Haftarah Parashat Toldot / Mahar Hodesh
1 Samuel 20:18-42
November 18, 2017 / 29 Heshvan 5778
With the attention of our haftarah focused on the interaction of David with Jonathan, King Saul becomes almost a secondary character. Still, he is certainly the great tragic hero of the haftarah and his behavior is indicative of this description.
Saul is deservedly troubled by David’s threat to his rule. After all, David is a rising star who has established his military prowess. He is popularly acclaimed and is favored in the royal court, as well as being the beloved friend of Jonathan, the king’s son and heir apparent. From Saul’s standpoint, David is sure to usurp his position.
And if all of this was insufficient to disturb Saul’s equilibrium, Saul has a dark secret to which only he is privy. He knows that his position as king is precarious since the prophet Samuel has informed him that God has decided to relieve him of his position on account of his mishandling the command to kill Agag, the king of the Amalekites.
This burden weighs heavily on Saul’s shoulders, and his anxiety boils over in how he relates to David and Jonathan. His outbursts are not without good reason. Still, they exacerbate the quandary in which he finds himself. Saul feels boxed in with no way to ameliorate his condition. Instead of building alliances with David and with his son, both of whom treat him with the utmost respect and dignity, he alienates them and exacerbates the troubles he has brought upon himself. He has become his own worst enemy in his downward spiral, falling prey to his own negative attitude.
Saul’s behavior provides a valuable lesson for all of us. Hopefully, most of us will avoid the kind of dark predicament in which Saul finds himself, but no one is spared difficulties in life and we will be judged, and will judge ourselves, by how we handle them. Saul allowed his “darkness” to conquer him rather than to take control of himself, master his assets, and use them as a means for making the best of his situation instead of being self-destructive.
Saul is the author of his own fate as are we all. Tragedy did not befall him. He turned his life into a tragedy. May awareness of his story help us avoid the same pitfalls.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: