Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class
Hatzlelponi, wife of Manoach, mother of Samson


This week we looked at the Tanach's description of the mother of Samson, who was also the wife of Manoach. Her name, although it is not directly given in Tanach, was Hatzlelponi (more on this later).

I would recommend that, just as we did in the class, the reader review the 13th chapter of Shoftim (aka Judges) before reading this e-mail. We will be making frequent reference to the events of that text in this e-mail. This chapter may be found in a regular Chumash as the Haftorah for Parshas Naso, although that is missing the first verse.

The story of Hatzlelponi takes place soon after the story of Ruth, according to Midrashic sources. Ivtzan was a judge shortly before Shimshon, following the chronology in Shoftim, and the Gemara and Midrash identify Ivtzan as Boaz, who married Ruth.

[As an interesting fact, Tanach (Shoftim 12) mentions that Ivtzan/Boaz had 60 children. The Gemara (Bava Basra 91a) relates that, following local custom, Ivtzan/Boaz made feasts when he married his children off. The custom was for guests to reciprocate and invite their former hosts to the feasts for their own children's marriages. Ivtzan/Boaz did not invite Manoach to his feasts, according to the Gemara, because Manoach and his wife were childless and could never invite him back. As a punishment, Ivtzan/Boaz saw all 60 of those children die in his lifetime.]

The first verse in Chapter 13 informs us that the Jews acted evilly, and that Gd let them fall into the hands of the Plishtim for 40 years. The start of Plishti oppression coincides with the angel's appearance to Shimshon's parents; Shimshon reigned for 20 years, and never succeeded in overthrowing the Plishtim.

Commentators to Shoftim 13 indicate that Shimshon functioned as a guerilla, more or less. He kept the Plishtim at bay, but he didn't have real Jewish backup.

The Name "Hatzlelponi"
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5) says that Shimshon's mother's name was Hatzlelponi. This name appears in Divrei haYamim I 4:3, as the name of a woman from the tribe of Yehudah. [The Gemara in Bava Basra, in a slight textual variant of this Midrash, identifies her as Tzlelfonis.]

The Midrash relies on a few points.
    1. There is some indication that Shimshon was from the tribe of Yehudah ["KiAchad Shivtei Yisrael (Bereishis 49:16)" is a reference to Shimshon, and it is read as "kiMiyuchad beShivtei Yisrael," like the unique tribe - Yehudah], even though he is consistently identified in Tanach and Midrash as a member of the tribe of Dan. The Yehudah lineage is satisfied if Shimshon's mother is from Yehudah.

    2. Hatzlelponi is mentioned in Divrei haYamim without any elaboration; as a rule, the males are mentioned in genealogies, as the heads of families; Hatzlelponi stands out, and there must be a reason for mentioning her.

    3. The name, "Hatzlelponi," may be understood as a reference to seeing an angel. "Tzel" is a term used in the Torah when Lot sees an angel (Bereishis 19:8), and she sees an angel twice - hence "Hatzlel." "Poni" is "Ponah beMalach," she saw (or turned to) an angel.

I have not seen any sources dealing with the question of why Hatzlelponi's name was omitted from the account in Shoftim.

Hatzlelponi's husband, Manoach
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5) indicates that Manoach was righteous, based on the Tanach's language in introducing him. When people are introduced in Tanach with the phrase "his/her name was X," the language is either "Ushemo X (his name was X)" or "X Shemo (X was his name)."

Righteous people are introduced with the former structure - "Ushemo Mordechai," "Ushemo Boaz." Wicked people are introduced with the latter structure - "Naval Shemo," "Sheva ben Bichri Shemo." Manoach is introduced "Ushemo Manoach."

[It is worth noting that there appear to be several exceptions to this rule - "Ushemo Lavan" is one example, but there are many.]

The Midrash also mentions that Manoach's name, like his wife's name, hints at his sighting of an angel. Prophecy is termed "Menuchah," which is similar to "Manoach."

The Gemara (Berachos 61a) has a discussion about Manoach's learnedness. The Tanach mentions that Manoach "walked after his wife." We have a principle that, for reasons of sexual propriety, men should not walk directly behind women. [If it is impossible to avoid this, the man should at least avert his gaze.] This includes walking behind their own wives. As such, it would appear that Manoach was ignorant of this principle. However, one opinion in that Talmudic discussion defends Manoach, and explains that the verse may be read to mean Manoach followed his wife's advice.

The relationship between Hatzlelponi and Manoach seems to have had a couple of rocky points.

The Midrash, in various spots (for example, Derech Eretz 1:7 and Vayyikra Rabbah 9:9), mentions that there was a quarrel between the two of them regarding the cause of their childlessness. Due to this sensitive point, the angel who appeared to them and informed them that they would have a child was very careful in his language. When speaking to Hatzlelponi alone, the angel mentioned her infertility, but he did not repeat this when speaking before Manoach.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5) also points out Manoach's desire to see the angel for himself. The Midrash says Manoach didn't fully trust his wife's account of the angel's instructions. As such, the angel's first words to Manaoch were (Shoftim 13:13) to refer Manoach back to his wife's account of the instructions.

Hatzlelponi's righteousness
The Midrash fills in a little bit about who Hatzlelponi was, in addition to the genealogy supplied above.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5) points out that Hatzlelponi merited to see an angel twice, and that the angel came to her, specifically. Even when Manoach specifically prayed for the angel to re-appear, the angel appeared to Hatzlelponi, who then told Manoach that the angel was there.

The Midrash also points out that Hatzlelponi had righteous characteristics. People who are righteous rush to do things; she rushed to tell her husband about the angel.

Hatzlelponi also managed to keep her head about her when confronted by an angel (according to the view that she knew it was an angel), whereas Manoach was afraid they would die - see her rebuke to Manoach at the end of the chapter.

Pesikta deRav Kahana 20:1 lists 7 righteous, infertile women who were answered by Gd with a child, and Hatzlelponi is one of them. Otzar Midrashim (pg. 474) lists 23 stand-out righteous women from Tanach, and Hatzlelponi makes that list, too.

Who was the angel?
It isn't clear who, exactly, appeared to Manoach and Hatzlelponi. The text makes clear that Manoach didn't think of their visitor as an angel until the end, when the visitor disappeared on them, apparently "in the fire" of an offering they brought. Ramban (Bereishis 18:15) indicates that Hatzlelponi was unaware it was an angel.

The Midrash (Vayyikra Rabbah 1:1 and Midrash Tanchuma Shelach 1:1) presents two possibilities as to the identity of their visitor. Either it was an angel, and they thought it was a prophet because prophets' faces light up when presenting prophecy, or it was actually a prophet - Pinchas.

Next week, Gd-willing, we will learn about Doeg the Edomite.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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