Haftarah Breshit – Mahar Hodesh
(I Samuel 20:18-42)
October 5, 2002
This year Parshat Bereshit coincides with the eve of Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan. The special haftarah for this Shabbat recounts an episode in the acrimonious relationship between King Saul and David which happened on the eve of Rosh Hodesh. In this particular episode, David arranged with his friend Jonathan, King Saul’s son, to check the strength of Saul’s animosity towards him. David decided to absent himself from the king’s festive Rosh Hodesh meals in order to test the king’s reaction. Jonathan’s assignment was to measure the king’s reaction and then to report back to David, who was hiding in the field. The two arranged a secret signal which would communicate the results of this test. The signal is noted in this verse: “Now I will shoot three arrows to one side of it [the Ezel stone] as though I were shooting at a mark, and I will order the boy to go and find the arrows. If I call to the boy, ‘Hey! the arrows are on the side of you’, be reassured and come, for you are safe and there is no danger, as the Lord lives! But if, instead, I call to the lad, ‘Hey! the arrows are beyond you’, then leave for the Lord has sent you away…” (1 Samuel 20:20-22)
Rabbi David Kimche, the 13th century Provencal commentator, makes note of an otherwise innocuous detail in Jonathan’s declaration. He points out that the three arrows must signify the three days that David was to hide in the field waiting for the results of the test. Rabbi David Altschuler, the 18th century Galacian exegete (Metzudat David) offers a more pragmatic explanations. He asserts that the purpose of the first arrow was to arouse awareness to the message; the purpose of the second arrow was to carry the message (either far or near); and the third arrow was to carry the message if the second arrow failed to provide the proper message.
Rabbi Meir Malbim, the 19th Polish commentator, saw in the three arrows an entirely symbolic message. Arrows are a symbol in Rabbinic literature for “lashon hara” (talebearing or slander). “Lashon hara” is also know as being “lisha tlitai- three tongued” – a symbol taken from the fact that a snake’s tongue looks as if it were three tongues when it darts from a snake’s mouth. (see Professor S. Lieberman’s Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, p. 192) The number three signifies that lashon hara harms three people because it causes death to the one who speaks it, the one who hears it and to its subject. For Malbim, the three arrows symbolically represent the cause of the quarrel between King Saul and David and the ultimate downfall of Saul’s kingdom, the destruction of his family and his line. This is a serious lesson to take into the new year.