I Samuel 11:14- 12:22
Samuel (prophet) 1070 – 970 B.C.E , he was the last of the judges
The Israelites wanted a King so they would be like all the other nations. In this haftarah Samuel reluctantly anoints Saul as the first King of Israel. He reminds the people of all that God has done for them, and how he himself has been an honest and caring prophet and leader. He tells B’nei Yisrael if they do not listen to God and obey His commandments they will be punished.
Samuel is concerned that the people are going to turn away from God; that they will subconsciously conclude that because they have a anointed leader in their country- a King- they can ignore God’s commandments. It is the wheat harvest season. When Samuel is finished he calls to God, asking for thunder and rain- to remind the people that their fate is in God’s power.
On the heels of this show of force the frightened Israelites say, “…we have added to all our sins to request a King for ourselves…” Ch 12 v.19
The image I painted shows Samuel speaking to Saul. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) My painting is based on a book illustration from Southern Germany, 1450 called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb). The circumstances surrounding ”Meshal ha-Kadmoni” are very appropriate to today’s haftarah and the prophet Samuel’s concerns. Just as Samuel was concerned about the Israelites straying due to outside influences (wanting a King like all the other nations) Isaac ben Solomon, the author of the proverbs, was worried about the influence of secular writings on his fellow Jews.
Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah was born in 1244 and lived in Guadalajara, in Castile. Isaac noted that Jews were reading and being influenced by non-Jewish books. For example The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor and Kalila and Dimna- fables from India- were translated into Hebrew and read extensively by Jews in the Middle Ages. Below are two illustrations from an edition of Kalila and Dimna dated 1210 CE.
To counter the effects of these non-Jewish texts Isaac wrote his own book of stories, poems, fables and parables. The book was illustrated with miniatures and wood cuts. The “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish!
You can read more about Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah in the Encyclopedia Judaica.
How are the parsha and haftarah related? The parsha’s main theme is that Korach and his followers challenge Moshe’s leadership and demand that the leadership be more democratic. This is akin to the Israelites wanting a King because they now feel that a prophet or “shofet” (judge) is not adequate for their modern needs.
Another link between the two readings are similarities between Moshe and Samuel. The two leaders are chosen by HaShem, the two men defend their honour with their record of justice and respect towards their people, and later, in the Book of Jeremiah, God speaks of Moshe and Samuel in the same sentence. (Jeremiah ch. 15 v.1)
Both the parsha and the haftarah are interesting to read. So, this Shabbat, read and enjoy.