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Haftarah: Machar Chodesh: Beyond

Samuel I 20:18-42
Some people are stuck in the past. Some are stuck between past and future. Some cannot live in the present and live only in an imaginary future.


The story of this Haftarah is a tale of such people.  Saul was the first king of Israel. He began his reign with all his beauty and goodness. He failed as king when he battled the Philistines and gain when he almost destroyed Amalek. Samuel told Saul that God would take the kingdom away from him and give it to someone “better”. Saul was devastated. God began to take away the kingship when He deprived Saul of His Divine Spirit. The vacuum was filled with an Evil Spirit, and Saul could not even rule himself. He lost the Malchut – Kingship – he lost his special connection with God that had infused him with Holiness, he lost himself – he could not even recognize his old self inside him, and he lost his children’s future. Jonathan would never become king. He failed, but his magnificent son, war hero, loved by all, compassionate and passionate, would never be king. Saul was desperate to hold on to the Malchut just for his great son. Saul wanted all to be as it was in the past when he was God’s choice, when he knew that Jonathan would have a future as king, when all was good.

David was frustrated. Samuel had secretly anointed him as the next king. He could wait, but he could not understand Saul’s hatred of him, hatred so intense that the king wanted to kill his young aide. David complained to Jonathan and his friend could not accept that his holy father could hate so intensely or harbor murderous intentions. David was willing to wait until the right moment to become king, but he did not want to have to spend his life running from Saul. David was ready for the future when he would be king, but he felt stuck by Saul’s hatred.

Jonathan maintained his perspective. This magnificent human being accepted that he would never be king. Jonathan loved David and did not resent his brother-in-law, despite the implications of David’s future to success to Jonathan’s future. He wanted to help David and he wanted to repair the relationship between Saul and David.

Jonathan was not afraid of the future. He trusted that God controlled Israel’s destiny and would do as He willed.

The king gathered his family and closest aides to celebrate Rosh Chodesh. David’s absence on the first day did not trouble the king. Perhaps David had become ritually impure and could not participate. However, when David failed to appear on the second day of the celebration, Saul was furious. He became angry enough to attempt to kill Jonathan for defending David.

Jonathan saw ugliness in his father that he had never before seen. He understood that David was right: Saul would kill the younger man if afforded an opportunity. He went out to the fields, under the cover of practicing with his bow but in reality to signal David. He didn’t need the signal. He could have said everything directly to his friend when they spoke. Yet, Jonathan insisted on a signal: “I will shoot three arrows in that direction as if I were shooting at a target. Behold, I will then send the lad saying, ‘Go find the arrows.’ If I say to the lad, “Behold, the arrows are on this side of you!’ then you yourself may take the arrows and return, for it is well with you and there is no concern, as God lives. But if I say to this boy: ‘Behold, the arrows are beyond you!’ then go, for this is a signal that God has sent you away.”(Samuel I 20:20-22) There was no need for a signal: The attendant went and David stood up from near the south side of the stone, and he fell on his face to the ground…Each man kissed the other…” (Verse 41) Jonathan and David met and spoke. Why did Jonathan use the signal?

I believe that the signal is the reason we read this selection as the Haftarah when Shabbat falls on the eve of Rosh Chodesh: “Behold the arrows are beyond you!” Jonathan was telling David to go in the same direction as the arrows: Beyond – into the future, and give up on the one part of his past holding David back: his relationship with King Saul. As long as David wanted to repair the relationship he would be stuck in the past and not able to go into the future, as he should.

Jonathan, who had the most to lose from the future, who understood that he would never be king, did not hesitate to focus David’s attention on “Beyond you!”

Rosh Chodesh is our opportunity to look beyond ourselves and into our future when all can be new and fresh. Good Chodesh!

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