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Out of the mouths of babes – Shmuel the Teacher

Essays on Shmuel 1

Out of the mouths of babes – Shmuel the Teacher

Yechiel Shaffer

Chana presents her new son, Shmuel to the Mishkan with the following introduction:

שמואל א פרק א 

   כד) ותעלהו עמה כאשר גמלתו בפרים שלשה ואיפה אחת קמח ונבל יין ותבאהו בית ידוד שלו  והנער נער כה) וישחטו את הפר ויביאו את הנער אל עלי כו) ותאמר בי אדני חי נפשך אדני אני האשה הנצבת עמכה בזה להתפלל אל ידוד כז) אל הנער הזה התפללתי ויתן ידוד לי את שאלתי אשר שאלתי מעמו כח) וגם אנכי השאלתהו לידוד כל הימים אשר היה הוא שאול לידוד וישתחו שם לידוד

‘24. And when she had weaned him, she took him with her, with three bulls, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh; and the child was young. 25. And they slew a bull, and brought the child to Eli. 26. And she said, oh my lord, as your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the Lord. 27. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of him. 28. Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord; and he worshipped the Lord there.’

This story requires some careful analysis and insightful examination.

Why does the slaughter of the animal introduce the ‘bringing of the child’ to the Mishkan?

The Radak addresses this problem:

רד”ק שמואל א פרק א 

  כה)   ויביאו את הנער: אלקנה וחנה אחרי ששחטו את הפר לקרבן הביאו את הנער בית ה’ אל עלי להיות יושב  ולומר /ולומד/ לפניו ושיחנך אותו לכל תורה ומצוה והדרש אין צריך לכתוב כי נודע הוא והוא רחוק

25. And they brought the child: Elkanah and Chana brought the child to Eli after making a sacrifice in the Mishkan, so that he will sit and study from Eli and be educated in Torah and Mitzvot. (In other words the sacrifice was a preparatory act for bringing Shmuel near to Eli to study). And the Midrashic interpretation is not neccessary to be recorded here as it is far-fetched’

The Midrash which the Redak dismisses as far fetched is found in the Midrash Shmuel (also found in Talmud Bavli: Berachot 31b):

מדרש שמואל (בובר) פרשה ג

  בא שמואל ומצאן עומדין על קרבנותיהן, אמר להן מפני מה אין אתם שוחטין, אמרו לו הרי אנו ממתינין לכהן שיבא, דכתיב ושחט את בן  הבקר לפני ה’ (ויקרא א’ ה’), אמר להן עמדו ושחטו, לא כן תנינן שהשחיטה כשרה בזרים ובנשים ובעבדים אפילו בקדשי קדשים, כיון שבא עלי ומצאן ששחטו, אמר להן מי התיר לכם את השחיטה, אמרו לו נער אחד, אמר להן הביאוהו, הדא הוא דכתיב וישחטו את הפר ויביאו את הנער אל עלי (שם שם/שמואל א’ א’/כ”ה), בקש לעונשו, באת אמו ונשתטחה על רגליו, הדא הוא דכתיב ותאמר בי אדני חי נפשך אדני וגו’ (שם שם/שמואל א’ א’/כ”ו)   אמר לה לא אנא צליתי ואת קאים, אמר לה ימות ואנא מצלי וייתי חורן, אמרה אל הנער הזה התפללתי (שם שם שמואל א’ א’/כ”ז), מן דא ומן דא לא דידי ולא דידך הוא. וגם אנכי השאילתיהו לה’

This Midrash records an astonishing interaction. Shmuel, a young boy at the time, arrives at theMishkan and finds people are waiting for a Kohen to slaughter their sacrifices. Shmuel suggests that the slaughtering of a sacrifice may be permitted by a non-Kohen. Following this young boy’s encouragement the people do not delay and slaughter the animals themselves. Eli HaKohen witnesses the Jewish people slaughtering their own sacrifices and want to know who sanctioned this activity? The Jewish People direct Eli towards Shmuel, a boy of only 4 or 5 years old at the time. This is perhaps why it is recorded that “they brought the lad” after the slaughter of the animals; the Pasuk is referring to the Jewish people and ‘after the slaughter of the animal’ being a reference to the Halachik innovation that Shmuel had implemented.

