Haftora for Erev Rosh Chodesh - "Tomorrow is the New Moon..." (Shmuel I 20:8-42)

  • Rav Yehuda Shaviv
  1. Issues Pertaining to Rosh Hodesh in the Haftora
A first glance at the Haftora would draw our attention to the relevance of the opening pasuk: "And Yehonatan said to him, Tomorrow is the new moon." No reading, it seems, would be more appropriate than this for a Shabbat which is immediately followed by Rosh Hodesh.
But is this single expression sufficient reason to exchange the regular Haftora that would otherwise be read on this Shabbat? Apparently the continuation of the narrative is also a significant factor in the choice of this Haftora. And indeed, Rav Yisakhar Yakobson in his book on the haftarot (Hazon Ha-Mikra vol. 2, p 161) lists four issues pertaining to Rosh Hodesh which we can learn from the narrative of the Haftora:
  1. A distinction is made between regular days, when work is permitted, and Rosh Hodesh (in verse 19 the expression "be-yom ha-ma'aseh" is interpreted by Targum Yonatan and by Rashi as referring to a regular weekday – implying that Rosh Hodesh is something other than that).
  2. Already then Rosh Hodesh would sometimes be two days (see verse 27).
  3. The king made a festive banquet, called "lehem," for all his attendants (see verses 24-27); a banquet in which only those who were ritually pure could participate (see verse 26).
  4. Apparently it was also customary for family members to gather in order to hold a "zevah mishpaha" (family feast) (verses 20, 29).
Still, further examination may be in order.
  1. The Renewal of the Moon
What is the significance of Rosh Hodesh? It is a day which is sanctified by the Beit Din, the day upon which the new month begins. When is Rosh Hodesh declared and sanctified? When witnesses appear, testifying to having seen the new moon.
What is the renewal of the moon reminiscent of? It reminds us of the story of the creation of the primordial lights on the fourth day of Creation.  Originally the two lights were both intended to be great: "And God made the two great lights..." (Bereishit 1:16). But this original plan "went wrong," and it turned out that only one was great while the other was smaller: "The great Light to rule the day and the lesser Light to rule the night."
Why did this plan go wrong? Rashi explains, following the lead of Hazal in Massekhet Hulin 60b: "They were created equal, and the moon was diminished because she complained and said, 'It is impossible for two kings to rule together.'"
This "utterance" established a fact: that two kings cannot wear the same crown, and therefore if there are two then one must become smaller.  The reference here of course is not just to a physical shrinking but rather to a more qualitative diminishing: From now on only one will be king, while the other will be subservient. And if the latter has any light then it is only a reflection of the light which emanates from the former, the ruler.
c. The First Kingdom and Those Which Followed
The Hebrew root "mashal" (to rule) appears for the first time with the creation of the Lights: "the great light 'le-memshelet ha-yom' ("to rule the day") and the lesser light 'le-memshelet ha-layla' ("to rule the night")."And when it comes to matters of rulership, the moon speaks out, as it were, insisting that "it is impossible for two kings to wear the same crown."
This statement is given painful expression in the story of Shaul's persecution of David.  From the moment Shaul senses that David is particularly favored by the nation ("all he lacks is the kingdom" – Shmuel I 18:8), he becomes hostile towards him and tries in whichever way possible – including going so far as murder - to get rid of him.
The test will be the Rosh Hodesh feast: if the king becomes angry at David then, it will be a sign that he is completely committed to killing him.
  1. A Correction for the Moon's Complaint
The moon's "complaint" is an expression of the same glowing jealousy that cannot bear to see someone else wearing the same crown, much less to see someone else wearing the crown exclusively.  But is it not possible that a person could avoid being carried away by this jealousy? The Haftora proves that it is indeed possible.  It introduces us to the noble character of Yonatan.  He is the son of the properly and duly elected king; it is he who is expected to inherit the throne from his father Shaul.  He is the natural candidate for royalty.  And yet, out of genuine love he nobly relinquishes this right and supports David, son of Yishai, as successor to the throne.
On Erev Rosh Hodesh we impatiently await the renewal of the moon.  This renewal is a sign of hope to Israel, that "they are destined to be renewed like her [the moon]" (Sanhedrin 42a). But on this day the moon is still completely hidden – a concealment which results from her royal jealousy.  And then her light is renewed.  Will this be a temporary renewal, followed by yet another diminishing and disappearance, or will this renewal perhaps signal the growth and permanence of her light? It all depends on... Yonatan.  The more people like him exist in the world, the less powerful the moon's complaint will become, until the two Lights created by God will exist peacefully as equals, side by side.