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Korah 5771

Haftarah Parshat Korah
(1 Samuel 11:14-12:22)
June 25, 2011
23 Sivan 5771

The prophet, Samuel, is a transitional figure. He is arguably the greatest of the judges, but he is also the last of the judges. He starts out as both a political and a religious leader and then because of the exigencies of his times morphs into a new phenomenon on the Israelite scene, a prophet, who is both a conduit of God’s will and moral barometer. This change was not an easy one, not on Samuel, nor on the newly configured political leadership and certainly not on the people. This week’s haftarah allows us to experience this transformation through Samuel’s eyes. Still, as the storyline evolves, it is not entirely clear whether Samuel supported these changes or whether he simply weathered them as best he could.

Samuel realizes that the political situation cannot remain static. He understands that he is old, that his sons are not up to the role as leaders of the people. Still, he seems insulted for the people’s desire to change the old regime: “As for me, I have grown old and grey – but my sons are still with you – and I have been your leader from my youth to this day. Here I am! Testify against me, in the presence of the Lord and in the presence of His anointed one. Whose ox have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed. From whom have I taken a bribe to look the other way…” (12:1-3) He also bears God’s insult at this desire for change: “The Lord [is witness], He who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers out of Egypt. Come stand before the Lord while I cite against you all of the kindnesses that the Lord has done to you and your fathers.” (6-7) What follows is a litany of citations where Samuel or others among the judges rescued the people on God’s behalf.

Still, times change and people’s desires change. The stylized forms of leadership will never remain static, for good and for bad. This truth is not lost on Samuel, the prophet – judge, painful as it may be. He realizes that he must be the agent for the change, even its catalyst, but that the change cannot be without restraints. The regime change in Israelite leadership can never be without a set of checks and balances. Otherwise it will lead the people away from God and what is right. The prophet’s words must always temper the king’s might. The history of the kings of Israel and Judea proved this idea true over and over again. The need for checks and balances to political power is as true today as it was in the past.

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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