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Since Joshua’s era, ad-hoc “judges” led the Israelites, mustering troops as needed against enemies. All were militarily inspired by God but while some had superior character and spiritual vision, others did not. The last and greatest of them was Samuel, a prophet and Nazirite who judged the peoples’ disputes, and whose powerful prayers prompted God to save them from the Philistines. Nonetheless, elderly Samuel’s sons, his potential heirs, were corrupt. At the same time, a new enemy, neighboring Ammon, threatened. Together, these prompted the people to seek to replace Samuel with a king to judge and fight for them. Their rejection of Samuel’s leadership is similar to the rebellion against Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership in the Parashah. Although this request displeased God and Samuel[1], God instructed him to anoint a king, Saul, who then defeated the Ammonites at Jabesh-Gilead.

The Haftarah begins as Samuel rallies the people to publicly rejoice in Saul’s rule. He then critiques them three times. First, echoing Moses’s self-justification in the Parashah, Samuel challenges the people to proclaim the selflessness of his leadership. Second, he recounts that although the people continually backslid to idolatry, God nonetheless sent leaders to defeat their enemies from the time of the Exodus until their own day. Replacing their true king, God, with a man was unnecessary- yet God accepts it so long as they serve only Him. Finally, Samuel prays for God to send rain on their harvest. Fearfully recognizing their sin, they ask Samuel to pray that God spare their lives. Samuel tells them not to fear: so long as they and Saul remain loyal to God, God will never abandon them.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 11:14-15: After Saul’s initial, decisive victory against Ammon as king, Samuel instructs the entire people to gather in Gilgal to reconfirm and celebrate Saul’s kingship.

I Samuel 11:15

שמואל א י״א:ט״ו

All the people went to Gilgal. There they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they slaughtered peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

וַיֵּלְכ֨וּ כָל־הָעָ֜ם הַגִּלְגָּ֗ל וַיַּמְלִכוּ֩ שָׁ֨ם אֶת־שָׁא֜וּל לִפְנֵ֤י ה' בַּגִּלְגָּ֔ל וַיִּזְבְּחוּ־שָׁ֛ם זְבָחִ֥ים שְׁלָמִ֖ים לִפְנֵ֣י ה' וַיִּשְׂמַ֨ח שָׁ֥ם שָׁא֛וּל וְכָל־אַנְשֵׁ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עַד־מְאֹֽד׃ (פ)

Verses 12:1-5: Noting his advanced age and that his sons are not succeeding him, Samuel’s authority as judge transfers to God’s newly anointed king, Saul. The people agree to Samuel’s request to testify before Saul and God that Samuel’s judgments have been just, and not for personal gain.

I Samuel 12:5

שמואל א י״ב:ה

And he [Samuel] said to them, "The Lord is a witness against you, and His anointed [king, Saul] is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” [The people] said, “[We are your] witness.”

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֜ם עֵ֧ד ה' בָּכֶ֗ם וְעֵ֤ד מְשִׁיחוֹ֙ הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה כִּ֣י לֹ֧א מְצָאתֶ֛ם בְּיָדִ֖י מְא֑וּמָה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר עֵֽד׃ (פ)

Verses 12:6-12: Samuel rebukes the people for requesting a human king to lead them against Ammon. He recounts the people’s cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, and salvation, as well as generations of victories- from their arrival in Egypt until their own generation- that their King, God, granted them through Moses, Aaron, and other leaders.

I Samuel 12:12

שמואל א י״ב:י״ב

When you saw the Ammonites’ king, Nahash, come against you, you said to me, “No, but a king shall reign over us”- [but] the Lord your God was your king.

וַתִּרְא֗וּ כִּֽי־נָחָ֞שׁ מֶ֣לֶךְ בְּנֵֽי־עַמּוֹן֮ בָּ֣א עֲלֵיכֶם֒ וַתֹּ֣אמְרוּ לִ֔י לֹ֕א כִּי־מֶ֖לֶךְ יִמְלֹ֣ךְ עָלֵ֑ינוּ וַה' אֱלֹקיכֶ֖ם מַלְכְּכֶֽם׃

Verses 12:13-15: The people and their king must loyally serve God or He will punish them.

I Samuel 12:15

שמואל א י״ב:ט״ו

If you will not obey the Lord’s voice and rebel against the Lord’s [word], then the Lord’s hand will be against you [as it was] against your fathers.

וְאִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּק֣וֹל ה' וּמְרִיתֶ֖ם אֶת־פִּ֣י ה' וְהָיְתָ֧ה יַד־ה' בָּכֶ֖ם וּבַאֲבֹתֵיכֶֽם׃

Verses 12:16-19: Samuel prays that God bring a thunderstorm during harvest season. This shows his closeness to God, God’s control over their lives, the sin of replacing God with a king, and His resulting punishing anger. After God brings the storm, the people fear God and Samuel. They ask Samuel to pray that God will not destroy them.

