Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein
Jewish tradition tells us that at the conclusion of each Shabbat Torah reading, a second scriptural reading called the Haftorah is added. This selection from the Prophets is not chosen arbitrarily, rather its theme is meant to complement the primary topic of the Torah reading or be germane to some unique event associated with the particular Shabbat.
Jewish tradition tells us that at the conclusion of each Shabbat Torah reading, a second scriptural reading called the Haftorah is added. This selection from the Prophets is not chosen arbitrarily, rather its theme is meant to complement the primary topic of the Torah reading or be germane to some unique event associated with the particular Shabbat. This Shabbat intersects with a special moment in time in that it immediately precedes Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new Hebrew month, which falls out this Sunday. We therefore depart from the normal selection associated with Parshat Bamidbar and in its stead read from the book of Samuel I about the relationship of David, the future king of Israel, and Jonathan, son of King Saul. Presumably, this choice was made due to the reference of the impending new month found in its opening verse: "And Jonathan said, 'tomorrow is the New Month'". However, it is odd that a single minute reference should be sufficient to justify its selection for this occasion. Is there, perhaps, some message within the story of the friendship between David and Jonathan which exemplifies the theme of the onset of the new month?
The Talmud (Tractate Chullin 60b) addresses a difficulty with regards to the creation of the two primary heavenly bodies, the sun and the moon. One part of the verse in the creation story states that the Almighty fashioned two great luminaries, yet the second half identifies one of them as the "great luminary" and the other as the "small luminary" (Genesis 1:16). Our sages explain that initially the sun and the moon were created as equals. The moon approached Hashem (as it were) and complained, "Master of the Universe! Is it possible that two kings may share the same crown?" To which Hashem responded, "Moon, go and diminish yourself so that you will only reflect the light of the sun." To appease the moon Hashem offered several consolations: The Jewish people will use a lunar calendar to measure time, and the righteous Jews will bear the appellation of "the small one" (a symbol of humility) comparing them to the moon. It is the way of our sages to speak metaphorically of great ideas. What is the underlying message they seek to impart with this fantastic story?
Let's address one final question which requires our analysis of the relationship between David and Jonathan as seen through the eyes of our sages. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Our Fathers 5:19) our rabbis declare, "All love which is based upon external factors will never last. Only love which is truly selfless has the power to endure." To solidify this message, they cite the relationship of David and Jonathan as the paradigm of selfless love. Isn't it unusual that in the entirety of Jewish literature the only example they felt was effective at conveying this point was the friendship between these two? Why not select an example of a relationship between a man and woman to serve as a guide? After all, such a relationship is far more prone to fall prey to external considerations!
A man and woman enter into a relationship because they have a deep-down need to feel whole and complete, a need which this union brings to fruition. In a man to man relationship, however, each party potentially feels threatened by the other. A man in his world senses that all are his competitors and life is an uphill struggle to be number one. For a man to admit that he needs the assistance of another is to blow a gaping hole in the armor of his defenses. A man literally spends his life wondering "How can two kings share the same crown?"
Perhaps no one sensed this greater than Jonathan. He was the crown prince of Israel, successor to the illustrious King Saul. However, Saul had fallen from Hashem's favor and was to be replaced by the budding David. Saul senses this; Jonathan knows it too. In the Haftorah, Saul lashes out at his son, "Do you not know?! As long as [David] lives upon the earth, you and your kingdom shall not be secure!" (Samuel I 20:31). Yet for the sake of friendship Jonathan gives it all up. He makes himself small in David's presence. The result of this is not only a powerful bond of friendship, but that the very future of the Jewish people is paved as David, the progenitor of the Messianic Dynasty, is given his rightful place. Certainly, there cannot be a more definitive example of selfless love, of one giving up his own space for the sake of another, than was evidenced in this friendship.
The destiny of the Jewish people is intertwined with the moon. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, we too have times of great success and failure. Just as the moon continuously "renews" itself, we take our cue from it and renew our relationship with the Almighty. In the last few moments of the "old" moon, as it wanes seemingly out of existence, we read about the selflessness of Jonathan and how he guaranteed a brighter future for the Jewish people. The moon teaches us that if we are to establish a relationship with Hashem, we too need to be willing to give up of ourselves at times. Sometimes giving up of ourselves is not a loss; it is a stepping stone to greater opportunity. And behold, only moments after vanishing, the moon again is "reborn" to shine in all of its brilliance!
Isaiah prophecized that the moon will one day be restored to its original grandeur. May it be the will of the Almighty that He quickly restore us to our original splendor that we may proclaim "King David (the Messiah) of Israel lives on" as we are led back to our homeland once again.
Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein, who grew up in Atlanta and is an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a member of the Kollel at the Talmudic University of Florida in Miami Beach.
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