Haftarah Parshat Toldot
(1 Samuel 20:18-42)
November 2, 2013
29 Heshvan 5774
The Jewish calendar pays close attention to the sanctity of time. The seasons of the year are reckoned according to the relationship of the earth to the sun. Jewish months focus on the relationship of the earth to the moon. Rosh Hodesh (the celebration of the New Month) is a celebration of the sighting of the new moon. It was and still is a cause of celebration on the Jewish calendar. It is mentioned in the Torah as one of the festive days of the year when special sacrifices were offered in the Temple (Numbers 28:11-15). While recognized as a festive day, the Torah does not further specify practices for the day. Not until the episode in this week’s special haftarah for the day preceding Rosh Hodesh do we have another reference to the day’s special practices. David, then in the service of King Saul was expected to be present at the king’s festive Rosh Hodesh meal: “Tomorrow will be the new moon (mahar hodesh); and you (David) will be missed when your seat is vacant.” (20:18) David acknowledges his obligation to be at this festive meal earlier in the chapter: “David said Jonathan (David’s closest friend, Saul’s son and heir to the throne): ‘Tomorrow is the new moon (hodesh mahar) and I am to sit with the king at the meal.’” (20:5)
The practice of having a special meal on Rosh Hodesh in the way that King Saul seems to have had for his court did not take hold in the Jewish tradition. Still, the Jewish legal tradition recognized the above story as a paradigm for marking Rosh Hodesh in a special way at its meals: “It is a mitzvah to increase the size of the Rosh Hodesh meal.” (Shulhan Aruch Orach Hayim 419:1) The Tur illustrates this legal ruling with the events of our special haftarah: “It is written regarding David that [this day was an occasion of] ‘a family feast’ (1 Samuel 20:27)” (Tur Orach Hayim 419) (It should be noted that the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Joseph Karo) does not find this proof satisfactory, noting that one cannot say for certain that David’s family meal was in celebration of Rosh Hodesh.)
What is meant when the Shulhan Aruch accounts it a mitzvah to make one’s Rosh Hodesh meal special, considering the fact that this practice has largely fallen by the wayside? Rabbi Yehiel Epstein (19th-20th century Belarus) asserts that we should in some way continue to perpetuate this practice so that we continue to be cognizant that Jewish time requires us to pay attention to the phases of the moon and is reminiscent of our ties to time especially in the land of Israel. He suggests that on Rosh Hodesh, we add a course to our meals to remember that it should be a festive day. (Aruch Hashulhan Orach Hayim 419:2) It seems to me that his advice is sound.
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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