Haftarat Parshat Korach -
I Shmuel 11:14-12:22

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

Is having a king 'good for the Jews?'

Anyone who has learned Sefer Shmuel would probably answer no, for Shmuel himself reacts very negatively to Bnei Yisrael's original request for a king (see I Shmuel 8:1-7).

Why then does God allow a king? Furthermore, towards the end of this week's Haftara, Shmuel has the perfect opportunity to abolish the kingdom (when the people finally admit that they have sinned by asking for one; see 12:19). But instead of accepting their regret, Shmuel encourages Bnei Yisrael to keep their king!

Finally, even from Sefer Devarim, where Chumash details the laws of a king, it remains unclear if a king is good or bad. [See machloket on this topic in Sanhedrin 20b.]

This week's shiur explains how the final pasuk of this week's Haftara provides a very simple answer for this very complex topic.

This week's Haftara opens as Shmuel gathers the nation at Gilgal in order to establish Shaul as the accepted King of Israel (see 11:14-15). Even though Shaul had already been appointed King at an earlier gathering in Mitzpah (see 10:18-27), a second ceremony is needed for the first ceremony lacked the necessary enthusiasm and consensus (see 10:27! Recall as well that Shaul was rather unknown at first). However, once Shaul had struck a stunning victory in his battle to save the Gilad from Amonite aggression, Shmuel decides to gather the nation once again to re-establish Shaul's monarchy - this time with 100% public approval.

This week's Haftara describes how Shmuel utilizes this gathering to address the nation concerning the spiritual dangers created by the appointment of a king. In this address however, we will find not only the negative aspects of a monarchy, but its positive aspects as well.

Showing Off?
In the first five psukim of his address (12:1-5), Shmuel appears to be 'showing off' about how good (or least how straight) a leader he has been:

"...Here is your King... As for me, I have become old... I have been your leader from my youth to this day. Now answer me in the presence of God and in the presence of his anointed one - Whose ox have I taken... whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed or from whom have I taken a bribe?..." (12:2-3)
Is Shmuel simply taking this opportunity to 'get his last word in?' Certainly one would not expect a "navi" to be so vain!

The answer is quite simple. If we read 12:3 a little more carefully, we see that not only is Shmuel making this statement in front of the nation, but also in front of God (i.e. the aron) and in front of his 'anointed one' - which obviously refers to Shaul, whose monarchy is now being established. The purpose of Shmuel's statement is simply to teach Shaul a lesson and to prepare him for 'public office.' Shmuel wants to make sure that Shaul is publicly forewarned that it is indeed possible (even though it is not easy) to become a public leader without being involved in corruption (or even using public office to advance personal objectives).

Here, Shmuel is touching on one of the very inherit problems of appointing a king. Once so much power is invested into the hands of one individual, it is almost inevitable that he will use this power for his own personal gain. Shmuel's claim is that the king of Israel must be different. Surely, he must be invested with supreme power to enable him to run his kingdom, yet at the same time the leader must be a fine example of honesty and integrity. Therefore, Shmuel brings an example from himself. Even though he had been the nation's leader since the time of his youth, he had never mis-used the powers entrusted in him. Shmuel now publicly charges Shaul that he should follow this same path in leadership.

[Note that here we find both positive and negative aspects of a monarchy. By establishing a monarchy, an institution is created that can easily lead to corruption. On the other hand, an opportunity is created where leadership can set a shining example for the entire nation.]

The Great-Grandson of Korach
After this short prelude, Shmuel enters the main section of his address where he rebukes the people for requesting a king for the wrong reason. However, he begins this rebuke by referring to Hashem as the "God who made Aharon and Moshe..." (12:6). Why would Shmuel use this unique (and rather strange) description of God? [Usually He is referred to as the 'God of our forefathers,' or 'who took us out of Egypt' etc.]

The answer may lie in the parallel between Shmuel's own life and Parshat HaShavua - Parshat Korach. Recall from this week's Parsha shiur how Korach challenged both:

From a certain perspective, Shmuel (a great-great-grandson of Korach; see I Divrei Ha'yamim 6:3-13) follows in Korach's footsteps, for he too challenges (and reforms) the corrupt priesthood of Eli's sons, and he reforms as well the political institutions of leadership! [Note that he is also a Levi who acts as a Kohen (offering korbanot).]

The main difference however is that Shmuel makes these reforms for the proper reason. He does not become involved for personal gain (like Korach), but rather is sincere in all of his endeavors. Therefore, his reform is not only accepted, but also praiseworthy. [Note Rashi on Bamidbar 16:7 where he explains how Korach's foresight of the greatness of his future grandson may have led him to rebel 'prematurely.']

