May 30, 2024
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This week’s haftarah requires no deep analysis to understand our rabbis’ choice of the 11th and 12th chapters of Shmuel Aleph for today’s haftarah. The rebellion of Korach and his followers against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon that we read in this week’s parsha was not simply a denial of Hashem’s choice but also a reflection of a blindness to His guiding hand and His ongoing miracles. The rebels’ refusal to recognize the Divine choice of Moshe would also mean a denial of the Divine hand in the miracles Moshe had performed.

In this week’s haftarah, we read of the people’s request for a king to replace Shmuel HaNavi, a request that God Himself had stated was a rejection of His Leadership. The two stories — that of the parsha and that of the haftarah — underscore the parallels between the two stories in the very language that is used. Moshe proclaims his innocence before Hashem with the argument, “Lo chamor echad me’hem nasati — I have not taken even one donkey from them,”) while Shmuel asks the people: “…vachamor mi lakachti… — …and whose donkey have I ever taken…?” Shmuel reviews the kindnesses that God had done for the nation by beginning: “Hashem, who made Moshe and Aharon (your leaders),” a phrase implying that God chose Shmuel to be their leader as well. Nor should we ignore the irony of the haftarah story in which Shmuel — a direct descendant of Korach himself — is now forced to defend his actions as the nation’s leader, just as Moshe was forced to defend his leadership from the accusations of his own ancestor.

But we would be remiss were we to see these two stories as perfect parallels, for there is an essential difference between the two stories. The Israelites of Shmuel’s time had no intention of rebelling against Shmuel’s leadership or questioning the fact that he had been chosen by God. They accepted Shmuel as their prophet — their “religious” guide — indeed, they loved him; but they desired a king to serve as a military/political leader. As they saw it, they were fulfilling a mitzvah given in the Torah: “You shall certainly place a king over you,” which was one of the three commandments required upon settling the land, according to the Rambam.

The nation’s mistake, I would suggest, is that they believed that the king would “fight our battles,” implying that victory would depend upon the monarch and not upon God Himself. This is why Hashem comforted Shmuel by telling him that the people had rejected Him — the Almighty — and not Shmuel. The gravity of their sin was that it reflected their blindness to the miraculous victories that Hashem had wrought against their enemies, including the victory over the Plishtim that He had just vanquished. In doing so, the nation repeated the very same sin committed by Korach and his followers — a blindness to the miracles performed by God through His chosen leaders.

Ingratitude is more than a refusal to pay thanks. It is a selfishness that refuses to allow one to recognize an act of generosity and care.And it was that act that was shared by both Korach’s followers and the nation of Shmuel.


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

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