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Toldot 5771

Haftarah Parshat Toldot/Mahar Hodesh
(1 Samuel 20:18-42)
November 6, 2010
29 Heshvan 5771

It is not always a story\’s major character or characters who are the basis for its message. Sometimes the \”supporting cast\” may play a prominent role. The hero of this special haftarah, recited when Rosh Hodesh follows immediately after Shabbat, is the character who in the larger scheme of things is not dominant. King Saul and David have larger than life personalities. Jonathan, Saul\’s son, looms in the background. By rights, he should have been the successor to the king. Yet, he willingly relinquished this standing to his friend, David, whom he thought better suited to the role of king. Still, a lot had to happen before David would become king and it is in this interim period that Jonathan plays a dramatic role.

For reasons, justified or not, Saul\’s relationship with David, was fractious. Did Saul want David at court or had his paranoid thoughts that David wished to usurp his throne overcome him and pose a threat to David\’s life? This question served as the backdrop for Jonathan\’s dramatic role. It is Jonathan who artfully masters this situation, maneuvering between Saul and David to ascertain the answer to this question in order to preserve the life of his friend.

It is Jonathan, who guides David, the future king, safely through the treacherous situation, advising David not to show up at Rosh Hodesh banquet, while he tests his father\’s demeanor. Jonathan stands up to his father\’s interrogation regarding David\’s absence and to his wrath when Saul discovers that his own son might be in collusion with David, his feigned enemy.

What is the message of Jonathan\’s behavior? Why would the biblical text bother to record Jonathan\’s actions? Clearly, the story is meant to transmit a message about the triumph of friendship over other concerns. Jonathan, in his very being and in all of his actions, conveys to us that there are sometimes things worthy of consideration other than power, position and prestige. Friendship may be one of them. For this idea, Jonathan is known to posterity.

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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