Vayechi – Brute Strength

There is a mysterious phrase written in the siddur after Shachris, immediately following the Thirteen Principles of Faith. It states in Hebrew and Aramaic: “For Your salvation I do long, Hashem. I do long, Hashem for Your salvation. Hashem, for

Your salvation I do long.”

  “לישועתך קיויתי ד’. קיויתי ד’ לישועתך. ד’ לישועתך קיויתי.”

This phrase is based on verse in this week’s Torah Portion of Vayechi, which is the first part of the phrase “For Your salvation I do long, Hashem” (49:18). This sentence is then arranged in two different ways. The Rabbeinu Bachye on this verse states that the Kabbalists, who know various names of Hashem, say in their incantations that within this verse, spelled forward and backwards, is one of the Names of Hashem, which wards off enemies on the path and forces them to retreat in order that one can go on his way freely (if said properly).

This verse is part of the blessing Yaakov gave to his son, Dan, at the end of his life: “Dan will avenge his people, like one, the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a serpent on the road, a viper on the path, which bites the horse’s heels, so its rider falls backwards. For Your salvation I do long, Hashem” (Breishis 49:16-18).

The Rabbeinu Bachye and virtually all the other early commentaries say that Yaakov based this blessing on a prophetic vision of Dan’s descendant Shimshon, the last of the Judges. Shimshon was blessed with unusually great strength from birth, when his mother swore he would be a nazir for life. The Rabbeinu Bachye  said that Shimshon did not need anyone’s assistance, nor a sword, shield, bow and arrow, or any other weapon of war; rather, he attacked  the Philistines with a donkey’s jaw, as Shimshon is quoted as saying: ‘With a donkey’s jaw I killed a thousand men’ (Shoftim 15:15, 16). The Torah compares him to a snake for a number of reasons. One of them is because Shimshon did not battle his enemy like other kings or judges with great armies; rather, he went out by himself in sudden ambush, like a viper jumps out of its lair (v. 16, 17).

The Rabbeinu Bachye says that Yaakov ended his blessing towards Dan with a prayer: “For your salvation I do long, Hashem.” And in fact Shimshon, knowing he could not rely on his strength anymore, used this pasuk, pronouncing Hashem’s name inside it, at the end of his life in order to knock down the pillars and kill himself and all the Philistines gathered inside the temple where he was bound. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Daas Zekeinim has a different understanding of why Yaakov ended his blessing to Dan the way he did. “When Yaakov Avinu prophetically saw the might of Shimshon he said that even though he will be a triumphant, mighty warrior it is not right to praise his might. We actually find when he (Shimshon) praised himself and said ‘with a donkey’s jaw I killed a thousand men,’ immediately afterwards he felt like he was going to die of thirst until he acknowledged and said ‘you gave [the enemy] in to the hand of your servant as a salvation…’ (Shoftim 15:18). He acknowledged that his strength only came from Hashem. This is the intent of the verse ‘Dan will be a serpent on the road’, and never the less the might and victory is Hashem’s as it is written, ‘For Your salvation I do long, Hashem.’” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
It is implicit from the Daas Zekeinim that Yaakov, from the fact that he had to reinforce Dan’s blessing, and Shimshon, from the incident of thirst, were both impressed by Shimshon’s brute strength. Yaakov therefore had to remind himself and Shimshon required a sign from Hashem in order to prompt him to acknowledge that Hashem is the one who gives people the strength and ability to win wars.How could Yaakov been “fooled”, even for a slight instant, by Shimshon’s brute strength and success? First off, he saw it in a vision from Hashem, Himself. Furthermore, Yaakov was known as “the simple man, who lived in tents,” as opposed to Esav, “the hunter”. Meaning, Yaakov focused his life on learning Torah in the beis medrish and was unimpressed with Esav’s strength and wild outdoor life; why was he so  awed by Shimshon?

Indeed, why did Shimshon require a reminder? He of course knew that he was a nazir and that if not for the extraordinary gifts which Hashem had endowed him, he would not be strong at all. He was living a life in which he was constantly reminded of  his nazirite status; how could he forget where all his might came from?

We must say that the show of brute strength, with all the accompanying glitz and glitter of success, was so striking that it could impress even Yaakov one of the greatest believers in Hashem, even at a time of prophecy, albeit for a slight moment. And even though Shimshon was a judge, a leader of the Jewish people, and had a constant reminders of whence his power came, still he needed to be faced with death in order to  remind him that his success came from Hashem. The lesson being that we have to constantly reinforce ourselves with faith in Hashem.

Leave a Reply