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Parshat Aharei Mot – Mahar Hodesh

Haftarah Parshat Aharei Mot – Mahar Hodesh (1 Samuel 20:18-42) outside Israel
Haftarah Parshat Kedoshim – Mahar Hodesh in Israel
May 7, 2016 / 29 Nisan 5776

The interaction between King Saul and David is fraught with tension. Saul is on the verge of insanity, yet his anxiety over David’s threat to his rule is not without justification. David has the qualities that Saul lacks and Saul is cognizant of this fact. It is no delusion that David is a masterful warrior nor that he has become extremely popular with the subjects of the realm. It is also no delusion that David has won over the loyalty of the members of Saul’s own household including Saul’s daughter Michal and his son and heir apparent, Jonathan.

The story found in this week’s special haftarah for when Rosh Hodesh falls on Sunday recounts the tipping point when Saul’s monarchy has begun its plummet from power and Jonathan represents the fulcrum of his descent. Jonathan, who represents the perpetuation of Saul’s line and leadership both symbolically and actually transfers the leadership of the people from his father to the competitor to his father’s throne. All of this happens to Jonathan either wittingly or unwittingly.

In a previous episode, which introduces the great friendship between David and Jonathan, Jonathan handed over to David, the noble warrior, his cloak and his battle garb in an act of friendship and esteem. (1 Samuel 18:4) By doing so, he symbolically adumbrated his abdication of the throne. (See R. Alter, The David Story, p. 112 in the name of J.P. Fokkelman)

Our story, perhaps signals Jonathan’s realization that Saul’s paranoia was not without warrant and that subconsciously he had become reconciled to the fact that David would assume the kingship in the end. When Jonathan gains an appreciation of the true condition of his father’s anger, he shares this knowledge with the victim/competitor David secretly with only an unknowing servant in attendance as witness. The parting scene between these two companions and the servant is revealing. It captures a near repetition of the above quoted scene: “And Jonathan gave his gear over to his lad and said to him: ‘Go bring them to town.’” (verse 40) Jonathan has again symbolically signaled that he has waived his role as king in favor of David. (Alter, p. 130)

It is amazing how well-crafted this biblical story is when examined closely. A story renowned as a classic tale of friendship turns out to be much more. It is a complicated tale examining the psychological intrigues of personal relationships and power as well.

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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