Archive for Shabbat Machar Hodesh

Shabbat Machar Hodesh: Love is Infinite

Copyright 2015 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Shemini/ Machar Hodesh

Saul flew into a rage against Jonathan. “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!” he shouted. “I know that you side with the son of Jesse-to your shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness! (1 Samuel 20:30)

Good afternoon!

This week we’re reading an unusual haftarah, called Machar Hodesh, which is only read when Sunday is Rosh Hodesh, or the first of the month, based on a mention in the text of the following day’s new moon. This happens on an irregular basis (as far as I know), which makes this haftarah an unusual liturgical text, since most Torah readings or special prayers happen on certain days or times of the year and shape our experience of the flow of time and turning of the seasons.

The text of the haftarah concerns the relationship between David, future king of Israel, and Jonathan, his best friend, brother-in-law and son of the current king, Saul, who is jealous of David’s popularity and seeks to kill him. Jonathan is caught in the middle, and tries, in this text, to save David’s life by finding out if Saul still wants him dead, in which case David will flee the royal court. Saul figures out that his son is covering for David’s absence at the feast of the new moon and flies into a rage, insulting and shaming Jonathan for seeming to choose his friend over his father. In the verse quoted above, Saul is so contemptuous that he doesn’t even refer to David by name, but calls him “son of Jesse” and even implies that Jonathan is unworthy of his status as crown prince.

To be clear, there is a strong political component to Saul’s anger: he worries that David will seize the kingship, and if Jonathan is helping David, then Jonathan may be undermining his own claim to the throne. On the other hand, it’s hard not to read the verse above and feel pity for Saul’s jealousy and insecurity; on a purely emotional level, Saul falls into the classic human error of assuming that people are with us or against us, loved ones or enemies.

Yet love is not like that at all: politically, perhaps Jonathan would have to choose to support either his father or his friend as king, but spiritually, he can love and support both. Love is not a zero-sum game: loving one person doesn’t mean loving another any less. It takes maturity and courage to accept that our family, friends, colleagues and dear ones are not our exclusive possessions. To the extend that we recognize and affirm that love is an infinite resource, there is more of it in the world, and for what other purpose were we created?

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

The views expressed are my own and do not reflect that of Vassar Brothers Medical Center or Health-Quest.

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Shemini/ Machar Hodesh: The True Victory

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger


Torah Portioni: Shemini / Machar Hodesh 

Good afternoon! 

My apologies for no commentary last week- the short week got the best of me. No commentary next week, either, as I’ll be off to California for a memorial service. 

This week, however, we will depart from the ordinary Torah reading (portionShemini) to look at the haftarah, or reading from the prophetic texts, which occurs when Shabbat is the day before Rosh Hodeshor the new moon. When that happens, we read a passage from the book of Samuel which tells of the developing conflict between Saul, the first king of a united kingdom of Israel, and his younger rival David, who has exceeded him in charisma and military renown. Caught in the middle is Jonathan, the king’s son and David’s best friend. 

The connection with the day before Rosh Hodesh occurs in the first line of ourhaftarah

“Jonathan said to him, ‘Tomorrow will be the new moon; and you will be missed when your seat remains vacant . . . ‘ ” (I Samuel 20:18). 

Jonathan knows that Saul is jealous of David to the point of wanting to harm him, and is telling David that he must go and hide while Jonathan ascertains whether it will be safe to join the king at the feast of the new moon. Jonathan tries to reason with his father, and fails; Saul and David have a deadly falling-out. Not only that, but Jonathan earns the enmity and scorn of his father, and ends up losing the kingship to David and dying in the ensuing civil war. 

One might see Jonathan as a failed and tragic figure, but Hirsch sees him as a great hero, not because of his accomplishments on the battlefield- substantial as they were- but because of his integrity and nobility of character. Though it cost him the throne, he protested his father’s treatment of David and helped David escape Saul’s wrath; who among us is really prepared to do that for a friend? 

Thus, according to Hirsch, Jonathan was not defeated at all in the task of being a “pure human being.” He did not succeed in his practical aims- reconciling his father and friend- but he succeeded in navigating treacherous shoals of power, privilege, family, and friendship while retaining his integrity, humanity, heart and soul. His story evokes a reevaluation of what it means to live a worthy life; too often we praise others only for worldly success and pay no mind to the spiritual costs. 

Every day, I see Jonathans in our community: humble people who serve others selflessly, who are more interested in what they can give than what they can get, who do what’s right regardless of personal cost. It is Jonathan, and not David, who is the moral center of this haftarah; to read his story is to look within and ask ourselves whether we too might act so nobly when tested to the core. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

RNJL 

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Machar Hodesh: True Friendship

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Machar Hodesh

Spring is springing along: the month of Iyyar is coming to a close, and on Sunday we begin the new month of
Sivan. That confluence of calendrical celebrations [Rosh Hodesh, the
new moon, coming the day after Shabbat] gives us a special haftarah
for the week. Called “Machar Hodesh,” this special haftarah takes the
place of the regular reading when Rosh Hodesh- the new moon- is on a
Sunday; the reading itself is a story which begins on the day before
the new moon.

This story is that of David (not yet King David) and Yehonatan
[Jonathan], the son of King Shaul [Saul]. Shaul is jealous of David
and seeks to harm him, but Yehonatan and David, who are dear friends,
make a plan for Yehonatan to warn David if it’s not safe for him to
return to the king’s palace for the festival of the new moon. The plan
is a clever one in which Yehonatan goes out to shoot some arrows and
David will know by where they fall if Yehonatan is telling him to
return or stay away.

Many commentators have praised Yehonatan as one of the nobler figures
in the Bible; he is loyal to David even though he knows that David
will probably supplant him as king. He endures his father’s rage and
scorn rather than turn against his friend; he is an exemplar of
conscience and commitment even if it costs him the kingdom. To me,
Yehonatan’s character is revealed in a subtle but symbolic act, which
takes place after he goes out to communicate with the hidden David by
means of the archery trick:

“So Jonathan’s boy gathered the arrows and came back to his master. —
The boy suspected nothing; only Jonathan and David knew the
arrangement. — Jonathan handed the gear to his boy and told him,
‘Take these back to the town.’ When the boy got there, David emerged
from his concealment . . . ” ( 1 Samuel 28:38-41, JPS translation.)

Notice that after Yehonatan shoots his arrows into the field, and thus
sends David a coded message, he gives his bow to his servant and sends
him home. A bow is a weapon of war, but Yehonatan uses it for
friendship, and then leaves it aside entirely when it comes time to
meet David again. Yehonatan approaches his friend without any
defenses, as it were; contrast this with Shaul, who earlier in the
text brings his spear to the palace feast and tries to strike his own
son with it!

I see this small detail- Yehonatan’s sending the bow and arrows back
with the boy before he meets David- as a symbol of why he is so
admirable: he chooses to be vulnerable for the sake of those he
loves. He chooses to risk his father’s wrath to protect David, and he
chooses to be a friend without the trappings of rank or royalty. By
sending the boy home with the arrows, Yehonatan says to David: I wish
to be your friend without the defenses and postures of warriors and
princes.

This, then, is the message of Machar Hodesh: there are times when we
must lay down our arms, as it were, to truly encounter those we love.
We must risk relationship, because the love of friends is worth a
kingdom.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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