Avraham ben Yaakov



The first word of Chapter 8 is VA-YEHI, "And it was." "We have a tradition handed down from the Men of the Great Assembly that wherever it says VA-YEHI, it is an expression of pain - VAI: 'And it was when Samuel was old. and his sons did not go in his ways'" (Megillah 10b).

When Eli had told Samuel that he MUST reveal his prophecy to him on pain of being cursed, even though Samuel did in fact reveal it, nevertheless the threatened curse had its effect, and Samuel, like Eli, suffered from having children who did not live up to his own high standards (Maccos 11a).

As in the case of Eli's sons, the flaw in Samuel's sons was more subtle than might appear from a superficial reading of our text. They may not have gone in Samuel's ways but this does not mean they were crude sinners. Their flaw was that unlike Samuel, they did not TRAVEL AROUND from center to center to judge the people. Instead they both sat at home in comfort in Beer Sheva - in the extreme south of the Land (when one of them at least should have set up in Dan in the north), forcing all who sought justice to travel all the way there. They also allowed their staff to take fat fees for legal services (Talmud Shabbos 56a). They "inclined after gain" (ch 8 v 3) - they were criticized for DEMANDING the tithes due to them as Levites instead of waiting for people to GIVE them (ibid.; cf. Hullin 133a).


"Set a king over us to judge us like all the nations. And the matter was evil in the eyes of Samuel" (vv 5-6).

" Israel had been given three commandments to fulfill after their entry into the Land: to appoint a king over themselves, to build the Temple and to destroy Amalek. If so, why were they punished when they asked for a king in the days of Samuel? Because they asked out of anger and not for the sake of the mitzvah" (Tosefta Sanhedrin ch 4).

The mitzvah to appoint a king is given in the Torah (Deut. 17:14-19), and Samuel's whole mission was to establish the kingship, which would inaugurate a period of divine glory and revelation through the Kingdom of God being reflected and enhanced by the kingdom on earth.

However, from our present text we see that the people had not yet reached the necessary level of understanding of the nature of the Torah kingship to be ready for kings like David and Solomon. Israel would have to endure a painful process of many years of war and civil strife in order to clarify the true meaning of the kingship.

Our rabbis taught that the elders of the people did ask Samuel for a king in the proper manner: "Give us a king TO JUDGE US " (v 5, i.e. to settle their disputes and make peace). However, it was the impetuous "people of the earth" (AMEI HA'ARETZ, ignoramuses) who were at fault, because it was they who said, ".and we also shall be LIKE ALL THE NATIONS." (v 20; Sanhedrin 20b). Some rabbis say the people secretly hoped that with a king instead of judges they would more easily be able to revert to idolatry, which indeed came about when Jeraboam ben Nevat rebelled against king Solomon and established the kingdom of the Ten Tribes.

The people of Israel today could save themselves much war and strife by seriously seeking to clarify for themselves the true purpose of having a sovereign state to govern their affairs and the true reason for wanting Mashiach.


God Himself commanded Samuel to accede to the people's request - for the time of the destined kingship had arrived - and ordered him to lay before them the laws of the kingship. Samuel wanted to shock this nation of independent land-owning small farmers into understanding the real implications of the Torah kingship by explaining the king's power over the people in terms that would have immediate tangible meaning for them. The king was going to be lord over the land, with the power to requisition the flower of the country's youth, males and females, for the glory of his court and to man his army, and the power to commandeer land, produce and other resources for his domestic and military needs. We will see in Kings I in the narrative about king Solomon how he did indeed use this power for the glory of God - he built His Temple - and for the glory of Israel and the House of David. But Samuel's warnings to the people that the king would be "tithing" (i.e. taxing) their seed and orchards and flocks etc. were intended to let them understand that all this would hit them hard where they would really feel it -- in their "pockets", as it were.

Samuel's address to the nation about the powers of the king is one of the primary sources in the written Torah for the laws of the kingship (as is the section in Deut. 17:14-20). These laws are discussed in the Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin (20bff) and are laid out in detail in Rambam (Maimonides), Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings chs 1-5.