Eli HaKohen at this time felt compelled to punish Shmuel with a heavenly death sentence, a fate he can beseech Heaven for because of his elevated spiritual status. Chana comes to beg for here sons life. She claims that Shmuel is irreplaceable and that he was the son that she prayed for, no other child. Chana reminds Eli of her earliertefillot/prayers to receive Shmuel. She instructs Eli that this child will belong to the Mishkan and therefore should be spared accordingly.

This episode must elicit some exploration and critical insight.

1)    Why did Shmuel mention this law, correct as he may be, in the prescence of the Kohen Gadol who was obviously his senior and the Halachik authority? We can perhaps even suggest that by the fact that this Halachawas not being implemented at the time should have given Shmuel clear indication that the custom was for Kohen exclusive slaughtering? On a related note, why would waiting for a Kohen to perform the slaughter be such a negative experience that motivated Shmuel to implement a procedural change?

2)    Why did Eli HaKohen judge Shmuel so harshly making him liable for the death penalty? Even if he was ‘moreh Halacha bifnei Rabbo’ (deciding the law in the presence of his teacher) could Eli HaKohen have his honor in this case to present the death of such a young boy?

Rav Levi suggests a solution to explain this perplexing episode. Shmuel certainly did not intend to decide this issue in the face of the High Priest. In this scenario, the people are waiting and seem to be told to find or await the arrival of a Kohen to perform the shechita. If they perform the slaughter themselves, who will pour the blood, a Kohen is required for the pouring service. One has to conclude that in fact there were Kohanim available, as we are infomred in Chapter 2. Eli’s sons were present and were corrupting the procedure of presenting a sacrifice. The sons of Eli were keeping the sacrifices for themselves to the exclusion of others and Shmuel recognized that this as problematic behavior. He wanted to illustrate that the sacrifical service was not exclusive, as Eli’s sons had made it, even a commoner can slaughter the sacrifice if required. This statement was not transforming the Halacha but highlighting the irregularities taking place in the Mishkan service. The people listened to Shmuel and disenfranchised Eli’s sons from their stranglehold on the sacrifices.

Eli however did not view the events with the same perspective as Shmuel. He felt that Shmuel should have left it to Eli to manage how his sons were behaving. Eli was concerned that not all Kohanim were expert in the slaughter of sacrifices and his sons were experienced in this activity, this is why they were needed for this service.

Furthermore, Eli was accepting Shmuel as his personal student, this meant he must agree to call Eli his teacher par excellance and not make a decision in his prescence. This is why Eli was so tough on Shmuel so as to establish the principles of authority. This would of course be a fantastic lesson for Shmuel who becomes the principal authority amongst the Jewish people. Teaching the young Shmuel a sense of humility would serve him well later on, even if it meant declaring a possible death sentence.

Chana’s plea to Eli was very simple. This child was a gift from God. It is not within Eli’s authority to decide whether Shmual would live or die. Acknowledging the noble mission that Shmuel is brought to the world with, his existence was and will continue to be by the grace of God. While humility is a critical trait for anyone in a position of leadership, a good sense of self and mission is equally as important.

These lessons still ring true today in our world where leadership is granted by the will of people. Any leader who is bold enough too demand unquestionable leadership will surely face humbling revolutions; any leader whose mission is self-preservation will surely be challenged too produce a worthwhile mission; any leader who is too brazen too hear the critique of a young boy will surely lose touch with his people; any leader that has a youthful boldness too suggest revolutions, perhaps will have too learn too listen in more challenging scenarios.

The mantel of leadership is a heavy and ennobling burden.