The Book of Joshua


After Yehoshua successfully conquered Canaan he turned
control of B'nai Yisroel over to a series of Judges. These
judges operated one after another, in very similar
patterns. The Shofet would convince the Jews to do Tshuvah,
and then he would conquer the enemies of Israel. Shmuel,
the son of Chanah, was perhaps the greatest of these
judges. He accepted his mission without a fight, and he
always did the bidding of Hashem. Unfortunately, Shmuel was
an anachronism for his time. B'nai Yisroel wanted to be
more like the other nations, and they demanded a king.
Although he felt rejected, Shmuel complied with the
people's and God's wishes and anointed Shaul as the first
king of Israel. Even though Shaul had many positive aspects
to his reign, he is more remembered for scandal, and chaos.
Eventually Shaul committed suicide on the battle field,
officially ushering in the Davidic reign. The question must
then be raised as to what Shaul's role actually was?
Furthermore, we must investigate into Hashem's motives for
choosing Shaul, and into the overall purpose which Shaul
Throughout history many kings have spent their entire
reigns protecting their country's from invasion.
Furthermore, most kings have been obsessed in preserving
their kingship for the future generations; Shaul was no
exception. However, Shaul was from the tribe of Binyomin,
and when Yaacov blessed his sons he clearly gave malchot to
Yehudah. As it says in Bereishis "The scepter shall not
depart from Yehudah" (49:10). How then could Shaul have
become the king? An even more pressing question, however,
is how could Shaul ever have thought that his sons would
continue to occupy his throne? In fact, it seems that
Shmuel was actually leading Shaul on to believe that
impossibility. When Shaul failed to wait for Shmuel in
order to sacrifice to Hashem, Shmuel rebukes him by saying
"You have done foolishly, and you have not kept the
commandment of Hashem as he commanded you: For Hashem would
have established your kingdom over Israel forever, now,
however, Hashem has sought a man after his own heart and
Hashem has commanded him to be prince over his people,
because you have not kept what Hashem commanded you to
keep" (13:13-14). How could Shmuel have told a man from the
tribe of Binyomin that he was to rule over Israel forever?
In order to answer these questions one must truly realize
the role which Shaul was playing, and how it needed to be
played out for the benefit of B'nai Yisroel .
Although Shmuel was an excellent shofet, B'nai Yisroel was
not satisfied. At this point of their development they
wanted to be more like the goyim, and therefore have a
king. Even though Hashem warned B'nai Yisroel that a king
would tax them etc., they still yearned for that type of
dominating, intimidating leadership. The reason for this is
that B'nai Yisroel were collectively still in their
childhood. The shoftim had cradled them through their early
development, and now they were ready to move onto the next
stage of their lives. This next stage can be compared to
the age when children start going full time to school. They
are starting to be a little independent, but at the same
time they are not ready to be completely on their own.
B'nai Yisroel needed someone to lead them into battle at
Mizpah. They needed a leader who dominated physically,
rather than mentally. They needed someone who they could
rally around, with very few strings attached. Furthermore,
they were not ready for a multi-faceted leader, like
Shmuel, who would demand from them both physically and
emotionally. Rather, they needed a leader who could better
meet their needs. It is very common for children in school
to have one or two dominating leaders. These leaders are
usually the biggest, strongest, and handsomest of the
group. They allow the children to keep their independence,
while at the same time they represent the ones who are
underdeveloped - both physically and socially. Usually the
teachers dislike this leader and wish for the children to
remain independent, however it is very hard to break
children away. What I found particularly interesting is
that Shaul fits the requirements to be such a leader. As
the Navi clearly delineates "and when he [Shaul] stood
amongst the people he was taller than any of them, from the
shoulders upward" Shaul was the biggest of all of the men
(10:23). In fact later on, the Navi also adds that Shaul
was the most handsome man in all of Israel (9:2). It is
certainly clear why, psychologically at least, Shaul was
the perfect leader for the burgeoning nation. 

Who was Shaul? All we are told originally is that he is the
son of Kish, and that he is a considerable physical
specimen. As I stated earlier, this is exactly the type of
leader that B'nai Yisroel needed. However, as the nation
grew they needed more from their leader. Consider for a
moment the analogy of the schoolchildren. When kids are
young they tend to gravitate towards the best athlete, the
strongest, etc. However, when children reach the stage of
adolescence they start to demand more and more from their
leaders. Suddenly the computer geek, or book worm is thrust
into the spotlight, because of the uniqueness of their
activities. These adolescents seek more diverse,
multi-faceted leaders. Therefore, it is easy to see why
Shaul was unable to fit the role of king, once B'nai
Yisroel started to mature. After all, Shaul had no inherent
leadership abilities. As he himself admits he comes from
the smallest family in the smallest tribe. Furthermore, the
childhood leader is usually a renegade. He will stop at
nothing to defend himself, and his new found "power". So
too, Shaul has problems taking the blame for the people.
When Shmuel rebukes him for not killing the cattle of the
Amelikites Shaul becomes very defensive and blames the
people. David, on the other hand, is usually able to have
the character to admit to his failures. Shaul is also
unable to face the music alone, rather he begs Shmuel to go
along with him to answer to Hashem. The first chosen king
of B'nai Yisroel (Avimelech was not divinely chosen) was a
failure because physically he was a success, but mentally
he was underdeveloped. 

