Haftorah This Week

Welcome to Haftorah This Week, the place where you will find thoughts and reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on this week's Haftorah.


(I Samuel 20:18-42)

Machar Chodesh is a segment from the Book of Samuel which is read whenever Shabbat falls the day before a new moon (Rosh Chodesh). Its relationship to the new moon is clear, for the text begins with the words: "And Jonathan said to him: Tomorrow is the new moon" (I Samuel 20:18).

Jonathan is the son of King Saul and heir to the throne. David is a hero of Israel so powerful that Saul sees him as a threat to his kingship, a potential rival to Jonathan. Both will marry and have children, but Jonathan will die tragically in battle. And they deeply love each other.

This Haftarah retells how the two young men meet in the field and realize that one, David, must flee the violent fury of King Saul. Anticipating the pain of separation, they "kissed one another and wept together, David the most. And Jonathan said to David: `Go in peace, for the two of us have together sworn in God's name declaring: The Eternal shall be among us our progeny forever.'" (I Samuel 20:42)

The devotion and affection that they express, and not that of husband and wife, is the rabbinic model of true and pure love. Out of their relationship, the Mishnah will determine a general principle:

Any loving relationship which depends upon something, [when] that thing is gone, the love is gone. But any which does not depend upon something will never come to an end.... What is a loving relationship which does not depend upon something? That is the love of David and Jonathan. (Avot 5:18)

Here is a tradition that provides a loving union between two men (for two women, the Bible offers Ruth and Naomi) filled with deep intimacy and commitment. Human dignity is magnified by their respect and love, yet the uniqueness of each is not jeopardized. The rabbis highlight what for us is a modern observation: love is not locating an object to fulfill one's needs, but seeking another human being created in God's image with whom to be in a relationship.

Their passion for each other is so great that when Jonathan dies, David publicly declares:

I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan, you were most dear to me. Your love was wonderful to me, more than the love of women. (II Sam. 1:26)

In spite of the erotic tensions, the rabbis are unafraid to elevate David and Jonathan as their paragon of relationship. Such caring between two individuals of the same gender--filled with shared support and loving--is easily validated by the rabbis, providing us with a model of love to emulate in our most intimate relationships.

(David Elcott)


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