I Samuel 12:17

שמואל א י״ב:י״ז

Is it not the wheat harvest today? I shall call to the Lord, that He will send thunder and rain. Know and see that your evil is great, which you have done in the Lord’s eyes, to ask for yourselves a king!

הֲל֤וֹא קְצִיר־חִטִּים֙ הַיּ֔וֹם אֶקְרָא֙ אֶל־ה' וְיִתֵּ֥ן קֹל֖וֹת וּמָטָ֑ר וּדְע֣וּ וּרְא֗וּ כִּֽי־רָעַתְכֶ֤ם רַבָּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר עֲשִׂיתֶם֙ בְּעֵינֵ֣י ה' לִשְׁא֥וֹל לָכֶ֖ם מֶֽלֶךְ׃ (ס)

Verses 12:20-22: Samuel tells the people not to fear nor to turn to idols that will not save them. So long as they serve and remain loyal to God, God will not destroy them because He remains pleased that He selected them as His people, as well as for the sake of His Name; i.e., lest other nations consider God impotent to save His people.

I Samuel 12:22

שמואל א י״ב:כ״ב

For the Lord will not forsake His people for His great Name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.

כִּ֠י לֹֽא־יִטֹּ֤שׁ ה' אֶת־עַמּ֔וֹ בַּעֲב֖וּר שְׁמ֣וֹ הַגָּד֑וֹל כִּ֚י הוֹאִ֣יל ה' לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת אֶתְכֶ֛ם ל֖וֹ לְעָֽם׃


The Midrash derives a lesson about the leaders of one’s own generation from Samuel’s description of God’s chosen leaders throughout the generations.

Kohelet Rabbah 1:4

קהלת רבה א:ד

Let the incoming generation be in your eyes like the generation that passed. Do not say, “If Rabbi Akiva was alive… or if Rabbi Zeira and Rabbi Yochanan were alive. I would learn before them.” Rather, your era’s generation and your era’s sage are like the past generation and the earlier sages that preceded you.

Rabbi Yochanan [similarly] said: “It is written (1 Samuel 12:6), ‘It is the Lord who made Moses and Aaron’; and (ibid, 12:11), ‘The Lord sent Jerubbaal, Bedan, Yiftach, and Samuel’[2]; and (Ps. 99:6), ‘Moses and Aaron are among His priests, and Samuel is among them who call His name.’ Scripture equates three light historical figures with three great historical figures, to teach you that Jerubbaal’s court is as great and important before the Holy One, Blessed be He, as Moses’ court, that Samson’s court is like Aaron’s court, and that Yiftach’s court is like Samuel’s court.”

יִהְיֶה בְּעֵינֶיךָ דּוֹר שֶׁבָּא כַּדּוֹר שֶׁהָלַךְ, שֶׁלֹא תֹאמַר אִלּוּ הָיָה רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא קַיָּם..אִלּוּ הָיוּ רַבִּי זֵירָא וְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן קַיָּמִין הָיִיתִי שׁוֹנֶה לִפְנֵיהֶם, אֶלָּא דּוֹר שֶׁבָּא בְּיָמֶיךָ וְחָכָם שֶׁבְּיָמֶיךָ כְּדוֹר שֶׁהָלַךְ וַחֲכָמִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים שֶׁהָיוּ לְפָנֶיךָ. אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן כְּתִיב (שמואל א יב, ו): ה' אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֶת משֶׁה וְאֶת אַהֲרֹן וגו', וּכְתִיב (שמואל א יב, ו): וַיִּשְׁלַח ה' אֶת יְרֻבַּעַל וְאֶת בְּדָן וְאֶת יִפְתָּח וְאֶת שְׁמוּאֵל... וּכְתִיב (תהלים צט, ו): משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן בְּכֹהֲנָיו וּשְׁמוּאֵל בְּקֹרְאֵי שְׁמוֹ, שָׁקַל הַכָּתוּב שְׁלשָׁה קַלֵּי עוֹלָם עִם שְׁלשָׁה גְּדוֹלֵי עוֹלָם, לְלַמֶּדְךָ שֶׁבֵּית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל יְרֻבַּעַל גָּדוֹל וְחָשׁוּב לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כְּבֵית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל משֶׁה, וּבֵית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל שִׁמְשׁוֹן כְּבֵית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, וּבֵית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל יִפְתָּח כְּבֵית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל שְׁמוּאֵל.

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email haftarahhelper@gmail.com.

[1] Malbim and others offer many different explanations for what was wrong with the people’s request.

[2] The Midrash (ad loc.) identifies Jerubbaal as Gideon and Bedan as Samson.