Avraham ben Yaakov
I SAMUEL CHAPTER 12
* * * I Samuel 11:14-15 and 12:1-22 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Korach, Numbers 16:1-18:32 * * *
Samuel's address to all Israel assembled in Gilgal to "renew the kingship" (ch 12 vv 1-25) displays an apparent ambivalence about the kingship. It is a Torah mitzvah to appoint a king, yet Samuel castigated the people for asking for one even though he himself appointed him. This is because Samuel saw that the people's conception of the nature and purpose of the kingship as being primarily for the sake of what today is called "national security" was inherently flawed. His intent in his address was to correct their misconceptions.
A LESSON IN GOOD GOVERNMENT
"I have become old" (v 2). Samuel was only 52 when he died, but the rabbis said that "old age jumped upon him" so that he should not see Saul's destined death in his lifetime (Taanis 5b).
In his "retirement farewell" address to the whole people Samuel asked them to testify to his impeccable integrity throughout the years he ruled, neither oppressing nor exploiting the people and never taking bribes or twisting justice. The rabbis said that Samuel was independently wealthy (Nedarim 38a) which should perhaps have made him less susceptible to the temptations of corrupt government, yet even the ownership of substantial wealth has not stopped numerous past and contemporary government figures from flagrantly pursuing their private interests through their endeavors in the "service" of the public. None of the assembled Israelites could deny Samuel's integrity, ".and HE SAID [I am] a witness" (v 5) Based on the use of the singular verb at the end of verse 5 where we would have expected the plural - "and THEY (the people) said" - the rabbis taught that a BAS KOL (lit. "daughter of a voice" - a heavenly "echo") proclaimed, "I AM THE WITNESS". Even Heaven could testify to Samuel's absolute integrity. Perhaps the reason Samuel felt no need to take from others was that he was truly wealthy - i.e. satisfied with his portion (Avos 4:1) - which cannot be said for the power-hungry, wealth-seeking "leaders" of today.
THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
The key point in Samuel's sweeping survey of the history of Israel is that in Egypt , "your fathers CRIED OUT to God." (v 8) and in the Land, after being "sold" to their enemies, "they CRIED OUT to God and said, 'We have sinned.'" (v. 9). The lesson is that when Israel turns to God, they are saved, but if they put their trust in some powerful king or government or military strength alone, they are abandoned.
Samuel compares Moses, Aharon and himself in their generations to "Jerubaal, Bedan and Yiftach" in theirs. Jerubaal is Gideon, while Bedan is Shimshon (Samson), who was from the tribe of DAN (=BeDaN, "IN Dan"). Compared to Moses, Aharon and Samuel the prophets, Gideon, Jephtah and Samson were KALEY OLAM, "lightweights", yet Samuel mentions them together - teaching that even though Israel's Torah leaders in the later generations may seem much less authoritative than the outstanding giants of the past, we must still rely on our leaders if they truly speak in the name of the Torah (see Rashi on v 11).
A RAINSTORM AT HARVEST TIME
"And Samuel CALLED to God, and God gave thunderclaps and rain on that day" (v 18). Samuel gave the people a most frightening, practical demonstration of the great power of prayer in order to prove his point that the strength of the people of Israel in the face of all their enemies lies only in CRYING OUT TO GOD.
In Israel the rainy season comes to an end in Adar (March) with only a few late showers in Nissan (April), and by the time of the wheat harvest, which is after Pesach during the months of Iyar-Sivan (May-June) any rain is a freak occurrence. Indeed rain after Nissan is a curse (Taanis 12b) because it spoils the wheat. Nevertheless, when Samuel called upon God, He answered him at once. Samuel's purpose was to shock the people into understanding that their entire salvation depended only on prayer. He was also was hinting to them that just as his few words of prayer had the power to unleash a terrible storm, so too their few wrongly-motivated words in requesting for a king could let loose a torrent of destructive consequences (Me'am Lo'ez). We need to know what we should be praying for (which we learn from the Torah), and then we need to pray for it.
BEN-SHANAH SHA'UL BE-MOLCHO (ch 13 v 1). The literal meaning of the Hebrew words is: "Saul was ONE YEAR OLD when he reigned", although the commentators explain that the intent is that the "renewal of the kingship" described in the previous chapter took place a year after Saul's induction as king. However, the rabbis darshened from the literal meaning of these words that Saul was LIKE A ONE YEAR OLD babe when he became king, because just as a baby is clean of all sin, so a leader is forgiven all his sins on his induction (and from other verses they learned that so too a sage on his induction and a bridegroom - and his bride - on their wedding day are forgiven all their sins).
