Haftarah Parshat Korah
(I Samuel 11:14-12:22)
June 8, 2002 in Israel
June 15, 2002 in the Diaspor
In the last verse of the haftarah, the prophet Samuel concludes his disapproval of the people’s desire for a monarchy on a positive note: “For the sake of His [God’s] great name, the Lord will never abandon His people, seeing that the Lord undertook to make you His people.” (1 Samuel 12:22) Rashi explains this verse to mean that since the people of Israel’s name has been associated with God’s name, He will save them so that the greatness of His name will not be diminished. Radak, the 13th century Provencal commentator, makes this point even more explicitly when he writes: “Even when you sin before God, He will not abandon you, since the reputation of His name is at stake. That is to say, since it is already known among the nations that God wants you to be His chosen people, if He will not be tolerant of your behavior and punish you or even destroy you on account of your sins, His name will be blemished…”
This verse, when contrasted with a similar verse found in the Psalms, presents an interesting theological dilemma noted in the following midrash: “One verse states: ‘For the sake of His great name, God will not abandon His people’ (1 Samuel 12:22). Another verse says [in contrast]: ‘God will not abandon His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance.’ (Psalm 94:14) Said Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman: ‘There are times when God saves the people of Israel in order to protect His reputation, while there are other times when He saves them for their own sake.’ Said Rabbi Eibo: ‘When the behavior of the people of Israel is meritorious, then He saves them for their own sake but when they are unworthy, He saves them for His own benefit.’ The rabbis commented: ‘In Israel, God saves His people for their sake; while in the diaspora, he defends them to protect His own reputation, as it is written: ‘For My sake, for My sake, I will do it.’ (Isaiah 48:11)
(adapted from Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2:11)
This passage teaches an important lesson about theological speculation in rabbinic times. The reflections on God’s motivations in saving Israel were shaped, in this midrash, by an attempt to reconcile what the rabbis saw as two conflicting Biblical verses. Their strategy was to make each verse represent a different situation so that they were no longer contradictory. Two alternative resolutions were offered. Each one had a different message, but both stressed God’s ultimate concern, albeit for different reasons. Rabbi Eibo emphasized the significance of Israel’s right acts in the divine scheme while the rabbis posited the merit of living in the land of Israel. Ultimately the theological postures of each were shaped both by the rabbinic belief in the consistency of the Biblical message along with the desire to share important values with their own and future generations.