Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Haftarah Thought

In last week's haftarah for P' Zachor, the navi mentioned that the army of Sha'ul consisted of 200,000 men and 10,000 men of Yehudah. If all of the tribes had even representation, the number of soldiers from shevet Yehudah should have been closer to 20,000, or 10%. Indeed, such a ratio is observed at the war to save the city of Yaveish Gil'ad from Nachash the Ammonite (11:18), in which the muster of soldiers counts 300,000 men and 30,000 men of Yehudah. What is the cause of this oddly low number? The question is strengthened by the fact that Amaleik was based to the south of Israel, next to the territory of Yehudah, so that regionalism cannot be a factor.

The RI"D (R' Yeshaya da Trani) suggests that the men of Yehudah did not fully accept the authority of Sha'ul over them, so therefore contributed a smaller number of men than the other tribes did. This would seem to be startling, in that such would imply a rebellion against the word of an accepted prophet (3:20 says that everyone from Dan to Be'eir Sheva, the latter in Yehudah, knew that Shmuel was trustworthy as a prophet of HaShem).

Some observations:

* When Sha'ul was first coronated, the navi relates that there were certain b'nei b'liya'al who disparaged Sha'ul, saying, "Shall this one save us?" (10:27). Therefore, we do see that Sha'ul's kingship was not uncontested. After Sha'ul's successful military foray, the people wanted to execute the people who disparaged Sha'ul, but Sha'ul demurred. The fact that the navi emphasizes this incident implies that it was more than just a few people who were against Sha'ul.

* The event that directly led to a request for a king was the "corrupt" policies of Shmuel's two sons in their positions as judges. Shabbos 56a praises Shmuel's policy of rotating his court to different regions of the country to judge people in their hometowns, as opposed to his sons who stayed stationed in one place (and interprets the corruption of Yo'el and Aviyah in this light, as opposed to true corruption). The navi (7:17) notes that Shmuel rotated through Beit-El, Gilgal, and Mitzpah (along with his own city of Ramah). Beit-El is in the territory of Yoseif, and I believe that Gilgal and Mitzpah are in the territory of Binyamin (this despite the fact that Mitzpah was the jumping off point in the war against Binyamin some centuries earlier) {As a side note, it should be noted that Shmuel's circuit was entirely in the heartland of the country, and seems to not have passed through the Galil or Eiver HaYardein. This underemphasis of these regions of the country is not surprising, based on the postcedent of the monarchial period in general}. His sons, on the other hand, set up their court in Be'eir Sheva (8:2), in the south of the territory of the tribe of Yehudah. In response to this, the people complained to Shmuel, requesting that he appoint for them a king. It would seem like the people of Yehudah would view Shmuel's sons as a change for the better, as the new judges were now based in their home region year-round. Combining this with the fact that the king was not from their own tribe, which had been promised the monarchy by Yaakov, perhaps they did not support the new king. When it came to saving Yaveish-Gil'ad, they were willing to rally together with the rest of the nation under one leader, but when it came to an offensive war, even a milchemes mitzvah, perhaps they were more ambivalent.

These observations provide evidence and a reason for the explanation of the RI"D, but do not deal with the problematic aspect of disobeying the appointee of the prophet. This question is analogous to questions that arise throughout Tanach when we do not understand the motivation behind certain actions that seem obviously questionable in retrospect, and that leave us with the two options of either to defend or to condemn.

Parenthetical note: The other answer that I was playing with before I saw the answer of the RI"D (and before I saw the other pesukim) was that Yehudah was either smaller than many of the other tribes or was more reluctant to go to war in general. My basis for this supposition was based on the fact that during the civil war against Binyamin in the aftermath of the incident of the pilegesh b'Giv'a, the other tribes were routed in the first two battles, losing 22,000 and 18,000 men respectively, out of the 400,000 men who came. Prior to the first battle, HaShem instructs the tribes that Yehudah should lead them into war. It would seem, then, that Yehudah's manpower could have been considerably decreased, to an extent that would be noticeable even 400 years later. This theory is not supported, though, by the larger number present at the war to save Yaveish-Gil'ad.

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