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Parshat Toldot – Shabbat Mahar Hodesh

Haftarah Parshat Toldot – Shabbat Mahar Hodesh (1 Samuel 20:18-42)
November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshva  5775

Jonathan was a conflicted person, torn between loyalty to his friend, David, and to his father, King Saul. His father, Saul, who already had a complicated relationship with David, was sent into a frenzy of anger by the knowledge that his son sided with David against him. He reacted violently both in deeds and in words:  “Saul flew into a rage against Jonathan. ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman (ben navat hamardut)!’ he shouted” (20:30)

The exact meaning of the Saul’s opprobrium “ben navat mardut” is unclear. Targum Yonathan, the Aramaic translation of the Prophets, translates it: “the son of recalcitrant, harshly rebellious woman”. Rabbi David Kimche lends his interpretation: “’nava – nun ayin vav heh’ from the root – ‘ayin vav heh’ [which means “crooked”]; ‘hamardut’ , that is to say, this comes from your mother, for she rebelled against my (Saul’s) will, and similarly you rebel against that which I want and [you] love that which I hate.” Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, the French interpreter and philosopher, expands: “that is to say, she (your mother) twisted morals, as if to say that she did not reprove him (Jonathan) when he was young, namely, he was not raised properly, and his desire is to rebel… he is the son of a woman that is not fit to govern, for she is corrupt in things of governance, for she is not suitable (nun alef vav ,taf) for governance and so Yonatan is not fit for governance.

  1. Bar-Efrat (20th century Israel) points out that both words in this expression are difficult and have multiple possible interpretations. One possibility builds on Kimche’s interpretation of “navat”, reading it as “crooked” or “corrupt”. The second word can be understood as deriving from the root “mem resh daled”, meaning “rebellious”, giving the expression the meaning “son of a whore”. It is also possible that the second word might be based on the root: “resh daled hey”, meaning to “rule over” or “discipline”. In this case, it would have the sense given it by Rabbi Levi ben Gershon that Jonathan was unruly because he had never been disciplined by his mother. (Samuel 1, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 266)

Perhaps the author of this story, in his literary creativity, desired that this expression to be intentionally ambiguous to imply both sense of being betrayed as a father and as king as well. In any case, it is clear, that Saul’s security as king is disintegrating. His sanity and his monarchy are unraveling. It is all so tragic and sad despite David’s ascendance. Schadenfreude has no place in our hearts especially for a once loved character like Saul.

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.

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