Haftarah Parshat Toldot
(1 Samuel 20:18-42)
November 26, 2011
29 Heshvan 5772
Since Rosh Hodesh Kislev begins on Sunday, we read a special haftarah on Shabbat which recounts a celebratory Rosh Hodesh meal in the house of King Saul that was to take place the following day. At the time, David was Saul’s servant and was expected to be at that meal. Saul, however, had developed a tremendous animosity towards David making David’s attendance at the meal dangerous. Jonathan, the king’s son, who was also David’s closest friend and confident, devised a plan along with David to use the meal as a test of the depth of the king’s enmity. Noting David’s absence, Saul broached the matter with the Jonathan. When Jonathan offered an excuse for David’s absence, the king became enraged not just with David but also with his own son, Jonathan, as well:
“Saul flew into a rage with Jonathan. ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!’ he shouted. ‘I know that 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 kingdom will be secure. Now have him brought to me, for he is marked for death.’ But Jonathan spoke up and said to his father, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ At that point, Saul threw his spear at him to strike him down; and Jonathan realized that his father was determined to do away with David.” (verses 30-34)
In the Talmud, this tremendously powerful vignette becomes a model from which to learn the limits of a very sensitive and difficult mitzvah found in the Torah: “Reprove your kinsman” (Leviticus 19:17) This commandment is taken to mean that if one sees a fellow transgressing or about to do something wrong, one has an obligation to attempt to correct his or her behavior. This is obviously not a simple matter and the sages pondered the limits to this responsibility. In one such debate, the above story served as a pretext to the discussion: “What are the limits of a person’s responsibility to reprove another person? Rav says: ‘Until the rebuker is beaten.’ Samuel said: ‘Until he is cursed.’ Rabbi Yohanan said: ‘Until the rebuker is rebuked.’ Said Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac: ‘All three sages derived their opinions from the interaction between Saul and Jonathan in the above passage.” (adapted from Arachin 16b)
The Talmud, itself, does not draw a conclusion from this discussion, nor is there a definitive answer among the later authorities, probably because of the sensitive nature of this subject. Nevertheless, the need to reprove another who is doing wrong is codified as law. (See Shulchan Aruch Orach Hayim 608:2 Rama) Rabbi Israel Alnekaveh (Spain 14th century), in his work Menorat HaMaor, further derives from this episode that this requirement also obliges a child to reprove his parent and a student, his or her teacher in the case of wrongdoing. (Menorat HaMaor Part 3, Enelow ed. p. 133)
What is clear is that it is not just negligence to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing. It is a sin!
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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