During his reign, Shaul HaMelech ensured that no one suffer undue hardship. As an energetic and diligent leader, he tirelessly devoted himself to the needs and welfare of his subjects in every way. So how is it that mere mention of Shaul evokes visions of Dovid HaMelech fleeing for his life from his endless pursuer who is obsessed with doing away with him — to say nothing of the colossal error of a ruler who failed to annihilate Amalek per Hashem’s clear directives?
As consequence of his grave transgressions and defiance of G-d’s instructions, Shaul forfeited the kingship dynasty and was duly informed by Shmuel HaNavi that his sons would not inherit the throne. Divested of the divine spirit, Shaul became increasingly despondent and insanely jealous of the younger Dovid who was to replace him in the monarchy.
How did a beloved king who had so much going for him allow himself to sink so low? Actually, we need look no further than Pirkei Avos where we are taught that envy is a negative trait that can remove one from this world. The Ethics of our Fathers further teach us to distance ourselves from a “bad neighbor” and to not associate with one who is wicked.
During instances when Shaul’s better sense and good heart prevailed upon him to reconcile with Dovid, whom he had once loved and cherished as one of his own, none other than his general and right-hand man, Avner, would turn Shaul’s head and deceptively win him over. Another bad influence came in the form of his corrupt top advisor, Doeg Ha’Edomi, who had in fact persuaded the king to save the cattle of Amalek, and whose vicious slander led to the tragic slaughter of the Kohanim of Nov.
And yet Shaul HaMelech was eulogized as a Tzaddik. Referring to Pirkei Avos once more, we learn that man must repent a day before his death. Shaul HaMelech did just that. While the rest of us need to do teshuvah every day to play it safe, Shaul HaMelech (to whom it was revealed that his end was as close as the next day’s battle with the Pilishtim) accepted his heaven-decreed punishment, repented with all his heart, and courageously soldiered on (knowing of the fate that awaited him and his sons on the battlefield).
Shaul ben Kish, a descendent of Shevet Binyamin, died pure and free of sin — for Hashem had accepted his teshuvah and had wholly forgiven the brave warrior, whose neshama came to rest next to the righteous Shmuel HaNavi in Gan Eden.