Torah Study Notes 2-23-13

February 23, 2013
NOTE TO READERS: THIS SELECTION IS NOT FROM THE USUAL PLAUT COMMENTARY. IT IS FROM A SEPARATE PLAUT HAFTARAH REVISED AND PUBLISHED IN 1996. THESE EDITIONS ARE AVAILABLE IN THE TEMPLE LIBRARY.
When Plaut put together the Torah commentary we normally use it was originally planned with an un-annotated Haftarah appended. Plaut felt strongly that a Haftarah should not be appended without extensive commentary as well. When the revision was done more commentary was included. This Haftarah we are reading today is used for the week before Purim. It is extraordinary. The related Torah verses are from Exodus; the account of Amalek attacking the Israelites as they left Egypt. The Purim connection is that Haman was called an Amalekite – an embodiment of evil.
p. 547
15:2 The Sephardic version includes 15:1 but here we start with 15:2. The Amalekites are to be exterminated by Saul but the Kenites are allowed to leave. Note that “Ken” means“honest” in Hebrew. Obviously they are friendly with both the Israelites and the Amalekites. The animals are to be destroyed to show that this is not a war over possessions – it is a matter of principal. Of justice. Retribution for the attack from the rear while they were exiting Egypt.
15:7 Saul does not follow God’s instruction – he spares the king Agag as well as the best sheep, oxen etc.
15:10 God complains to Samuel about Saul’s failure to follow directions. Samuel argues with God about the interpretation of justice. One’s impulse is judgment and retribution but this must be reconciled with the notion of mercy. Note that the account of Isaac and Abraham is preceded by the debate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Is the issue now Saul and his failures or is it the original sin of the Amalekites? What makes God’s order just?
15:13 Samuel accuses Saul but, initially, Saul does not think he has done anything wrong. Has he? He was sacrificing the remaining sheep and oxen to God. But is this a proper sacrifice? No. One cannot sacrifice someone else’s assets. The gift must be from the giver.  Note the characterization of “your god” vs. “our god.” Saul appears to be sarcastic or taunting.
15:28 Samuel: To obey is more important than sacrifice. LL This is unacceptable. This notion leads to the concept of “I was just following orders.” Why did Saul preserve Agag? Perhaps the king is the best witness as to what has happened. Or he was hesitant to commit regicide because it could become a precedent. Was Saul just a pretty face? Daniel Kahneman (see: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/thinking-about-thinking and http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Kahneman.html) has done research on the psychology of the importance of appearances. He found that there was a 70 percent correlation between the best looking and success as a candidate. Semiotics is important. Note that Saul was a difficult personality – high maintenance for Samuel. The Deuteronomist was writing at the end of the period of Kingdoms – in retrospect.
15:24 I have sinned said Saul. But Samuel doesn’t accept this and declares him no longer King of Israel.
15: 27 Samuel relents and continues to permit Saul to have the appearance of being the king. Are God’s orders – decisions – irrevocable? Can God change his mind? Samuel seems to be engaging in empty rhetoric. Are we ascribing Samuel’s ambivalence to God?
15:32 Agag is presented to Samuel. Samuel cuts him to pieces. Saul and Samuel interact no more. Saul remains king and eventually dies a heroic death. See Samuel’s farewell speech in the Torah. See the account in Exodus prior to the Amalekites attack where it is said “Is God among us or not.” See also Deuteronomy 25:17 through 19.” Remember what Amalek did to you.”. Amalek will disappear when one feels safe and secure – it is a state of mind. But remember: Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that you don’t have enemies. Haman is Amalek. All of our fears are Amalek. See Buber Comment at p. 555. “Man is so created that he can understand, but does not have to understand, what God says to him.” See : http://www.colorado.edu/communication/meta-discourses/Papers/App_Papers/Scholz.htm
Consider the Greek search for absolutes vs. the concept of the covenant. The later accepts that there are no absolutes – only a dialogue with God.
LL/

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