שבת ט' בכסלו תשפ"ג 03/12/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

First King of Israel: Shaul haMelech

The prophet Shmuel appoints the first King of Israel, Shaul.

21/09/2009 10:00
pon hearing that the nation wished to “Appoint a king to judge us like all the other nations” (Shmuel Alef 8:5), the saintly prophet Shmuel turned to Hashem for advice, and was told to accede to their request and anoint a King over the Jewish nation. A few verses later there is already mention of a man from the tribe of Binyamin – “and his name was Kish son of Aviel, son of Afiach, son of Ish Yemini…” (9:1). The Malbim explains the reason for this extensive introduction – to give us a picture of the background wherefrom the new king emerged. Kish was the son of Aviel, who was also known as ‘Ner’ – since he would light up the dark alleyways for people to pass – a sure sign of piety and concern for the welfare of the public. Kish himself was a man of valor, and “the strength of a father gives rise to strength in the son”. This son was Shaul, about whom Shmuel testified: “A good youth, and there is no man in the nation of Israel better than him, he is head and shoulders above the rest” (9:2). Shaul was unique not only in his regal bearing and good looks, but also in his actions that bespoke royalty.

The famous story of the lost horses, is a tale of remarkable Divine assistance whereby Shaul reached Shmuel and was anointed as the first king of Israel. When Kish realized one day that his horses had gone astray, he sent his son Shaul to search for them. Together with a young lad he made his way up hills and down valleys, yet there was no trace of the missing animals. Shaul began to worry that his father would be alarmed at their long absence, and decided to head back home. However the lad accompanying him insisted that first they go to the prophet Shmuel, a man of G-d who “all that he speaks of comes about… perhaps he will tell us our way…” (9:6).

The two made their way to Shmuel haNavi, and at that exact moment Hashem appeared to Shmuel and told him of the imminent arrival of Shaul, and that he is the one who is to be anointed as ruler over Israel. So it was that when Shaul appeared, he was greeted with the news he had been chosen by Hashem to lead his people. Thereupon Shmuel poured oil over his head, and revealed to him that he would now be endowed with the spirit of prophecy. After this he sent him on his way and the two headed home.
The incredible modesty and humility of Shaul is apparent in the fact that when he finally returned home and was asked about his delay, he did not reveal what had transpired - that he had just been anointed as king over the entire nation. Later too, when Shmuel proclaimed publicly that Shaul will be king, the verse describes: “and behold, he hid behind the vessels” (10:22) – he hid himself amongst the simple folk in the crowds. When Shmuel later praised him saying “… the one whom Hashem chose since there are none like him in the entire world”, and the people responded: “Long live the king!”; Shaul simply returned home because he felt there were surely those who did not see him as fitting for the position. As to the ‘sons of Baal’ who jeered – “what will this one save us” (ibid), he turned a deaf ear and did not respond.

Shaul’s rise to the throne occurred after over three hundred years of ‘Shoftim’, judges, who were appointed to preside over the people and lead them. The first was Asniel ben Kenaz. The various judges over the years came from different tribes, as the Gemara in Succa quotes: “There is no tribe in Israel that did not produce Shoftim” (Succah 27).

As long as there was a Shofet leading and guiding the people, they followed the path of Torah and piety; but in the periods when there was no Shofet the spiritual state of the nation deteriorated, and Hashem would send nations from the surrounding lands to persecute and enslave them. Out of the depths of their misery they would cry out in prayer to be saved, whereupon another Shofet would be appointed who would save them from their enemies, and guide the people on a path of Teshuva. During one such period of spiritual instability, where “each man did as was correct in his eyes” (Judges 21:25), the people requested of Hashem to grant them a king – and so it was, that Shaul was appointed king over them, becoming the first Jewish king in history. He was then fifty-nine years of age.

Although Shaul was from the tribe of Binyamin and not the tribe of Yehuda, where royalty really belongs, he was nevertheless the chosen candidate because Hashem wished that the king who would lead the war against Amalek be from the tribe of Binyamin. The nation of Amalek descends from Esav, and at the time when Yaakov and his sons bowed down before Esav centuries before, Binyamin had not yet been born and was thus spared from bowing to the wicked Esav. Hashem declared – Let Shaul from the tribe of Binyamin come to fight Amalek, who is the descendent of Esav. This in fact was Yaakov’s prophetic vision, when he blessed Binyamin with the words: “Binyamin is a wolf that tears” (Bereishis 49:27). He saw that from Binyamin will come Shaul, who will fight Amalek.
Throughout his entire reign, wars raged around the land without letup and Shaul merited great victories in his battles against the Pelishtim and other enemies. When it came to the great war against Amalek, Shmuel haNavi once again approached Shaul, this time with a warning: “…And now, heed the words of Hashem: So says Hashem, I remember what Amalek did to the Jewish nation… now go, and smite Amalek and instate a ban over all their property, and don’t have pity on them; kill the men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep; and camels and donkeys..” (15: 1-3). Shaul was in effect being commanded to annihilate the entire nation of Amalek, without leaving a single trace. However we see a few verses later that he did not heed this directive in its entirety: “… Shaul and the nation had mercy on Agag, and on the choice flock and cattle” (15: 9) and left them alive. In anger Hashem told Shmuel: “I regret that I appointed Shaul as king, since he turned his back on me and did not heed my words”. He commanded Shmuel to withdraw the Kingship from Shaul, and grant it upon a person more fitting than he.

