The Prophets, the Process and the Promised Land
Thoughts on the Weekly Haftorah Relating to Current Events

by Michael Freund
(first posted on Arutz 7)



Bamidbar - 10 May 2002

Background >
As this Shabbat immediately precedes Rosh Chodesh Sivan (the first day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which falls out on Sunday), a special Haftorah is read from the First Book of Samuel, Chap. 20, verses 18 to 42.

Summary: The Haftorah begins with King Saul’s son Jonathan telling David not to appear at the King’s festive Rosh Chodesh meal the following day, but rather to hide for three days, during which time Jonathan will determine what the King’s intentions are towards him. Jonathan tells David that he will bring his servant boy with him to where David is hiding and he will fire three arrows. Depending on what Jonathan would tell the servant to do, David would know whether or not King Saul was planning to kill him. The following day at the meal, David was absent, but King Saul did not say anything, for he thought that perhaps David was unable to join them. But when David was also absent on the second day, King Saul asked Jonathan derisively why David was not there. Jonathan replied that he had given David permission to attend a family sacrifice. The King grew angry and insulted Jonathan, insisting that he bring David to him because he deserved to die. Jonathan asked his father what David had done wrong. King Saul then lifted his spear in the air to strike him, at which point Jonathan knew that his father planned to kill David. Jonathan left the table in anger, and the following morning he went to the field along with his servant, where he fired the arrows and gave David the signal that he should remain in hiding. After sending his servant away, Jonathan and David greeted each other and wept. Jonathan then told David to go in peace, reaffirming that their friendship would be forever.

Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha: Since the Haftorah opens with the words, “And Jonathan said to him, ‘Tomorrow is the New Moon’” (Chap. 20:18), and the day after this Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh, this Haftorah was chosen to be read today.

>1. Selflessness vs. Selfishness

Jonathan was King Saul’s son and the heir to the throne. But he loved his brother-in-law David and had a deep and lasting friendship with him. The story contained in this week’s Haftorah bears that out, because Jonathan was willing to confront his father and even risk his life to save David, whom he knew his father sought to kill. “And Jonathan answered Saul his father and he said to him, “Why should he be put to death? What did he do?” (Chap. 20, verse 32).

The Question: Why would Jonathan knowingly save David’s life if David was his rival to accede to the throne?

The Answer: In his book Sefer HaHaftarot, Rabbi Mendel Hirsch (son of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch) says that Jonathan, through his selflessness, demonstrated himself to be one of the greatest figures in the Bible. He writes, “There are few figures in our history that attain the lofty spiritual heights of Jonathan, whose nobility of character and courage never wavered, even during his premonition of disaster. A royal heir, knowing that his friend was his rival – destined by G-d to sit on the throne that would otherwise have been his – Jonathan magnanimously saved David from persecution by his father. Jonathan is a hero who deserves a crown for achieving the highest qualities possible in a human being.” Indeed, the Jerusalem Talmud in Tractate Pesachim (6:1) says, “Three abandoned their crowns in This World and inherited it instead in the World to Come – Jonathan son of Saul was one of them.”

The Lesson: It is perhaps a measure of how far our political system has faltered that the very idea of a politician mimicking Jonathan’s selflessness of character and forgoing power to a rival strikes us as either entirely implausible or bizarrely humorous. No one in their right mind, we would undoubtedly say, would ever voluntarily give up a chance at power or prestige simply because they were convinced that someone else was more suitable to the task or was destined to fulfill the role at hand. People, it seems, will cling to power at any cost, even when their professed ideology and ostensible principles are being trampled before their very eyes. Thus, even though the Israeli electorate resoundingly rejected the Labor Party’s candidate and his platform in last year’s elections for the premiership, and even though Labor’s political legacy of Oslo lies in tatters, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer nevertheless refuse to acknowledge the error of their ways. They stay in the government, working their hardest to limit Israel’s response to Palestinian terror, to reject calls for expelling Yasser Arafat from the region, and to insist that Israel get back to the negotiating table with the Palestinian Authority. Rather than acting as Jonathan did, and stepping aside gracefully and unselfishly, they remain glued to their seats, preventing Israel from finishing the job. Don’t forget - Jonathan’s noble act resulted in David ascending to power – the same David who made Jerusalem our capital and brought glory to all of Israel. And it is precisely that same kind of glory that the Jewish state so desperately needs today. Let us hope that Peres and co. will learn from Jonathan’s example. Rather than trying to hinder the inevitable, they should step aside and finally enable it to happen.

2. Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Liberation Day

This year, Friday, May 10, coincides with the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, the date on which Israelis forces miraculously liberated the Old City of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War (in order that the celebrations would not run into the Sabbath, Yom Yerushalayim this year was marked on Thursday). The Jewish people’s love affair with Jerusalem stretches back over 3000 years, when King David made it into Israel’s capital. Since Jews started returning en masse to the Land of Israel in recent centuries, Jerusalem has grown and expanded to include new neighborhoods.

One such neighborhood is Nachalat Shiva, which was the first Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem built in modern times outside the walls of the Old City. The two people behind the establishment of Nachalat Shiva were Rabbi Yosef Rivlin and Rabbi Yoel Moshe Salomon, and they were aided and assisted by Rabbi Meir Auerbach and Rabbi Binyamin Beinish Salant (son of Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, an ancestor of mine). The cornerstone laying ceremony for the new neighborhood took place on Lag B’Omer, the 18th of Iyar in the year 5629 (1869). By 1875, some 50 Jewish families were living in the area. The following story, (adapted from Where Heaven Touches Earth: Jewish Life in Jerusalem From Medieval Times to the Present, by Dovid Rossof, pp. 361-62) though it took place over a century ago in Jerusalem, still resonates with relevance:

It was late at night in Nachalat Shiva when Rabbi Yosef Rivlin was awakened to the sounds of a commotion outside. When he looked through the window, he saw a group of men and animals gathered together. The leader of the group then called out, “Remember! Slaughter them all and then take their storehouse of lumber!”Rabbi Rivlin was not the only one who had heard the noise. Several of his neighbors, alerted to the growing danger, had quickly come to the Rabbi’s house, seeking his advice as to what they should do. After giving the matter serious thought, Rabbi Rivlin was resolute in his decision: “We have no choice,” he said, “the danger is so great and imminent. I must take advantage of spiritual weapons.”

The enemy was only a minute away from the locked entrance to the neighborhood. Dozens of Bedouin Arabs armed with clubs, daggers and guns were preparing to attack. The lives of the fifty families in Nachalat Shiva hung in the balance. Rabbi Rivlin reached for his gun and his… shofar (ram’s horn). He stood by the window and concentrated deeply for several seconds. He brought the shofar to his lips and blew the notes that are sounded on Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year). As he took a breath, he raised his gun and fired a shot out the window. Then he blew the shofar again. Suddenly, the Arabs were struck with terror. “Run for your lives!” one shouted hysterically. “The Jews are killing us!” yelled another. And the entire group fled in panic and disarray.

When Rabbi Rivlin and his neighbors went out later to investigate the scene, they discovered that their would-be attackers had dispersed so hastily that they had left behind their mules and large quantities of weapons. Nearby, they heard the moans of a wounded Bedouin who had fallen down and been trampled in the disarray. They took him prisoner and then began to question him, asking what the purpose of the attack had been. “After killing everyone, we were going to steal all the lumber and carry it home on the mules,” said the Bedouin, adding, “some landlords in the city promised us all the wood as a reward for killing everyone.” “This time,” said Rabbi Rivlin to his neighbors, “The L-rd was with us. Let us pray that the fear which G-d put into them will keep them away from us forever.”

The Lesson: In confronting our foes, we must never forget that weapons alone are not enough to protect us. As Rabbi Rivlin heroically demonstrated in the story above, success in battle, as in every endeavor, comes from G-d. Just as it was over a century ago, Jerusalem is again under siege by our enemies. And just as our adversaries sought to murder the men, women and children of Nachalat Shiva, so too do they target the innocent throughout all of Israel today. With the Jewish state facing an unrelenting enemy bent on its destruction, now more than ever we must mobilize not only our military warriors, but our spiritual forces too. And let us hope and pray that just as G-d came to the defense of Nachalat Shiva and its residents, so will He come to our protection and scatter our enemies in humiliation and defeat.

Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999. He is currently an editorial writer and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

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