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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5774

Parashat Hashavua: Kingdom When Does It Start and End?

Harav Yosef Carmel

In our parasha, Yaakov promises his son Yehuda that the kingdom in Israel will not leave the Tribe of Yehuda (see Bereishit 49:10 with Rashi). Many deal with the question: how, then, could it be that Shaul (from the Tribe of Binyamin) was anointed by Hashem’s decree as the first king of Israel?

Our approach to this question and in general (as cited many times in the past) is that even a divine decree for a king’s rule does not take effect until the people accept his candidacy. Thus, Yaakov’s promise only took effect after David was accepted by the people.

We continue with another famous question about Shaul’s rule. “Shaul was one year old when he ascended to the throne, and he was king over Israel for two years” (Shmuel I:13:1). The gemara (Yoma 22b) does not seriously consider the possibility that Shaul was literally a year old at his ascension and explains it as hinting at his being without sin. Rashi, though, understands the statement that he reigned for two years literally, as is posited in Seder Olam Rabba. While more plausible than the matter of a year, it is still extremely difficult to fit the entire chain of events into two years. The Ralbag claims that the year is a reference to the time from his original anointing until the people gathered to fully accept him in Gilgal, and that the two years started from there. The Ri MiTrani and the Abarbanel say that the two years of reign cease to be counted once David was anointed as his successor.

True to our aforementioned thesis about kingdom in Israel, we present a different answer. The year was indeed the time from when he was anointed to be, in theory, the king until the time when the people accepted him as such after his initial successes in saving the people of Yavesh Gilad. During the next two years, Shaul enjoyed the full support of the people. He had a standing army of 3,000 soldiers who accompanied him, but he also could draw on the entire populace at times of need. Two years later, Shaul’s son Yonatan attacked the Philistine outpost in Geva, an act that was equivalent to a declaration of independence from Philistine dominance. The Philistines immediately responded with an invasion by a large force throughout the heartland of the country. While some men heeded Shaul’s call to gather to thwart off an attack, it appears that the great majority of the people did not come. Rather, some hid throughout the countryside instead (see Shmuel I, 13:6), while others hid on the other side of the Jordan River (ibid. 7). Shmuel, who was to give Shaul support, came late, and when Shaul went on without him, he lost Shmuel’s support. It is at this point that the pasuk declares that Shaul ruled for two years. After all, with the people no longer accepting his kingdom as binding, Shaul also lost his halachic standing as potential king.

From this analysis, we see that support of the people, especially through elections, in Israel is not just a component of democracy but a part of the State of Israel operating as a Jewish state.

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