(1 Samuel 20:18-42)
November 13, 2004
Jonathan’s friendship with David was legendary. He was willing to remain by the side of his friend through triumph and tragedy. He stood up for David when King Saul, his father, set himself up against him. He was even willing to relinquish his future as king because he thought his friend, David, would make a more effective king.
The sages characterized the relationship between Jonathan and David in the following Mishnah: “Whenever love depends on some selfish end, when the end passes away, the love passes away; but if it does not depend on some selfish end, it will never pass away. Which love depended on a selfish end? This was the love of Amnon and Tamar. And which did not depend on a selfish end? This was the love of David and Jonathan. (Avot 5:16)
Amnon’s love for Tamar was founded on his own selfish obsession for his sister. (see 2 Samuel 13) When his perversion was satisfied, he hated her. Jonathan, however, knew that David stood between him and the throne. Still, he genuinely loved David. Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran (Spain, North Africa 14th-15th century) delineated the significance of this mishnah: “Anyone who establishes a friendship for access to power, money, or sexual relations; when these ends are not attainable, the friendship ceases…love that is not dependent on selfish ends is true love of the other person since there is no intended end.” (Magen Avot – abridged and adapted translation) This Mishnah makes it clear that Amnon’s love for Tamar was wrong because it manifested itself by treating a person as if she was an object rather than a person while Jonathan’s love for David, was based on treating the other as a person rather than as a thing.
Of course, the two relationships found in this Mishnah represent ideal typologies, one bad and the other good. Real relationships fall somewhere in between these two diametrically opposite models. (see Rabbi Chaim Hirshensohn, Eleh Divrei Habrit, part 3, p. 93) People both love and “use” the people in their lives, but it is important to be aware of the possibility of how depraved or exalted the relationships between two people can be in order to raise up the relationships in life to the highest degree that is humanly possible.
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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