Shabbat Mahar Hodesh
(1 Samuel 20:18-42)
October 17, 2009
Parshat Bereishit – Mahar Hodesh (1 Samuel 20:18-42)
This special haftarah catches us in the middle of a very tragic story. What ties it to this particular Shabbat is the mention in the opening verse of King Saul\’s Rosh Hodesh banquet which was scheduled for the following day\”: \”And Jonathan said to him: \’Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed , because your seat [at the banquet] will be empty.\’\” (20:18) The real story, though, focuses on the confrontation between King Saul and his son Jonathan over Saul\’s intense hatred of his servant David. Saul\’s animosity was not totally irrational. David\’s fame as a warrior had overshadowed his own, making Saul fear for his monarchy. Still, David never promoted himself as king and never presented himself as a threat to the king. Something else was lurking deep in Saul\’s psyche.
To understand the emotions which had overcome Saul in his relationship with David, one has to hearken back to another traumatic event in Saul\’s life. David\’s military prowess would probably have had no impact on Saul had it not been for Saul\’s failures in the battle against the Amalekites. There, Saul failed to carry out God\’s will in the battle. Samuel castigated him, telling him that God had rejected him as king. (See 1 Samuel chapter 15) This incident haunted Saul unremittingly, turning his relationship with the successful David into something poisonous.
Jonathan, then, serves as the lightening rod for all of Saul\’s pent up rage over his anticipated downfall. Saul knows it is coming. It haunts him so he cannot fathom that Jonathan is party to it. This explains his egregious response to his son upon hearing Jonathan\’s explanation of David\’s absence from the Rosh Hodesh banquet: \”You son of a perverse rebellious woman!… I know you side with the son of Jesse – to your shame, and to the shame of your mother\’s nakedness! For as long as the son of Jesse lives on earth, neither you nor your kingship will be secure. Now then, have him brought to me, for he is marked for death.\” (20:30-34)
David\’s threat to the monarchy leaves Jonathan unaffected. This makes Saul realize that his reign is finished because he realizes that his son does not have the stuff from which kings are made. For Jonathan, friendship is more important than power. For Saul, his son\’s lack of regard for his wishes represents doom.
This entanglement between friendship and ambition, on the one hand, between fate and prowess, on the other, make this story terribly tragic. It is a tremendous example of just how complicated life really is – a lesson so many of us would be glad to avoid.
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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