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Samuel (Shmuel)

So which book of Samuel do I mean? "Samuel #1" (meaning the first book of Samuel) or "Samuel #2" (the second book)? The answer is...both.

Jewish tradition doesn't distinguish between the two parts of this book (nor between the "two" books of Kings or of Chronicles). The division was made by the first Christian printers in the fifteenth century and doesn't necessarily have much to do with the meaning or structure of the Tanach.

Now that we know what it is we're talking about, we can ask the main question: what is the book of Samuel all about?

It wouldn't be right to say that the book is of Shmuel's life's story - because he died at the end of the first half of the book! It would probably be more accurate to describe the book as the history of the founding of the Kingdom of Israel - in which Shmuel was instrumental.

Until Shmuel, the Jews had no kings. There was a judge in each generation who provided a certain amount of moral leadership, but his power and influence weren't nearly as those of a king. The Jews who Shmuel served wanted a king to judge them "like all the nations" (I Samuel, 8 5) and who would "lead them out into battle" (I Samuel, 8 20).

G-d also wanted the Jews to have a king; indeed, the nation's destiny could not be reached without one. But G-d wanted a king for the Jews in the right time, when they were ready. The fact that the request for a king was "so we can be like all the nations" was a clear indication that something was very wrong. The job of the Jews is not to be "like all the nations" but to be the nation of G-d.

Nevertheless, G-d instructed Shmuel to anoint a truly great king - Saul. It was Saul who was given the task of destroying the nation of Amalek - a necessary preparation for the building of Jerusalem and the Temple. And it was Saul who, through his humane sensitivity, left the king of Amalek and the captured flocks alive (see I Samuel 15). That mistake cost Saul his kingdom, his chance at unimaginable greatness and eventually, his life. There's a time for sensitivity and mercy...but not when G-d Himself has told you otherwise.

The man chosen by G-d to replace Saul was a young shephard from the tribe of Judah (Yehuda), David. David would bring Israel's capital to Jerusalem and lay the groundwork for the Temple. David's son, Solomon (Shlomo) would build the Temple amidst the peace and prosperity of the whole nation. Their descendants would rule (at least part of) the people of Israel until the destruction of the first Temple. This was a period which covered nearly 500 years.

The balance of the book of Shmuel, is the story of King David, his relationship with his father-in-law, Saul, his struggles with the enemies of Israel and with some of the members of his own family and with the coming of age of the first Jewish Commonwealth. The book begins with the birth of Shmuel (2832, or 928) and ends shortly before the death of King David (2924, or 836).


Rabbi Boruch Clinton teaches at the Ottawa Torah Institute yeshiva high school and Machon Sarah high school for girls (both in Ottawa, Canada). You may reach him with comments and questions at bclinton@torah.org.

You can now read some of Rabbi Clinton's essays on Torah life at http://www.ncf.ca/~es625/essays

You can also buy his collection of essays on the Book of Shmuel (Samuel) in printed form at www.lulu.com/marbitzmedia

Copyright 2000 by Rabbi Boruch Clinton and Project Genesis, Inc.

 

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