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An Introduction to the book of Shmuel

Essays on Shmuel 1

An Introduction to the book of Shmuel

Yechiel Shaffer

 Click here to learn more about Abarbarnel

Click here to learn more about Abarbarnel

There is an interesting tradition to refrain from studying the Abarbanel on Friday evening. The reason for this practice is that the Abarbanel usually begins his commentary by listing all his questions that he has on a particular topic and then proceeds to write a lengthy essay answering all the questions. We are concerned that if you  attempt to begin reading the questions of the Ababanel on Friday evening you may never get to the answers because you are taken over by sleep. With keeping that in mind, the Abarbanel plays a crucial role in explaining the nuances of the life of Shmuel and will have a critical place in our understanding of the Book of Shmuel. His thoughts are most engaging and unique and well worth staying awake for!

In his introduction to the books of Shmuel I & II, the Abarbanel questions the adoption of the name Shmuel for these books. The prophet Shmuel does not live past Chapter 25 in Shmuel I and surely the personalities within these critical books reach far beyond the scope of the life of the prophet, Shmuel. Why do these books take on the name Shmuel when his story concludes in Chapter 25?

The Abarbanel goes as far to quote a secular scribe, namely Gerónimo (possibly Jerónimo de Santa Fe who was known to his former Jewish brethren as “the blasphemer” because of his conversion to Catholicism, his work to proselytize Jews and his deep resentment of his Jewish heritage) who suggests, against the traditional approach, that these books should be named Melachim or ‘The Reign’. According to the secular scribe these books are part of the book of Kings because it contains the stories of Shaul and David. This suggestion does seem reasonable.

The Abarbanel posits that according to traditional Jewish sources we name these books by the prophet Shmuel because of his stellar personality and religious integrity as well as his critical role as the maker of Kings. Shmuel is the prophet who anoints both Shaul and David and plays a critical role in their reigns. He is instrumental in setting the tone for Jewish Kingship.

He takes this suggestion one step further and indicates that Shmuel is the singular personality who connects the prior book of Shoftim to this new book of Shmuel. There is a gap between the conclusion of the Judges of Israel and the establishment of the Davidic dynasty. The bridge between this gap is the man who himself was a judge of Israel but also played the role of King maker for Israel. To give Shmuel the due respect and recognition for his impact on Jewish History we name these books after him.

 Click above for an excellent summary of the book of Shoftim

Click above for an excellent summary of the book of Shoftim

The Connection between the conclusion of Shoftim and the beginning of Shmuel I

It is fascinating to note that we open the book of Shmuel with an introduction of a member of the tribe of Levi who is dedicated to bringing good into the world.

שמואל א פרק א                                                                                                                           (א) ויהי איש אחד מן־הרמתים צופים מהר אפרים ושמו אלקנה בן־ירחם בן־אליהוא בן־תחו בן־צוף אפרתי

“Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of the hill-country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephramite”

Identified in Divrei HaYamim (Chapter 6) as the descendant of the tribe of Levi, and specifically of the infamous Korach, it is no coincidence of the prominent role a Levite plays at the start of the book of Shmuel.

The last two stories (Pesel Ha’Efod and Pilegesh B’Givah) of the book of Shoftim revolve around the descendants of Levi performing less then noble acts. It is also slightly shocking to note that the Levite who becomes the leader of the rebellion against God is the grandson of Moshe. For further study see the end of the book of Shoftim.

Perhaps as a tikkun (repair), we present a new Levite, Elkanah, who will achieve greatness and influence his fellow Jews positively. There is a sense of irony that the grandson of Moshe faults with the worship of idols and the descendant of Korach, Elkanah, is worthy to have a child who will be a prophet who will establish Kings in Israel. Beyond that the Maharshal in his book Chochmas Shlomo (Brachos 61) boldly suggests that there are many parallels between the Ish Levi in the Pilegesh B’Giva’ah story and Elkanah which may lead us to believe they are one and the same person. This certainly is an interesting suggestion, and while it may not be the simple understanding of the story it certainly adds greater context to the ideas the formed the personality of Elkanah.