In I Chronicles 8:33 the name of the father of Saul's father, Kish , is given as NER (= a "lamp") whereas here it is given as AVI-EL (I Samuel 9:1). "Saul attained the kingship in the merit of his grandfather, who used to light lamps for the benefit of the public. There were dark alleyways leading from his house to the Study House, and he lit lamps in them to light the way for the public. His name was AVI-EL but because he lit lamps for the general public, he merited to be called NER" (Vayikra Rabba 9). In other words, it was in Saul's very blood to bring Israel to study the Torah.


The story of Saul's cross-country search for his father's asses and how it brought him to the Seer who was to anoint him as king is another example of the heavily veiled allegory of the Navie (Prophet). Again it is the holy ARI (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) who opens a chink in the veil with his teachings in Sefer HaLikutim on I Samuel.

"Know that the asses (ATHONOS) correspond to the Ten Crowns of Impurity (the Keters of the Ten Sefiros of the unholy side of creation). And because Jacob sent asses to Esau, Esau's angel wrestled with him. The blow Jacob received on his right thigh causing him to limp brought about the cessation of prophecy. When the text says, 'And as to the asses. they have been found' (I Samuel 9:20), it means that the KELIPOS ("husks", forces of evil) that were scattered around the world had been 'found' - i.e. the source of their accusation against the holy side has been discovered and it is possible to rectify them.

"The secret of Jacob's thigh - it was the right thigh - is that it alludes to the Sefirah of NETZACH ("victory"), which was flawed by the Angel of Death (Samech Mem, Esau's guardian angel). Now it is from the Sefirahs of NETZACH-HOD-YESOD that prophecy comes, but when the prophetic spirit would descend and come to NETZACH, there was an intervening barrier closing up the channels through which the flow descends from NETZACH. For this reason 'The word of God was PRECIOUS (YAKAR, "heavy") and no vision burst through' (I Samuel 3:1). Because Jacob prostrated 22 times to Esau, NETZACH was very seriously flawed until BENJAMIN came - he was not yet born when Jacob prostrated to Esau. For this reason MORDECHAI (descended from Benjamin), rectified NETZACH and did not want to bow down to Haman.

"And he [Esau-Amalek] kept his fury for ever NETZACH" (Amos 1:11). I.e. Esau's fury is against NETZACH.

"The reason why Samuel is here called HA-ROEH, "the SEER" (I Samuel 9:9 etc.) and not the NAVIE, "prophet", is because now was the time for Prophecy to be rectified through the repair of NETZACH, but as yet the repair had not been carried out. Samuel, who was a Levite (GEVURAH, "might") had the power to repair it with Saul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, BEN YAMIN ("son of the RIGHT") - for it had been Jacob's RIGHT THIGH that was damaged.

" 'He will lead (YA'ATZOR) my people' (ch 9 v 17). The unusual word used here for leadership, YA'ATZOR, has the connotation, "he will stop, put on a brake". God did not say "he will RULE, (YIMLOCH)" because Saul was only able to put a temporary brake on the flaw and stop the evil Kelipah from ruling over NETZACH any more. But when Saul sinned with his failure to destroy the Amalekite king, the Kelipah came back and held sway again. It was only David who would be able to rectify the flaw in NETZACH. It was because Saul failed to rectify prophecy and holy spirit that he was attacked by an impure spirit and accordingly was not answered through the Urim VeThumim and the prophets. This was because his flaw lay in the sphere of prophecy and holy spirit.

"In the feast that Samuel made with the meat of the sacrifice at the Bamah (ch 9 vv. 22ff) he was sure to give Saul the portion that had been specially set aside for him - the THIGH of the animal - for this alluded to NETZACH, the "right thigh", i.e. the wellspring of prophecy, for this was what Saul was intended to rectify. The intention of Saul eating together with Samuel was to open the channel of prophecy, which is why immediately afterwards Saul saw a band of prophets prophesying." (ARI, Sefer HaLikutim).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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