Haftarah Parshat Korah (1 Samuel 11:14-12:22)
June 20, 2015 / 3 Tammuz 5775
Political corruption has plagued humankind since the advent of organized society. Where there is fear of dishonest behavior, there is also the potential for unjust accusations, and not even the greatest leaders were immune. Even the likes of Moses and Samuel were forced to fight off allegations of corruption. The prophet Samuel was so put off by such accusations that he addressed them in a rousing speech where he even called upon God to testify to his honesty: “He said to them: ’The Lord then is witness, and His anointed is witness, this day, that you found nothing in my possession’, and he responded (vayomer): ‘witness’. (1 Samuel 12:5)
We must immediately note that the response to Samuel’s charge is awkward. It would have been more appropriate for the response to have been in the plural, namely, the audience listening to his message should have resoundingly responded their acknowledgement of his honesty. Instead it reads in the singular, leaving room for interpretation. (It should be noted that the NJPS translation renders it “they” in the body of the text, probably following the Jewish Aramaic translation Targum Yonathan.) Other commentators attempt to make do with the singular form. Rashi places the response in the mouth of a “Bat Kol – heavenly voice”. (There will be more on this in a moment.) Rabbi David Kimche, on the other hand, in his pshat (plain meaning) interpretation, claims that the “he” refers to the “entire people”. Rabbi Joseph Kara, a younger contemporary of Rashi, places the response in the mouth of every single member of the people.
Rashi’s interpretation is based on the following midrash found in the Talmud (and elsewhere): “Said Rabbi Elazar: In three places the Holy Spirit appeared [in court]: in the court of Shem, in the court of Samuel of Ramah, and in the court of Solomon… ‘In the court of Samuel’, as it is written: ‘Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before His anointed: Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass . . . and they said: You hast not defrauded us nor have you robbed us, and you have taken nothing from anyone.’ And he said to them: ‘The Lord then is witness and His anointed is witness this day that you have found nothing in my possession,’ and He said: ‘[He is] witness.’ ‘And He said’; should it not be ‘And they said’? [But] it was a Bath Kol that came forth and said, ‘I am witness in this matter.’” (Makot 23b)
Sometimes justice will not be done by one’s fellows. In some cases, “uprightness” will only be measured before God and this must suffice for the upright person. The only requisite, obviously, is that it be true justice in God’s eyes (as it were!) and not a haven for false or misappropriated justice.
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.
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