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: 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?
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.
Last week we looked at how the Ramban resolves our difficulties. He writes that the Jacob never meant that the kingship would never depart from Judah. Rather, any kingship that would ever exist in Israel from the time of Judah’s reign would come from Judah and none of his brothers would ever rule over him.
The “scepter” alludes to King David, the first king from Judah, who possessed a royal scepter, and “Shiloh” refers to Judah’s progeny, Mashiach, through whom the nations will be subdued. Although another tribe would reign over Israel, from the time that the scepter of kingship would begin belonging to Judah, it would never depart from him in favor of another tribe.
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Returning to one of our first questions: How was Saul, who came from the tribe of Benjamin, allowed to reign over Israel? The Ramban explains that the crowning of Saul came about as a result of an improper request by the Jewish people. And since G-d was not happy with the Jews’ request (see I Samuel 12:17), He did not want to grant them a king from the tribe of Judah, to whom the kingship rightfully belongs, and from whom it was never to depart. He therefore gave them a temporary king instead.
Scripture alludes to this when it says, “Etein lecha melech b’api v’ekach b’evrati – I gave you a king in My wrath and I took [him] away in My fury” (Hosea 13:11). This verse means that He gave Israel a king against His own desire and therefore took him away in His wrath. As we know, Saul and his sons were killed and their descendants did not inherit the throne.
The reason G-d objected so strongly to the Jews’ request for a king was because Samuel was a judge and prophet who fought the Jewish people’s wars by the word of G-d and saved them from their enemies (see I Samuel 12:11). They therefore should not have requested a king in his days. As Samuel said (I Samuel 12:12), “Va’ Shem Elokeichem malkechem – But Hashem, your G-d, is your king!” And as G-d said to Samuel (ibid., 8:7), “Lo ot’cha ma’asu, ki oti ma’asu mimloch – It is not you that they have rejected, but it is Me whom they have rejected from ruling over them.”
An obvious difficulty, however, still exists. Scripture states (I Samuel 13:13): “Vayomer Shmuel el Shaul, niscalta, lo shamarta et mitzvat Hashem elokecha asher tzivach, ki atah heychin Hashem et mamlachticha el Yisrael ad olam – Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have acted foolishly! You did not keep the commandment of Hashem your G-d that He commanded you, for had you done so, Hashem would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.’” This verse implies that had Saul not sinned, his descendants would have continued ruling over the Jewish people – even though Saul did not descend from Judah!
The Ramban suggests that – sin or not – Saul’s descendants would never have reigned over all of Israel. Perhaps they would have reigned over the tribes descended from their matriarch Rachel – namely, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh – since Judah and Ephraim are considered two distinct peoples within Israel. Alternatively, Saul’s descendants would have reigned over all of Israel, but only as viceroys under a king from Judah.
The Ramban writes that other kings who reigned over Israel who did not descend from Judah (after David’s rule) violated the wishes of their forefather Jacob. It’s true that Ahijah of Shiloh – a prophet – appointed Jeroboam king with Divine sanction, saying (I Kings 11:39): “V’aneh et zera David… – And I shall afflict the descendants of David [by transferring authority over the 10 northern tribes to Jeroboam, a non-Davidic king]….” However, this permission only referred to Jeroboam. After his reign, the 10 tribes should have submitted to the reign of Judah. When they did not do so, they sinned, violating the last will and testament of their forefather Jacob. For this they were punished, as Scripture states (Hosea 8:4): “Heim himlichu, v’lo mimeni – They enthroned kings, but not from me.”
(To be continued)
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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