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Korah 5765

Parshat Korach
(1 Samuel 11:14-12:22)
July 2, 2005

Samuel\’s reconciliation with the people\’s desire to have a king is filled with angst. He feels betrayed by their lack of faith in his ability to lead them and sees in their demands a breech not only in their trust in him but also in their faith in God. He addresses them first with a demand that they affirm his integrity as a leader and afterwards he recounts for them their sacred interaction with God, reminding them that God has provided them with proper leadership whenever the exigencies required it and therefore there was no need for a king: \”And the Lord sent Jerubaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the enemies around you; and you dwelt in security.\” (1 Samuel 12:11)

In Samuel\’s proclamation, two of the figures mentioned are readily identifiable (Jephthah and Samuel) while the other two are less well known (Jerubaal and Bedan). Jerubaal can be identified as the second name used for Gideon, another of the major figures in the book of Judges (7:1). Bedan, however, is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The Septuagint (the early Greek translation) identifies him with Barak; the rabbinic tradition with Samson. (see Targum Yonathon; Rosh Hashanah 25a)

As dramatic as Samuel\’s statement may have been in presenting his case before the people to bolster his case against appointing a king, it has also played a prominent role in the foundation of the rabbinic legal process. It serves as the basis for rabbis and judges of each generation to adjudicate cases even where some might question their legal status compared to previous generations of sages, as we find in the following passage in the Talmud: \”Scripture says: \’And Samuel said to the people, It is the Lord who made Moses and Aaron, and it says [several verses later]: And the Lord sent Jerubaal and Bedan, Jephthah and Samuel. (verses 6;11)…[We see that] Scripture puts three figures of lesser status together with three figures of great importance, to show that Jerubaal is in his generation like Moses in his generation. Bedan is in his generation like Aaron in his generation, and Jephthah is in his generation like Samuel in his generation. This comes to teach that even a lesser figure, once he is appointed a leader is like the mightiest of the mighty. For is it possible that a person should go for judgment to a judge who doesn\’t live in his days? Rather, one must be content to seek judgment from a judge who lives in your days.\” It also says: \’Say not, how was it that the former days were better than these.\’ (Deut. 17:9)\” (Rosh Hashanah 25a-b)

There is a tendency for people to romanticize the past and assume that those currently responsible for decision making do not have the status or the ability to render judgment. This passage makes it clear that each generation has its authorities who have the status and responsibility to lead the people and make decisions on their behalf. Their judgment is authoritative and legitimate. Without such leadership each new generation would be like orphans. (See R\’ J. Roth, The Halakhic Process pp. 117-119)

About This Commentary

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.
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