(Please note: The question has been modified to reflect amendments suggested by a reader, Yisrael Levi, in last week’s column.)
Question: As Shavuot is fast approaching – a holiday on which we dwell on the story of Ruth and the origins of the royal house of David – I was wondering if you could help me resolve something. The Mishnah never makes any mention of the Hasmonean kings, the mitzvah to light a Chanukah menorah, or the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. Some people say that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi – the redactor of the six orders of the Mishnah and a scion of King David – omitted these topics because the Hasmoneans improperly crowned themselves, ignoring the rule that all Jewish kings are supposed to come from the tribe of Yehudah. They argue that this is also why the Talmud does not include a separate tractate on Chanukah. Is this true?
Answer: We mentioned that Jacob prophetically blessed each of his 12 sons. Since Judah possessed the necessary qualities to lead his brothers, Jacob blessed him with the words (49:8-10), “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants until Shiloh arrives, and his will be an assemblage of nations.”
Rashi explains that King David’s rule will continue until the arrival of Mashiach. Rashbam derives from the words “until Shiloh arrives” that the kingdom will be divided and writes that Jacob’s prediction only referred to the time of David until Rehaboam. However, Targum Yonatan b. Uziel states that the divine right of rule over Israel belongs exclusively to the House of David. We asked: If so, how could the first king of Israel, Saul, have come from the tribe of Benjamin?
We noted that according to many commentators Jacob intended that the last monarch of the Jewish people come from Dan, not Judah; he thought that Samson would be the ultimate redeemer, the Melech HaMashiach. We also noted that Moses – who was from the tribe of Levi – would have led the Jews into Eretz Yisrael and become their leader there had he not sinned by hitting the rock and had the spies not sinned by giving a negative report of the land.
But how could Samson have been Mashiach or Moses the Jewish people’s leader in Eretz Yisrael if they weren’t from the tribe of Judah?
Last week, we discussed the Da’at Zekeinim MiBa’alei Tosafot’s novel interpretations of Jacob’s blessing to Judah. They explain that Jacob’s words perhaps mean that the kingship that descends from Judah will not expire until G-d casts off the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Alternatively, the kingship will not depart the House of David until Mashiach arrives at Shiloh, i.e., it will never depart since Mashiach himself is from the House of David. Yet another interpretation: Judah shall not rule over all 12 tribes of Israel until Mashiach arrives at Shiloh – which actually refers to nearby Shechem, for it is there that the kingdom was divided and it is there that it will be reunited.
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The Ramban (ad loc. Genesis 49:10) resolves all of our difficulties with this explanation: Jacob did not mean “that the kingship would never depart [from Judah] because the verse in the Tochacha [Deuteronomy 28:36] clearly states the opposite: ‘Yolech Hashem otcha v’et malkecha asher takim alecha el goy asher lo yadata ata v’avotecha v’avarta sham elohim acheirim etz va’even – G-d will lead you and your king whom you will set up over yourself to a nation you never knew – neither you nor your forefathers – and there you will serve the gods of others – wood and stone.’”
Likewise, Amos 1:15 states, “Ve’halach malkam ba’golah hu ve’sarav yachdav amar Hashem – The king will go into exile, he and his officers together, said G-d.”
These pesukim clearly indicate that no king will reign over Israel for a long period of time. The Ramban thus writes, “Surely the prophet [our forefather Jacob] is not guaranteeing Israel that they would never go into captivity under any circumstances just so that Judah should reign over them.”
Rather, the Ramban explains that what Jacob meant was that any kingship that would ever exist is Israel would come from Judah, and none of his brothers would ever rule over him. The Ramban interprets the words “nor a scholar from among his descendants” similarly. He writes that every lawmaker in Israel (the Ramban translates chokek as lawmaker rather than scholar) who has a royal signet in his hand will be from Judah.