Now that Shmuel is handing over the national leadership to Shaul (and considering that he has served as both their spiritual and political leader for so many years) he opens his 'farewell address' by referring to Hashem as "the God who made Moshe and Aharon - for they represent the ideal of both spiritual and political leadership.

[Note also Tehilim 99:6 [from Kaballat Shabbat]: "Moshe v'Aharon b'kohanav, u'Shmuel b'korei shmo..." where again we see the parallel between Shmuel and Moshe and Aharon.]

[By the way, if you would like a deeper insight into this pasuk, see the conclusion of Seforno's introduction to Chumash (found at the beginning of Sefer Breishit Torat Chayim edition) where he quotes this pasuk in Shmuel (i.e. 12:6) to prove a very important point concerning the nature of "nevuat Moshe," "v'akmal!"]

Let's return now to the Haftara itself.

A 'Mini'-Sefer Shoftim
Psukim 12:7-15 contain the thrust of Shmuel's rebuke of the people. Read them carefully and note how they from a quick summary of the main theme of Sefer Shoftim:

"And now stand upright - v'iy'shafta - and I will judge you in front of God... Whenever you left God, and he sold you to [your enemies, e.g.] Sisrah and Plishtim and Moav... And when you cried out to God and confessed that you had sinned... then Hashem sent [saviours, e.g.] Yerubaal [=Gideon] and B'dan [=Shimshon?] and Yiftach... and saved you from your enemies..." (see 12:7-11)
[Note how we have made a selective quote in order to highlight the main thematic and textual parallels to Sefer Shoftim. Be sure to compare with Shoftim 2:11-20! Note also a possible deeper meaning of the word shofet both here and there!]

Recall, that it was Shmuel who wrote Sefer Shoftim, and most likely for this very reason - to explain to the people the spiritual danger of appointing a king. Shmuel reminds the nation that the primary reason for their dedication to God during the time period of the Shoftim (no matter how limited it may have been) was because of their dependence on Him for salvation from their enemies. However, now that they prefer a king over a shofet, even this small avenue for repentance will be lost:

"And now, when you saw that Nachash king of Amon was attacking, you said to me no [i.e. we do not want to repent to deserve God's salvation, instead:] we want a king who will rule us [i.e. and he will protect us and save us from our enemies], but [you are forgetting that] Hashem is your true king." (see 12:12)
Shmuel is worried that once Bnei Yisrael appoint a king, they will no longer cry for God's help (as they had done since the time of Yetziat Mitzraim). From Shmuel's point of view, this is the most dangerous aspect of a monarchy, for the people will replace their reliance on God with a reliance on their king instead.

[One could even suggest that this was primary reason that Shmuel wrote Sefer Shoftim. Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will deal with this topic in the TSC series on N'vi'im Rishonim.]

Now, Shmuel warns the people that despite their hopes, their reliance on the king remains dependent on their faith in Hashem:

"Now, here is the king that you have chosen, God has agreed to give you a king, but only if you fear God and follow Him... but should you not listen to God and rebel against Him, then the Hand of God will be against you..." (12:13-15)
A Divine Sign
Finally, Shmuel gives the people a divine sign that indeed God is angry with their request:
"Behold see this great miracle that I will bring today. Is it not the wheat harvest today (i.e. early summer - June)?! (Recall that from May to September it does not rain in Israel), but God will bring thunder and rain [today] - a sign that you should realize how very bad it is what you have done in the eyes of God to ask for a king." (12:16-17)
A soon as the sudden rain and thunder begin, the people are taken aback and immediately ask Shmuel for forgiveness, recognizing their guilt in asking for a king (see 12:19).

No King! No King!
Considering this setting, you would expect that Shmuel would accept the people's declaration of guilt, and simply abolish the kingdom altogether (on the spot). After all, is not this what Shmuel had wanted all along? Up until now, was not he (and God) simply 'giving in' to the people because they were so insistent on having a king?

So why doesn't Shmuel just abolish the kingdom and appoint a new (good) shofet instead. Wouldn't that solve all of the problems?

Instead, Shmuel tells the people not to worry. Even though their original intention may have been wrong, there remains hope that the king will succeed, but once again, only on the condition that the king and the people obey God (see 12:20-21).

However, this reasoning appears to be a bit strange. Wasn't Shmuel's original fear that Bnei Yisrael would leave God specifically because they have a king!?

Back to Sefer Breishit
The answer lies in the next pasuk (which just so happens to be the last pasuk of this week's Haftara), and it is quite fundamental. Note Shmuel's explanation of why God has agreed to allow Bnei Yisrael a king:

"Ki - because God will not abandon His people for the sake of His great name - for it is God's desire to make you His Nation." (see 12:22 - read carefully!)
Hidden in this short pasuk is the most important positive aspect of having a king - for it is only through the establishment of a monarchy that Am Yisrael can mature into a nation! Surely, there are dangers in appointing a king. But there are even greater dangers in not appointing one - what we call anarchy.

