‘Machar Hachodesh’: Rival Relationships and Diverging Destinies

The Mishna in Avot teaches:

כל אהבה שהיא תלויה בדבר בטל דבר בטלה אהבה. ושאינה תלויה בדבר אינה בטלה לעולם. איזו היא אהבה התלויה בדבר? זו אהבת אמנון ותמר. ושאינה תלויה בדבר? זו אהבת דוד ויהונתן

Any love which is dependent on something- as soon that disappears, the love is gone. A love which isn’t dependent on anything- will never go away. What is a” dependent” love? This is the love that Amnon had for Tamar. What is an “independent” love? This is the love that David and Yehonatan had. (אבות ה:טז)

The love that existed between David and Yehonatan was very illogical- after all, David had been secretly appointed the successor to King Shaul, Yehonatan’s father, even before his death. David’s expertise as a battle general, including his miraculous victory over Goliat, led to the Jewish singers to compose battle songs that praised David’s triumphs at the expense of Shaul, leading to a nasty jealousy. Nonetheless, Yehonatan had nothing but genuine love for David, as the pesukim say:

וְנֶפֶשׁ יְהוֹנָתָן נִקְשְׁרָה בְּנֶפֶשׁ דָּוִד [כתיב: ויאהבווַיֶּאֱהָבֵהוּ יְהוֹנָתָן כְּנַפְשׁוֹ

And the soul of Yehonatan became connected to that of David, and Yehonatan loved him like himself. (שמואל א יח:א)

Yehonatan’s love for David’s was so selfless and pure that their souls were forever “connected.” It may not even be a stretch to say that Yehonatan’s feelings were a complete fulfillment of the command of “ואהבת לרעך כמוך,” loving each other on such a high level that we would only do unto them what we would do for ourselves.

In contrast, Shaul Hamelech’s relationship was David with rocky to say the least. What had begun as simple jealousy developed into something much more complicated and dangerous- the pesukim describe Shaul as:

וַיְהִי שָׁאוּל [כתיב: עוןעוֹיֵן אֶת־דָּוִד מֵהַיּוֹם הַהוּא וָהָלְאָה

And Shaul despised David from that day (of his victory over Goliat) and on. (שם יח:ט)

The meforshim expound on the unusual wording “עוין.”

Rashi and Radak both interpret עוין as meaning עין הרעwith the latter also reading into the word written in the scroll which is traditionally not read- עון (sin), to bring the same conclusion: that Shaul’s negative feelings against David were wrong and only brought bad upon himself and his family.

Mezudat Zion, a later commentary on Na”ch attributed to Rav David Altschuler of Prague and printed in the late Eighteenth Century, reads deeper into these feelings and some earlier interpretations of them. He writes that Shaul’s feelings for David were pure “עין הרע– no matter what David did, Shaul would always judge him for bad (Rav Altschuler specifically uses the word “מעיין,” or judging, based on the pasuk).

This would seem to be the complete opposite of Yehonatan’s feelings for David. Whereas Yehonatan had attached himself permanently to David, his father had done the opposite, permanently disconnecting himself from his son-in-law and one of his top generals in an effort to constantly undermine him. Yehonatan, on the other hand, could only see the good in David, leading to them forming a covenant for themselves and their children to always guard one another.

The climax of these opposing relationships takes place in our haftarah. David, realizing Shaul’s deathly hatred of him, enlists Yehonatan’s help in figuring out how serious and deep these feelings are. Yehonatan devises a plan, to see how Shaul will react to David’s conspicuous absence at the monthly Rosh Chodesh meal- if the king could even spin a family emergency into a negative statement on David, then they would know that Shaul’s relationship with David was beyond healing.

And so it plays out that Shaul reacts quite badly to Yehonatan’s explanation for David’s nonattendance:

וַיִּחַר־אַף שָׁאוּל בִּיהוֹנָתָן וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ בֶּן־נַעֲוַת הַמַּרְדּוּת הֲלוֹא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־בֹחֵר אַתָּה לְבֶן־יִשַׁי לְבָשְׁתְּךָ וּלְבֹשֶׁת עֶרְוַת אִמֶּךָ… וְעַתָּה שְׁלַח וְקַח אֹתוֹ אֵלַי כִּי בֶן־מָוֶת הוּא.

And Shaul became angry at Yehonatan, and he said to him: ‘O son of a rebellious woman, I know that you chose this son of Yishai to my embarrassment and the embarrassment of your mother… and now, go and get him (David), for he is as good as dead. (שם כ:ל-לא)

Shaul, in his anger, not only formally sentences David to the death that he had already attempted to cause several times (see שמואל א יח:יא and יט:יא-טז), but also takes on a new level of paranoia- he correctly accuses his main heir of corroborating with David (though for the wrong reasons), in the process blaming David’s successes on his own son. Shaul launches an extensive manhunt for David, and his hatred doesn’t abate for the tragically short remainder of his life.

Seeing this reaction, Yehonatan signals to David that their plan had shown that his father’s hatred was beyond reason. The two have a teary parting of ways, which readers know to tragically be the last time they see each other alive. However, before saying good bye, they formalize their friendship by renewing the covenant they had already made together, to watch over each other’s descendants, which David fulfills immediately after he assumes the throne and recovers Jerusalem (see שמואל ב פרק ט).

In short, we’ve seen that our haftarah demonstrates two different and opposing types of relationships: the אהבת חינםpure love, of Yehonatan and David, and the שנאת חינםpure hatred, that Shaul had for David. We also know the outcome of both of these- Shaul’s loathing of David eventually lead to his downfall in the war against the Pelishtim, and his death on Mt. Gilboa (see שמואל א פרק לא), while Yehonatan’s love led to the lifetime protection of his son Mepiboshet by David.

What we don’t know is; aside from the obvious reference in this first passuk of the haftarah, why is this read on Erev Rosh Chodesh?

We know that Rosh Chodesh is a time of renewal and redemption. Every month, we pray at least three times: “וזכרון משיח בן דוד עבדיך וזכרון ירושלים עיר קדשיך וזכרון כל עמך בית ישראל לפניך לפליטה ולטובה.” Rosh Chodesh is an עת רצון for our prayers to be answered, especially those for redemption (on both a personal and national levels). However, before we can ask G-d to remember all of the Jewish People for good, we must first do this- we need to work to judge all of am yisrael לפליטה ולטובה.

We must learn from the two models presented in שמואל א פרק כ and follow the warning of Pirke Avot to pick the אהבת חינם of David and Yehonatan over the שנאת חינם of Shaul. We cannot forget that the baseless hatred of the later generations of בית שני caused its destruction and our subsequent 2000 year exile, a sin which all of us (to varying degrees) are still suffering from today. If we want to fix this wrong, we must work on the exact opposite- we must show the selfless, unconditional devotion that Yehonatan and David demonstrated in our haftarah, to every single Jew.

If we can all work together to follow David and Yehonatan’s model of pure, unadulterated love, of true “ואהבת לרעך כמוך,” then, with Hashem’s help, we will merit an ultimate remembrance of our exile, just as Hashem “remembered” the Jews’ cries in Egypt (שמות ב:כד), and the complete rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Third Bet Hamikdash, to gladden us during this tragic time of mourning of ספרית העומרShabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.