Saturday, July 11, 2020

Machar Chodesh

Parshat Bamidbar

The story related in this week’s haftarah, a special one read when Shabbat coincides with Erev Rosh Chodesh, is found in the 20th perek of Shmuel A. The story related in this chapter is well-known as it is a haftarah that is read regularly during the year. The episode, as detailed in this reading, tells of a difficult time of trial, a test for both David and his dear friend (and brother-in-law) Yonatan, the son of King Shaul.

Following King Shaul’s failure to follow God’s command when warring against their intractable enemy, Amalek, Hashem removed His favor from Shaul and placed it upon His choice of successor, Shaul’s son-in-law, David. As the text relates, David’s ongoing successes correspond with Shaul’s increased difficulties and unbalanced behavior. Shaul struggled with bouts of depression and anger, eventually leading him to attempt murdering David. When David fled the palace after the king tried to spear him, he told Yonatan of Shaul’s desire to kill him, something that Yonatan could not accept. Yonatan told David that his father had sworn to him that he would not harm David. Our haftarah tells the story of the two friends trying to uncover Shaul’s true intentions by arranging for David’s absence at the Rosh Chodesh meal in the royal palace. Indeed, when David’s presence was missed at the festive meal, both on Rosh Chodesh and the morrow, Shaul suspects that his son-in-law was gathering support for a planned coup and publicly accuses David of being a rebel who was trying to usurp the throne.

Soon after, in a secret meeting in the field, Yonatan tearfully reveals to David what happened in the royal court and urges him to escape before Shaul succeeds in killing him. Yonatan acts nobly, faithfully serving his father and continuing to show him the respect due to him as monarch and father, while, similarly, David never attempts to harm Shaul in order to save himself, despite numerous opportunities to do so.

Although the opening words of the haftarah declaring “Machar Chodesh,” that “tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh,” form the obvious connection between the Shabbat and the haftarah, there is more we see in the story that helps us understand its choice for the reading. Chazal see King David as being symbolized by the moon (Tiferet Shlomo), which explains why we declare “David, Melech Yisrael, chai v’kayam” every month when we stand before the moon and recite Birkat HaLevana. As the moon grows and is diminished, so too David had times of ascendancy and power as well as times of trouble and powerlessness. More significantly, perhaps, David, like the moon, humbled himself, “diminished” his “light,” before Shaul and, throughout his life, always pointing to God as his source of strength and victory. David eschewed the glory given to kings and victorious generals, ascribing his successes on the battlefield and on the throne as belonging to Hashem. Only one with deep humility could pen the praises of Hashem in Sefer Tehillim while the throngs of subjects attempted to credit him with all the successes. It was this trait of King David that endeared this military hero/psalmist to the people…and to God.

And that is why we await the arrival of his descendant to usher in the messianic era.

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.