Haftarah Parshat Korach (1 Samuel 11:14-12:22) outside of Israel
July 9, 2016 / 3 Tammuz 5776
Please note: In Israel we read Parshat Hukkat
Samuel was the prophet who introduced the institution of monarchy as the form of governance over the nation of Israel. He, however, exhibited a certain ambivalence toward this institution. At first, he seems to have been an enthusiastic advocate but quickly turns cynical. His cynicism was driven, in part, by his sense of feeling rejected as the people’s leader, but his objection also seems to have been theological, namely, that the appointment of an earthly king might interfere with the people’s acceptance of God as the true “King.”
In order to remind the people of God’s role in their lives, he takes recourse to a short recitation of God’s redemptive role in their history: “And Samuel said to the people: ‘It is the Lord who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your ancestors out of Egypt. Come, stand before the Lord while I cite all the kindnesses that the Lord has done to you and your ancestors. When Jacob came to Egypt, your fathers cried unto the Lord, and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought forth your ancestors out of Egypt, and settled in this place. But they forgot the Lord their God, and He gave them over into the hand of Sisera, the military commander of Hazor, into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. And they cried to the Lord, and said: ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord, and have served the Baalim and the Ashtaroth; but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve You.’ And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you dwelled in safety. And when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon was advancing against you, you said to me (Samuel): ‘No, we must have a king reigning over us’; though the Lord your God was your king. Well, here is the king that you have chosen, and whom you have asked for; and, behold, the Lord has set a king over you.’” (12:6-12)
Samuel expresses a real reticence to the people’s dependence on human kings. He seems acutely aware of the potential deification of such a leader and of the potential for blind obedience which this might entail. In our day where we see “leaders” on the right and left who cast an almost hypnotic spell over their followers with promises of illusory “redemption”, one has a real sense of how right Samuel was in issuing his warning to the people to have a critical eye is choosing earthly leaders.