Recall from Sefer Breishit how God had hoped for the Nation of Avraham to become His own special nation, living in Eretz Canaan, serving as God's model nation among the seventy nations of the world. Unfortunately, up until this time, this goal had not been realized. Since the time of Yehoshua, Am Yisrael's history exhibited many 'highs' and 'lows,' but even at the best times, never did we find Am Yisrael serving as God's model nation. During most of the time period of the Shoftim, Am Yisrael was basically 'fighting for survival.' Both politically and economically, they never matured into a full-fledged nation, nor had their existence been officially recognized by their neighbors.

[Note that not even once in Sefer Shoftim do we find a foreign power entering into any sort of treaty with Am Yisrael. In contrast, once David's monarchy is established he immediately enters into a treaty with Chiram king of Tzor, while Shlomo widened his foreign diplomacy to its fullest international potential.]

One could suggest that this may be the underlying reason why God agreed at this time to appoint a king. He realized that without a monarchy, i.e. a strong central government (with the right to conscript soldiers and levy taxes; see I Shmuel 8:11-17 - "mishpat ha'melech"), Bnei Yisrael would never become the nation that He had hoped for. But since God's ultimate interest is for Am Yisrael to become His model nation, sooner or later they must mature into a developed political entity - 'like any other nation' ["k'chol ha'goyim" - see Devarim 17:14 and Netziv in Emek Davar] - but with special laws that will make them God's nation.

Even though they presently ask for a king for the 'wrong reason,' God hopes to take advantage of the situation, in order to catalyze a more ideal manner of national growth.

As we shall see, it will be specifically the job of the navi to make sure that the king truly leads the people in this direction. [See 12:23; see also I Shmuel 2:35!)

[In our study of Sefer Shmuel, im yirtzeh Hashem, we will see how this interpretation helps us understand all of the confrontations between Shaul and Shmuel later on in Sefer Shmuel, as well as the reason why Bet David is finally picked to replace Bet Shaul. See shiur on Haftarat Parshat Zachor.] Therefore, Shmuel agrees to a king, even though the people have asked for the wrong reason, for their request has created an unprecedented opportunity to finally steer Bnei Yisrael back in the proper direction. It is not an easy job, but slowly and surely this dream finally comes true (at least partially) during the time period of David and Shlomo.

One cannot help but notice the parallel to the events of our own generation (in connection to the establishment of the state of Israel). Certainly, the intentions of many of those who desired the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state was not 'out of the fear of God.' And certainly, the debate at that time concerning whether or not it should be established was legitimate. However, now that Divine Providence has allowed that state to come into existence, it may now be our responsibility to do our best to help it develop properly - "ki ho'il Hashem l'asot etchem lo l'Am" - "...for it is God's desire that we become His nation, for the sake of His great Name" (12:22).

Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

For Further Iyun
A. Based on the above shiur, why do you think that the Haftara ends with pasuk 22 instead of finishing three psukim later at the end of the perek (and the end of the 'parshia')?

B. Even though the main section of Sefer Shoftim seems to make the same point as Shmuel in chapters 8 and 12 - that a kingdom would not be good - clearly the conclusion of the Sefer and its closing four chapters indicate quite the opposite - "ba'yamim ha'hem ein melech b'Yisrael..." In fact, these chapters seem to blame Bnei Yisrael's political and spiritual downfall on the fact that there is no king. Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will show in our series on N'vi'im Rishonim that Sefer Shoftim presents a 'double message' regarding how to relate to the institution of a "melech."

C. When we speak of "melech," there are two aspects:

Which of these two aspects would relate to modern day democracies? Could this suggest the possibility that certain laws of a "melech" may apply to a 'president' or 'prime-minister' of a democracy as well?!
See Rambam Hilchot Melachim I and Hilchot Terumot 1:1-3.

D. A Fitting Sign
In conclusion, let's note how the Shmuel's sign of "rain on a summer harvest day" ["geshem b'yom katzir"] may reflect this very concept [based on a shiur by Rav Yoel bin Nun].

Ask any farmer if rain is 'good' or 'bad,' and he'll immediately tell you that most of the time rain is 'good,' for without it, nothing will grow. However, rain at the wrong time of the year - e.g. rain during the wheat harvest - can be disastrous.

In a similar manner, the concept of a "malchut Yisrael" - a king of Israel - in principle is a positive one, for through it Am Yisrael can better develop into God's model nation. However, just as rain can be damaging if it falls at the wrong time, so too a monarchy that is established for the wrong reason.

In Shmuel's sign, he may be hinting to a similar concept. Bnei Yisrael have asked for a king, which carried great potential, but it was done for the wrong reason, and hence at certain times it can be spiritually damaging as well.

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