Haftarah Parshat Haazinu (2 Samuel 22:1-51)
September 26, 2015 / 13 Tishre 5776
Thanksgiving after being rescued from a crisis is a very natural phenomenon. So it is that the book of Samuel opens with a song after rescue from a crisis and closes with a song after rescue from a crisis. The book begins with the saga of a forlorn childless woman named Hannah whose prayers are miraculously answered. She is blessed with a son who becomes a prophet and leader of the people. The book ends after the trials and tribulations of a war weary king, who after surviving any number of threats, sings a song of praise to God over having been rescued so many times. David’s song describes the threats against him in great poetic detail often employing water metaphors, as we note in the following verse: “For the breakers of death (mishberei mavet) beset me, the underworld’s torrents dismayed me.” (22:5)
In classical biblical poetic fashion, the first half of this verse is parallel to the second half. This often serves as a check when part of a verse is hard to decipher. In this verse, it is clear that both parts of the verse employ water metaphors. This explanation is confirmed by all the modern commentaries and by a great many of the medieval commentaries as well. In other words, David saw himself as being overcome to the point of near death by force which he felt might overcome him and drown him.
This being said, the word “mashber” can also mean a “birthing stool”. Apparently it was this meaning which caught the eye of the Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, which translated the verse: “Behold evil attacked me like a woman who sat on a birthing stool without the strength to give birth and she is in danger of dying; a company of the wicked tramples me.”
This interpretation coincidentally coincides with the situation that opens this book. Hannah is “saved” through childbirth with the birth of Samuel and David is redeemed from danger which entrapped him like a woman who almost lost her life through childbirth. This imagery is perhaps fitting, seeing that the tradition sees in David the “birth pangs” of the process of redemption. In this way, the book of Samuel is “bookended” by the miracle of birth and redemption.
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.
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