that when Rambam lived in Morocco, the Arabs assumed he was Muslim, and meanwhile he learned and taught Torah and practiced its commandments!


[12] See Talmud, (Sotah 9b) “she used to pull herself from under Shimshon during the intimate relations [and this is why he gave himself away]”.


[13] See also Shoftim 15:15.


[14] Everything is foreseen but free choice is given, see Rambam’s commentary there.


[15] See also Rav Yitzchak Aizek Chaver, Pischey Shaarim, Netiv Seder Partzufim, 12 based on a posuk in Chana’s prayer (Shmuel 1:2:3)  “Lo Niskenu Alilos” – “by Him all actions are NOT prepared” This is one of the places in the Torah, where the written word and the pronounced word are not the same. The word “Lo” is written “Lamed”-“Aleph” meaning “Not” but pronounced “Lamed” “Vav”- meaning “to Him”. It is thus read as “To Him all actions are known (or weighted)”.


[16] To an extent this can be compared to a movie recorded on a film. For the one watching the movie, the events will happen in order, but the one holding the entire film can scroll to any point in time and see what happens there.


[17] See also Rambam Laws of Repentance 6:5 and Raavad there; Ramban, Bereishis 15:14, see our commentary to parshas Lech Lecha).


[18] See Rav Saadia Gaon, Emunos Vedeos 4:4.


[19] See however Kisvei Arizal, (Shaar Hagilgulim, the 16th preface) that if in one Gilgul a person was righteous he may sometimes be promised not to sin in the next Gilgul. See also Vayoel Moshe 2:18-19 regarding how a minor sin can be sent to a person and in a way that it includes a mitzvah. Many obscure Midrashim can be explained based on this fundamental principle.


[20] See Rabbi Chaim from Volozhin, Nefesh Hachaim 3:7; see also Ramchal, Kinas Hashem Tzvakos, second part.


[21] See Pirkey Avos 4:2: “Run after a Mitzvah and away from sin. A mitzvah leads to another mitzvah and a sin leads to another sin”. This applies even to a sin leshem shamayim, and this is one of the reasons why this path is so dangerous, see Kol Eliyahu on Pirkey Avos.


[22] See Yerushalmi, Sotah 7a. This is why he was later taken captive to Gaza – in this city his spiritual fall started and he had relations with a non-Jewish woman (see Shoftim, 16:1).


[23] Bereishis Raba 98:14.