Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Parshat Shoftim

The King and Sha'ul

Sefer Shmuel introduces Sha'ul, Israel's first king, with a strange story.

Kish, Sha'ul's father had lost his mules. He sent Sha'ul and a servant to find them. After a few days' fruitless search, Sha'ul suggests they give up – his father would probably be more worried about their safety than the mules. The servant suggests that they consult a nearby holy man. Sha'ul questioned this saying they had no payment to offer him. The servant responded that he had a quarter of a shekel of silver. Sha'ul agreed. They set off for the holy man and came across young women drawing water. Sha'ul asked them girls if the Seer was present. They give him a long wonded, partially comprehensible, answer, lasting the length of two whole pesukim, which in short said "yes" (See I Shmuel 9:1-14).

This episode is anti-climactic and perhaps even embarrassing. There are no heroic deeds, no examples of kindness and no sign of leadership. Indeed, Sha'ul even fails at the task of finding the mules. What is this story trying to teach us?

We can suggest that this episode mirrors the rules given to kings, the Mishpat HaMelech, coded in this week's parsha. We are told that a king:

  • may not acquire many horses for himself
  • shall not take many wives for himself
  • shall not acquire much silver and gold for himself (Devarim 17:16-17)

Well, from Sefer Shmuel it is clear that Sha'ul did not even have mules, nevermind too many horses. As for silver and gold, Sha'ul didn't even have a penny on him and had to rely on his servant who had also had little.

What about wives? Throughout the Bible, whenever someone arrived at a well, there was always a marriage. Eliezer found Rivka at a well, Ya'akov found Rachel and Moshe found Tsipporah.

Sha'ul met many women at the well. They seem to be fighting over themselves to talk to him. Rash even suggests that they were flirting with him, trying to keep him in conversation so that they could continue to gaze at his handsome face. Yet, Sh'aul does not even answer them, certainly he does not marry any of them. So once again Sha'ul fits the bill. He does not have too many wives.

Furthermore, when Shmuel tells Sha'ul that he is destined to rule, he responds: "Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of Benjamin? Now, why have you spoken to me after this manner?" (I Shmuel 9:21).

Even though that same chapter tells us that Sha'ul "was taller than any of the people" (ibid 2), he still had the requirement of modesty that the Mishpat HaMelech requires: "his heart will not be haughty over his brothers".

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Shoftim entiled: "The King" appears at

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