The same verse also states that Saul's reign over Israel lasted only two years (v 1), at the end of which he died in battle against the Philistines. This may seem surprising when we consider that the nineteen chapters from here to the end of I Samuel seem to cover very great variety of incidents which one might have expected to have taken place over a longer period of time. We should bear in mind the timeframe as we proceed with our study of the later sections of this book.
In verses 2-3 we are first introduced to one of the most noble characters in the Bible, Saul's son Jonathan, who should have inherited the kingship, and who displayed spectacular boldness and courage from the very start of his career by assassinating the Philistine governor of the Benjaminite territories - emblem of the foreign oppressor -- thereby triggering the Philistine war to quash the Israelite "rebellion". Despite the fact that Jonathan "lost" the kingship to David, he showed not the faintest trace of jealousy of his beloved friend, for whom he was ready to endanger his very life.
RaDaK (on verse 2) notes that from the beginning of the book of I Samuel until ch 18 v 1 his name is written as YONASAN except for two occasions (ch 14 vv 6 & 8), where it is written as YE-HO-NASAN, as it is from ch 18 v 1 onwards. In Hebrew the difference is the result of the addition of only one letter - a HEH. The addition of this letter, as in the change of Abram to Abraham and the addition of a YUD in the name of Pinchas, indicates the attainment of a higher spiritual level.
THE PHILISTINE OPPRESSION
Chapter 13 illustrates the dire plight of the Israelites under Philistine "occupation" in the times of Saul and Samuel. While the Philistines could field an army of 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen and "people like the sand of the shore of the sea in multitude" (v 5), the disorganized Israelite small farmers had been intentionally disarmed by their foreign masters, who banned the Hebrews from engaging in any kind of metalwork so as to be unable to make swords and spears (v 19). The Israelites were forced to go down to the Philistines to repair their plows and other agricultural implements (v 20) or else they had to make do with the most primitive self-help methods to sharpen their instruments (v 21, see commentators). [Ironically, contemporary Israel is one of the world's leading weapons manufacturers, yet the nations of the world led by the country's closest ally generally prevent Israel from actually using any of her sophisticated armory with real effect, thus leaving the people of the country at the mercy of enemy rockets and missiles etc.]
SAUL: FLAWED OR TOO PERFECT?
It is hardly surprising that most of the people felt completely helpless and went into caves and holes, etc. (v 6) or emigrated to safer areas (v 7). Even when Saul gathered his bands at Gilgal to wait for his SECOND meeting there with Samuel as instructed by the prophet (see ch 10 v 8 and yesterday's commentary thereon), people started deserting and scattering (ch 13 v 8). Saul had been commanded not to sacrifice at Gilgal but to wait for Samuel to do so on the seventh day. However, when Samuel did not arrive on the morning of the seventh day, Saul felt compelled to stall the people's increasing restiveness by officiating at the sacrifice himself. He was not at fault for serving at the Altar even though he was not a priest, because a ZAR (non-priest) is permitted to serve at a BAMAH. (Indeed Samuel himself was not a priest but a Levite.) Saul's error was to succumb to popular pressure and stop waiting for Samuel, even though the latter had prophesied that he would arrive, which he did, albeit late in the day. Samuel's delay was a very hard test for Saul, but the Torah writes that the king "must not turn aside from the MITZVAH to the right or the left in order that he may extend his days." (Deut. 17:20), and since the same passage previously states that he must "keep all the words of this TORAH", we infer that the MITZVAH can only refer to the order of a prophet, which is also from God (see Rashi on v 14). Unlike democratic politicians, the leader of Israel must not pay attention to VOX POPULI but only to the word of God and His prophets.
Paradoxically, the rabbis stated that Saul was deposed from the kingship not because he sinned but because he was TOO PERFECT. "Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel, Why did the kingship of the house of Saul not endure? Because it contained no reproach (i.e. Saul's pedigree was impeccable), for R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Shimon son of Yehotzedek, A leader is only appointed over the community if he has a box of unclean creatures hanging from his back so that if he becomes too arrogant they can say to him, Take a look behind you." [Thus David's great grandmother wasn't even born Jewish as she was a Moabitess, and this was the "box of unclean creatures" hanging over his back!!!] (Yoma 22b).
Despite having been told by Samuel that his kingship would not endure, Saul did not flinch from carrying out his duty and going to war against the Philistines despite the fact that NONE OF HIS PEOPLE HAD ANY WEAPONS (v 22). Only Saul and Jonathan miraculously found weapons (Rashi on v 22), and with this they prepared to face the Philistine hosts at Michmass.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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