One of the more interesting things to note in the
development of children, is the fate of the early childhood
leaders. Once everyone else has caught up in both size and
competency, his words start to lose their significance. No
longer is what he says believed as the ultimate truth.
Unfortunately, these children who were told of their
greatness too early, still crave attention even though it
is not available. They usually start to become "trouble
makers", or "clowns" in order to satiate their desires. The
can not bare to abdicate their thrones. However, the people
want real leaders, and the old ones are generally ignored.
In order to make up for this we sometimes see a pattern of
these former leaders bullying other children. In fact, who
do they bully most? The innocents. People who are just
developing, and are starting to surpass the has been,
turned bully. The former leader attempts to hide his
limitations by bullying. Once again Shaul clearly fits all
of these criteria. When it becomes clear that the people
favor the more multi-faceted David, over the
uni-dimensional Shaul, the king starts to become very
jealous. He sends out his entire army searching for the
innocent David, bullying him all the way. However, David is
not Shaul. David is able to realize ways to remove himself
from dangerous situations, and to lead effectively. In a
scene where we clearly see the character of David, he out
bullies the bully, by merely tearing the cloak of Shaul
instead of killing him. David, in that fateful cave, shows
Shaul that the people have grown, and that it is time for
the real malchot Yisroel to begin.
When David is anointed king a new era is ushered in. The
people no longer feel dominated by their enemies, and they
have matured. David certainly fits the bill in terms of
being multi-faceted. As our Navi itself points out "David
was successful in all of his ways, and Hashem was with
him." Hashem, the teacher, who never approved of the
original leader, of Shaul, now gives his full support to
David, the new multi-faceted leader. Along these lines it
is interesting to note the circumstances behind the
crowning of David. When David is crowned it is not a
response to the cries of the people, rather, it is a part
of the natural course of events. When Shmuel was crowning
Shaul Hashem had stressed that Shaul looked very kingly.
However, when Shmuel goes to the house of Yishai, Hashem
warns him saying "Do not look at his appearance or tall
stature, for I have rejected him. For it is not as man sees
- man sees what his eyes behold, but Hashem sees into the
heart" (16:7). David does not need to be the tallest or
strongest, on the contrary he needs to have the complete
package, something Shaul sorely lacked. 

It is now clear as to the role Shaul served for Hashem and
B'nai Yisroel. His job was to set the stage for the Davidic
reign and the kingdom of Israel. However, there is still
one glaring inconsistency in the story of Shaul. Why if he
was only serving a temporary purpose, did Shmuel constantly
tell him that it was his sinning which would eventually
force his family to abdicate the throne? It seems clear
that his family never had a chance to continue the malchot.
The answer to this is found in a classical machloket
between the Rambam and the Ramban. The Ramban holds the
popular belief that the crowning of Shaul, a member of the
tribe of Binyomin, was allowed because of the concept of
haras shah, or a suspension of the usual practice.
Therefore Hashem, through the prophets, could continue the
line of Shaul until he felt that the need for an haras shah
was over. So theoretically the children of Shaul could have
led the nation for generations. At first glance the Rambam
seems to have a conflicting view. He does not mention the
concept of haras shah. Rather, he holds that even though
malchot was reserved for Yehudah, Hashem may choose to
appoint a king from another tribe. According to the Rambam
the difference between these two types of kings, would be
concerning their legacies. For example, the children of
Shaul would have to be individually appointed in each
generation. Once the chain is broken however, the
descendants of Shaul would have no claim at all to the
throne. However, the descendants of David would forever
have a right to the throne. Consequently, if for some
reason the chain was broken a descendant of David would not
have to be re-appointed by Hashem. Although it seems that
the Rambam and Ramban are at ends with each other, I
believe that their statements, as I understand them, are
not that different. The Ramban explains, halachically how
it was possible for a man from the Binyomin to become king.
Now although the Rambam does not use the term haras shah,
he too believes that in appointing a king from Binyomin,
Hashem was breaking from the norm. What the Rambam comes to
add to the Ramban is the status of the Davidic line. From
the Rambam we learn the important fact that all of the
descendants of David, including the mashiach, have a
continuous right to the throne of Israel. Regardless, we
can now fully understand, how it was possible for Shaul to
have believed that not only he was going to rule, but that
his sons would also assume his throne. 

The life of Shaul can be described, at best, as tragic. He
had all of the potential, good looks, physical appearance,
ahavas Hashem etc. However, he was not able to succeed in
leading B'nai Yisroel in the ways of Hashem. B'nai Yisroel
was experimenting with their lives, as many youngsters do,
and they felt that they needed a dynamic leader, even
though Shmuel was a more complete leader than Shaul. The
tragedy of Shaul lies in the fact that this man from the
rural aristocracy, who never grew up, never really had a
chance. Although, as the Ramban and Rambam point out, it
was technically possible for him to have succeeded, Hashem
chose him on the basis that it was impossible for him to
succeed. Shaul was a man who performed a specified role at
a specified time, his limitations would not allow him to
adjust to the needs of the people. He therefore dies a
tragic hero, the bully who never grew up.


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