June 18, 2024
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David, Melech Yisrael, Chai V’Kayam!

“VaYomer lo Yehonatan ‘Machar Chodesh’…”

The opening words of this week’s haftarah, now a commonly used phrase for Shabbat Erev Rosh Chodesh, are taken from the middle of a conversation between David and Yehonatan—his brother-in-law and dear friend. The story encapsulated in the haftarah (Shmuel A 20: 18-42) is one that is familiar to most of us, as this selection is commonly read two or three times a year, but its message is not one that we may fully appreciate.

To quickly recap the story, David, fearing that his father-in-law, King Shaul, had plans to kill him, arranges a signal with Yehonatan to inform him whether he could safely return to the palace. While David remained hiding in the field, Yehonatan went back to the palace in time for the Rosh Chodesh repast, during which the King expressed his anger at David’s absence on the second day. In a fit of rage, Sha’ul accuses David of being a rebel, and, by doing so, effectively condemning him to death. The distraught Yehonatan returns to his friend and, using the agreed upon signal, warns David to flee for his life.

The story as related in the haftarah is simple enough.

However, given Sha’ul’s decision condemning David to death and his numerous attempts to do so (coupled with the many months of his pursuit of David), we rightfully wonder why the future king refused to defend himself from his pursuer. David certainly had reason and the moral right to do so. After all, one is permitted—perhaps even commanded—to save himself from one who tries to kill him, even by taking his attacker’s life! Furthermore, David even had a number of opportunities to kill his pursuing enemy, yet refrained from doing so—and forbade his officers from harming Sha’ul!

Why was he so “passive” in defending his very life???

As is true of so many haftarot, we can better understand the reading by reviewing the pesukim that precede the haftarah itself. Specifically, we should uncover the conversation between David and Yehonatan that led to the plan that would be carried out on the morrow of Rosh Chodesh.

When we read the verses preceding the haftarah (starting from pasuk 14) we learn of a remarkable covenant/oath that is made between the two heroes. Yehonatan agrees to divulge to David whether or not his father (Sha’ul) planned to harm David and, while doing so, he asserts his belief that David would eventually succeed in overcoming his opponents which, ostensibly, would include Sha’ul as well (“…when Hashem destroys all of David’s enemies…”). David then agrees through an oath never to harm Yehonatan or to destroy his royal family (“…nor remove your kindness from my family forever”).

And here, in the preface to the haftarah, is the answer to the questions that bothered us.

  • Why does David refuse to kill Sha’ul who pursued him?
  • Why does he prohibit his officers from doing so—even in order to save his own life??
  • Why does he not remove Sha’ul’s son from the throne of Israel once he was crowned?
  • Why does he even put to death those who assassinated Sha’ul’s son?

Because he made an oath to his friend.

And we can now better understand and appreciate the greatness of the man.

And, when we do, and see the model he set for generations, we also realize why…

“David, melech Yisrael, chai v’kayam.”

He lives today because the ethical standards he modeled should inspire us until today.

And, you see, all we had to do is read a few pesukim before the haftarah!

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

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