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Shabbat Mahar Hodesh 5772

Haftarah Mahar Hodesh
(1 Samuel 20:18 – 42)
April 21, 2012
29 Nisan 5772

Parshat Shmini (Outside of Israel)*
Parshat Tazriah – Metzorah (In Israel)
Mahar Hodesh (1 Samuel 20:18 – 42)

The plotline of the story of David and Jonathan’s attempts to discern the level of Saul’s animosity towards David is complicated. Twice in chapter 20, David and Jonathan plan on the eve of Rosh Hodesh (Mahar Hodesh) to discern Saul’s attitude. In the first account, which precedes our haftarah, it is David who suggests a plan: “David said to Jonathan: ‘Tomorrow is the new moon, and I am to sit with the king at a meal. Instead, let me go and I will hide in the countryside until the third evening.“ (20:5) After an extended exchange on the subject, the chapter offers a second version in which it is Jonathan who initiates an almost identical plan: “Jonathan said to him: ‘Tomorrow will be the new moon; and you will be missed when your seat is vacant. So the day after tomorrow, go down all the way to the place where you hid the other time and stay close to the Ezel stone.” (20:18)

Many modern scholars view Jonathan’s later discussion as a recap of what had already been discussed between the two friends. (See S. Ben-Efrat, Samuel 1, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 262) Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel (15-16th century Portugal, Spain, Italy, Turkey), on the other hand, offered a very different solution to this seeming redundancy – one which offers us an insight into his own life experiences. He notes that at the end of the first conversation, David said to Jonathan: “Who will tell me?” (20:10) From this question, Abrabanel deduces that the conversation between the two friends is fraught with intrigue. According to Abrabenel, Jonathan is unsure of what David intends by his question. Does he want a direct answer or some sort of coded answer that no one else will understand? Abrabanel has Jonathan answer both ways: “If you intended by your question that I should answer you directly, then I swear that I will find out my father’s intentions, but if you intended by your words that I should answer you in a way that no one else will understand then the words “Mahar hodesh” will be our code as we have already agreed.” (abridged translation)

I am not sure that I see in the exchange between David and Jonathan what Abrabanel saw. His interpretation does, however, tell us a lot about his life as a statesman during the inquisition. He experienced the exigencies of Jewish history and participated in the governments of many different countries. He knew a thing or two about the chicanery of governments and projected what he knew onto the dialogue between David and Jonathan. His answer then gives us a window into the world of the interpreter. Every interpreter views the text that he or she is interpreting through a unique prism of life experiences. We must remember this whenever we reflect upon what others say about a text we are studying.

• I dedicate this lesson to the memory of my beloved father-in-law, Harav Professor Avraham Goldberg zz”l, who passed away on the 6th day of Pesah. May his memory be for a blessing.

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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