The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Parashat Korach - the Haftara

Korach - the Haftara
1 Samuel 11:14-12:22
Reading date: 20th June 2009 – 14th Sivan 5769

Our Highlighted Haftara Text
"Hineni [Here I am]! Testify against me, in the presence of Adonai and in the present of God's anointed one [Saul]: Whose ox have I taken, or whose as have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to look the other way? I will return it to you."I Samuel 12:3

Our answer to YHVH's call should be: 'Speak, for Your servant is listening.'

In many of the parashiyot that we have seen so far, the connections between Torah and haftara portions have been obvious. This week, the connections are much subtler. Our story from the book of Samuel, (Samuel's opposition to appointing a king over Israel) at first glance is quite dissimilar to the narrative of Korach's rebellion. True, the issues of leadership are a common motif. Korach challenges Moses' leadership and Samuel considers the Israelites' desire for a king to be challenging YHVH's leadership. By choosing a [mortal] king, he worries that they are betraying the Almighty. He warns them that they, together with their king, must continue to obey Him and follow in His ways.

There exists a clear linguistic link between the two selections. Samuel defends his honor and denies any wrongdoing of taking bribes: "whose ass have I taken" which echoes Moses' rebuttal to the rebels Datan and Aviram, "I have not taken the ass of any one of them..." (Num. 16:15).
The books of Samuel and Kings were originally all one continuous narrative, but because of their length, they were later divided into four volumes: I & II Samuel, and I & II Kings. The books of Samuel are part of the Early Prophets. Unlike the books of the Torah, the names of these books are taken from the [first] central character. The book of Samuel centers around three central characters: Samuel, Saul and David.

Samuel is a Nazerite from birth (like Samson, but we don't hear any stories of him having superhuman strength!). Samuel functioned as the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. Samuel (c. 1070 BCE) anoints Saul as the first king of Israel.

The book of Samuel describes the transition of the Israelites from a loose confederacy of tribes into a united monarchy. The book of Samuel concludes with the end of David's reign (961 BCE). Jewish tradition is ambivalent about the idea of a king; the books of Samuel and Kings reflect both pro- and anti-monarchy sentiments.

Possibly, the Rabbis choice of this haftara was to compare Samuel to Moses. Like Moses, Samuel is a major character of the Bible, and both these central figures function as in the dual roles of judge and prophet. Both are called 'ish ha-elohim' (Deut. 33:1; I Sam. 9:7). They are mentioned together in Psalms: Moses and Aaron among YHVH's priests, Samuel, among those who call on YHVH's name... (Ps. 99:6a). Moses appears in four of the five books of the Torah, like Samuel, who appears in the (now four) volumes of Samuel and Kings.

Adding Samuel to the Korach narrative, allows us to compare the leadership styles of three central characters: Moses, Korach, and Samuel. Korach is the self-appointed leader. He is described as challenging Moses and ultimately YHVH's authority. Clearly, Korach had too much ego. He thought he knew what the problem was and how to solve it, even if no one asked him. Like Korach, sometimes we are guilty of having too much ego.

Moses, on the other hand, almost refused to listen to YHVH's call. Moses is the reluctant leader. When Moses encounters God at the burning bush, he comes up with several excuses as to why he shouldn't be chosen. I am reminded of the shamash (beadle, or caretaker) who is moved during the penitential prayers of the High Holy Days, and says, 'Oh God, I am a gornisht, a nothing." At which point, the president of the shul elbows the rabbi, and in a sarcastic tone, asks, "'Look who's also a 'nothing'?!" Like the shamash, we are sometimes too humble. The danger of being too modest is that we don't have the courage to challenge injustice. Instead we believe that we are too weak to effect change, saying, 'Who are we to change...'

So how do we find a healthy balance between Moses and Korach? I think Samuel represents the middle ground. Unlike Korach he has no vested political interests; he does not support the monarchy, because he himself wants to be king. Although like Moses, Samuel prays on behalf of the Israelites, he is also prepared to chastise them. He threatens them with rain (rain during the wheat harvest would have destroyed the wheat crop). But most of all, the lesson he teaches us, is how to respond to YHVH's call.

Instead of the reluctance shown by Moses, when YHVH first calls, Samuel's answer (like Abraham), is Hineni, I am here/ [ready]. Samuel then continues, 'Speak, for Your servant is listening' (I Sam. 3:10). We should not be like Korach, who assumes that he has the authority of YHVH, nor like Moses, who believes that he is unworthy. We should be always open to listening so we will hear YHVH's voice. Then, our answer should be 'Speak, for Your servant is listening.''

Shabbat Shalom

No comments: