The Ultimate Validation

Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg

The haftorah of Parshas Korach deals with the coronation of Shaul as the first king of the Jewish people. Their request for a king, as is well known, was met with resistance by Shmuel, as he sensed their desire was impure, and tainted by their insecurities. The bulk of the haftorah contains a deep and insightful speech to the Jewish people detailing how they should approach the Jewish king. When looking at his opening remarks, we see an almost defiant Shmuel, insisting he never gained any personal benefit throughout all his endeavors on behalf of the Jewish people. And in an amazing display of validation, according to the Talmud, a Divine voice confirms that Shmuel was telling the truth. As we will soon see, this speech and its Divine endorsement served an important purpose in the development of the idea of the Jewish king. 

Shmuel’s introduction went as follows (Shmuel I 12:3-5):

“Here I am; witness against me before the LORD, and before His anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose donkey have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? or whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I taken a ransom to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you.'  And they said: 'Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught of any man's hand.'  And he said unto them: 'The LORD is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day, that ye have not found aught in my hand.' And they said: 'He is witness.”

The reference to taking any personal benefit is of the same character as Moshe’s statement to God during the rebellion of Korach (see Bamidbar 16:15). However, in that situation, the people were openly questioning Moshe’s leadership. What was the purpose of Shmuel’s insistence to the nation, at this particular moment, that he did not gain anything personal from his years as judge? 

The use of “witness” here is interesting as well, and the Talmud jumps on its inclusion by Shmuel (Makos 23b). The Talmud explains that a holy spirit (ruach hakodesh) manifested itself to three tribunals (beis din  - the particular use of tribunal is not the subject of this article) – Yehuda, Shmuel, and Shlomo Hamelech. The first of these is referencing the story with Tamar and Yehuda, where Yehuda was faced with the evidence that indicated Tamar was the woman who seduced him. He responds with the famous “she is righteous, it is from me (tzodka mimeni)” statement. The Talmud asks how he could be so sure Tamar was pregnant with his child. Thus, a Divine voice came forth and announced that indeed Yehuda was accurate. With regards to the tribunal of Shmuel, as we mentioned above, Shmuel says that God should be a witness as to his claim of never taking any personal benefit from the Jewish people during his “job” as judge. The Talmud explains that a Divine voice backed up Shmuel’s claim, the “witness” referred to in the text. Finally, there is the Tribunal of Solomon. This is referring to the famous story of the two women arguing over which was the mother of a child, and with Shlomo HaMelech then offering the famous “split the baby into two” solution. The reaction of the women indicated to Shlomo which of the two women was indeed the mother. Yet how did he know for sure? Once again, the Divine voice arrives to back up his claim. 

This is a difficult Aggadic piece to understand, and, due to lack of space, we will limit ourselves to just a few of the issues. What is the common link between these three stories? Why only in these three instances does the Divine voice emerge? And for what purpose? Merely to give a true “rock solid” guarantee? What is the ultimate objective here?

On the surface, one can see a common link between Yehuda and Shlomo Hamelech. Rashi offers a more detailed explanation as to the importance of the Divine voice with the incident by Yehuda. Yehuda was the king, and Tamar had the privilege of the future kings of Israel emerging through her. As such, it was imperative her two sons be traced back to her. Rashi offers another possibility along these lines, where Dovid Hamelech and the Mashiach will emerge from this lineage; therefore, it was imperative Yehuda’s claim be backed up. At the very least, we see a link here between two kings – Yehuda and Shlomo. However, where does Shmuel fit into this? Granted, Shmuel was expressing his lack of personal gain from the nation prior to launching into the introduction of Shaul as king. Yet Shmuel was not a king himself, thereby negating this common theme of kingship.   

Let’s not stray too far from the theme of kingship, as it must play a role in understanding this piece. If we can develop an explanation for Shmuel’s adamant denial of any personal benefit from his work as judge, we may be able to extend the idea to both Yehuda and Shlomo. 

Shmuel’s speech to the nation regarding the coronation of Shaul was of considerable significance, punctuated with the following verses (ibid 14-15):

“If ye will fear the LORD, and serve Him, and hearken unto His voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and both ye and also the king that reigneth over you be followers of the LORD your God--; but if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall the hand of the LORD be against you, and against your fathers.”

The people must relate to the Jewish king in the proper way, with the fear of God the underlying concept. This is not a simple act, as the relationship between the nation and the Jewish king is potentially dangerous. On the one hand, they must be able to place their security in God above all, avoiding the deification of this individual. At the same time, the king was not to be viewed as merely a political figure, someone who was power hungry. As a friend put it succinctly, the king of the Jewish people should reflect the ideas of God, mirroring the attributes God manifested to the world, striving to act in line with truth. He is the “face” of the nation, leading them not just in the wars of God, but to a higher plane of perfection. Any impediment in the relationship of the nation to the king would destroy the bond. 

With this mindset, Shmuel recognizes how crucial it had to be that when warning the nation of the perils involved in having a king, he was acting in a purely objective manner. Rather than view this as an adamant denial, it was an introduction demonstrating his true objectivity. He had nothing personal to gain in describing the possible pitfalls in the coronation of Shaul. Had the people perceived a potential power play or an envious judge, his words would fall on deaf ears. This could be the impetus for the Divine voice. At this moment in time, the institution of kingship was being actualized, the first time the Jewish people would be led by a Jewish king. It was therefore critical they know without question his words were authentic. 

With this idea in place, we can turn to both Yehuda and Shlomo. In both cases, we are dealing with decisive moments in the Jewish people’s perception of the Jewish king. The lineage of kingship was to come from Yehuda. Yet, as we know from the story of the selling of Yosef, Yehuda went into an exile of sorts to reflect on his errors and correct his defects. The climax of the story with Tamar occurs at the moment he is presented with evidence indicating Tamar was the woman he had relations with. The popular sentiment was against Tamar, (the suspicion of her harlotry). And had Yehuda gone along with the will of the masses (as he did earlier with his brothers), nobody would have criticized him. Instead, Yehuda followed truth, attesting to Tamar's righteousness and her desire to establish Yehuda's lineage through deception and sleeping with Yehuda. Yehuda trusted his judgment, forgoing the ego satisfaction derived from loyal followers. He brought forth one of the most important personality traits of any king – he must follow truth, and remain the ultimate reflection of God. At that moment, the idea of the Jewish king was established. Had the Divine voice not intervened, the confidence exhibited by Yehuda may have lost its effect, and doubts would emerge. The Divine voice indicated that Yehuda’s claim was authoritative, and therefore the idea of the Jewish king’s subservience to truth was unquestioned.

This leads us to Shlomo Hamelech. The reaction of the people to Shlomo’s decision actually helps us understand how the Divine voice was of great importance (Kings I 3:28):

“And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king; for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice.”

With this famous case, Shlomo exhibited a unique wisdom, demonstrating an intuition that guided him to truth. Chronologically, it was his first public display of kingship since taking the throne. And in this first instance, he demonstrated as clearly as possible his attachment to chachma, wisdom. Shlomo Hamelech (at the onset of his reign) was the paradigm of Jewish kings, the example that set the standard. This decision would seem to have pervasive ramifications, as noted in the reaction by the Jewish people. It was therefore imperative that no question emerge as to Shlomo’s intuitive ability, and that he was clearly reflecting the values of God. Thus, the Divine voice.

There is tremendous more that can be developed concerning this piece in the Talmud, and the normal constraints of this format prevent further exploration. Regardless, one theme emerges from all this. We see pivotal moments in the development of the Jewish king, and how God maintained that it was of utmost importance that the Jewish people relate to the idea of the Jewish king without any impediment whatsoever. From the creation of the kingship through Yehuda, through its first application via Shaul’s coronation, to the paradigm demonstration via Shlomo, we see God ensuring that, as much as possible, the Jewish people recognize how truth is the ultimate guiding force in the actions of the Jewish king.