Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vineyards as a Motif in the Bible

There are many laws in the Torah concerning vineyards- the Nazirite laws, first fruits, vineyards as a gift to the people, the Jews compared to the vineyard of God.

Aside from these general laws concerning vineyards, however, vineyards crop up in stories. And as a motif, they symbolize, foreshadow or are connected to unhappiness.

There are three incidents (two more clear, one tangential) in Tanakh where vineyards are connected to unhappiness.

1. Noah's planting of a vineyard, his subsequent drunkenness and the episode with his sons

2. Navos and Achav (Achav desires Navos' vineyard, Jezebel acquires it for him through bringing false witnesses against Navos and having him killed)

3. Samson's walking through the vineyards of Timnah, meeting the lion, and on his return journey eating the honey from the lion's carcass

I personally find the vineyard-motif interesting. In fact, there's almost a progression in the way the vineyard affects people. Noah is guilty of actually drinking the wine made from the fruit of the vineyard (and becoming drunk) while Navos comes to grief simply because he owns the vineyard, and Samson sins simply because he walks through the vineyard (exposing himself to temptation, the Midrash adds, that he should not have, being that he was a Nazir) and happens to come across the lion, later eating honey from its carcass (incorrect on his part.) From drinking the wine to owning to walking through, the vineyard's effect on people (whenever it comes up in story-form) is that of foreshadowing, of an association with unhappiness and sadness.

Slightly off-topic now- have you ever noticed the similarity between the wording of Samson's sin by the lion and the first sin, that of Adam and Eve?

Compare, by Samson-

    ט וַיִּרְדֵּהוּ אֶל-כַּפָּיו, וַיֵּלֶךְ הָלוֹךְ וְאָכֹל, וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל-אָבִיו וְאֶל-אִמּוֹ, וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם וַיֹּאכֵלוּ; וְלֹא-הִגִּיד לָהֶם, כִּי מִגְּוִיַּת הָאַרְיֵה רָדָה הַדְּבָשׁ.

    9 And he scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went, and he came to his father and mother, and gave unto them, and they did eat; but he told them not that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion.

to the verses by Adam and Eve:

    ו וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל.

    6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.

Interesting, isn't it? Samson eats the honey, then gives it to his mother and father (not telling them of its forbidden origin.) Eve eats the honey, then gives it to Adam and all the beasts (according to the Midrash) and, according to some interpretations, not telling Adam of its forbidden origin either.

Although, of course, if I'm engaged in comparisons, I have to compare Samson to David as well:

By David-

    לד וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-שָׁאוּל, רֹעֶה הָיָה עַבְדְּךָ לְאָבִיו בַּצֹּאן; וּבָא הָאֲרִי וְאֶת-הַדּוֹב, וְנָשָׂא שֶׂה מֵהָעֵדֶר.
    34 And David said unto Saul: 'Thy servant kept his father's sheep; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock,

    לה וְיָצָאתִי אַחֲרָיו וְהִכִּתִיו, וְהִצַּלְתִּי מִפִּיו; וַיָּקָם עָלַי--וְהֶחֱזַקְתִּי בִּזְקָנוֹ, וְהִכִּתִיו וַהֲמִיתִּיו.
    35 I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth; and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.

and by Samson-

    ה וַיֵּרֶד שִׁמְשׁוֹן וְאָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ, תִּמְנָתָה; וַיָּבֹאוּ, עַד-כַּרְמֵי תִמְנָתָה, וְהִנֵּה כְּפִיר אֲרָיוֹת, שֹׁאֵג לִקְרָאתוֹ.
    5 Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnah, and came to the vineyards of Timnah; and, behold, a young lion roared against him.

    ו וַתִּצְלַח עָלָיו רוּחַ יְהוָה, וַיְשַׁסְּעֵהוּ כְּשַׁסַּע הַגְּדִי, וּמְאוּמָה, אֵין בְּיָדוֹ; וְלֹא הִגִּיד לְאָבִיו וּלְאִמּוֹ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה.
    6 And the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as one would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand; but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.

To compare Samson and David is easier than comparing Samson and Eve- Samson and David were both men of great strength, leaders of the people, began their respective careers with the slaying of a lion barehanded, fought multitudes through skill, strength and cunning (compare Samson's riddles to David's message about Uriah), and both were betrayed by people very close to them- Samson by his wives- both Timnah, in her being given to another man, and Delilah, in her capturing him- and David by his sons, both Avshalom and Adoniyahu, who rebelled against him and tried to usurp the throne. (David also had his wife- Michal, daughter of Saul- taken from him and given to another man, but he reclaimed her and the man she had been given to had not touched her/ cohabited with her, so it ends a bit differently.) Samson and David are actually very, very much alike.

Perhaps David represents the completion of Samson...after all, he does have at least one son who doesn't betray him, Solomon. That's a sad reading of David's story, but an interesting one.


Irina Tsukerman said...

OK, sorry I'm not addressing the point of the post, but I have to say your blog looks fantastic! I love it!!!!

Ezzie said...

Woah. Different look, that's for certain...! :)

Anonymous said...

What do you suppose Sarai said to Avram when he announced their move?

Looking Forward said...

one question, why on earth would honey from a lion be forbiden? honey is honey after all.

didn't bees come and place the honey in the lion? (that's what i remember but i may be entirely wrong)

what's so forbiden about it?

Lab Rab said...

Don't forget Isaiah 5 and Tehillim 80 - the Jewish people as God's vineyard.

I love the new look. Titchadshi!

Chana said...

Lab Rab,

Obviously you didn't click on all my links. My very first paragraph references Isaiah 5! :)

(But that's all good. Thanks for the compliment on my layout!)