Although Shaul continued to serve in the capacity of king, Hashem prepared the way for the next king of Israel, from the royal dynasty of Yehuda: David haMelech. He was a son of Yishai who in turn was from the house of Lachmi. Young David was quietly lured away from the sheep yard, where he was tending his father’s flock, and anointed in secret. From the moment the divine spirit settled on David, it departed from Shaul who was suddenly beset with a strange ‘evil spirit’. From then on Shaul’s status spiralled rapidly downwards, whilst David’s rose higher and higher. The first meeting between the two took place when David was called upon to play music before the king, to soothe him at the time when he was beset with the ‘evil spirit’. With his pleasant music and soft voice, he would sing verses of praise to Hashem in front of the king, and this calmed Shaul’s troubled soul greatly.

Shaul’s weakness prompted the surrounding Pelishtim to take advantage of the Jewish nation, and resume their battles against Israel. The famous incident of David haMelech’s victory against the mammoth giant Golias, propelled him into fame and earned him the undying admiration of his people. The Pelishti giant was armed from head to foot, and with a mere catapult David succeeded in felling him. He returned from the battlefield to the jubilant cries of his people, who called out: “Shaul smote thousands, and David – tens of thousands!’ (18, 9). This infuriated Shaul to no end, and “from that day onwards he became hostile to David” (18, 9). He tried numerous times to conspire against David, but ironically it was his very own children who came to David’s rescue.
King Shaul had three sons: Yonasan, Yishuy and Malkishua; and two daughters – Meirav and Michal. His wife was called Achinoam. Michal was married to David, and with her wisdom she helped David escape her father’s wrath, when she heard that Shaul had sent officers to his house to arrest him and kill him. About Yonason and his famed love for David, the Mishne in Avos says: “What is a love that is not dependent on anything? This is the love of David and Yonason”. It is important to point out here that Chazal warn us not to even imagine that Shaul acted out of wickedness; on the contrary, he is described in Tanach and in Gemara as a lofty and exalted personality, humble and self-effacing to the extreme. It was heavenly ordained that a spirit of jealousy enter Shaul’s mind, in order to cause him to pursue David.

 Towards the end of his life, the bloodthirsty Pelishtim once again gathered to fight against the nation, and when Shaul saw them he was seized with a great terror. Since Shmuel haNavi had died he had no one whom to turn to for advice, and his repeated attempts to speak to Hashem - whether in dreams, the ‘Urim v’Tumim’ or through other prophets, were in vain. He decided on a plan: he would don civilian garments so as to evade recognition, and approach a sorcerer with the request that she arouse the soul of the prophet Shmuel from his eternal rest. The commentaries discuss this incident at great length, raising a number of perplexing questions such as: Why did Hashem not answer Shaul? How did the depraved soul of a wizard succeed in overcoming that of Shmuel, and bringing him down to the earthly world? and so forth. The soul of Shmuel was greatly tormented at being summoned from the nether worlds, and asked Shaul: “Why did you vex me so [by] arousing me?” (28, 19) Shaul explained his great distress, and Shmuel responded with harsh words describing how Shaul’s reign will pass from his hands to David, and that the Jewish nation will suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of their enemies.

The verses in Tanach describe at great length all that transpired in this difficult war, during which Shaul’s three sons were killed and finally Shaul, too. When he realized he was trapped, he begged his sword-bearer to kill him with the sword, but he refused. Thereupon Shaul took the sword himself, threw himself upon it and died. As if this were not enough, when the Pelishtim found his body they severed his head and displayed it in front of their people and their idols. When word reached David haMelech about these horrific and sadistic deaths, he tore his garments and the entire nation mourned. They cried and fasted in their grief over the passing of the great king, and for all the unfortunate Jewish soldiers who fell in battle. Thus David lamented over Shaul and his beloved friend Yonason: “How did the mighty fall, and … were lost”. He ends with the mournful words: “The gazelle, Yisrael, was desecrated on Your altar” (Shmuel Beis, 1:27).

When the people of Yavesh Gilad heard of Shaul’s death, they sent troops to recover the bodies of the king and his sons, so as to bring them to ‘Kever Yisrael’ – a proper burial. They then began a fast which lasted for seven days. With this they repaid King Shaul for his kindness in saving them in the war with Nachash the Emoni, and accorded him the respect due a monarch of such lofty stature.