How to Handle a Tough Transition
Haftarat Korach, 1 Samuel 11:14–12:24
by Dr. Vered Hillel, Netanya, Israel
Transitions! We all face them; they are inevitable and challenging, and cause anxiety, fear, and a whole slew of emotions that influence the way we act. All of this is compounded when we disagree with the decision that engendered the transition. Samuel, the main protagonist in this week’s haftarah, is a transitional figure who thinks the decision behind the transition is wrong. Let’s look at Samuel to see what we can glean from the way he handles the situation.
Samuel is the last of the judges, who, despite his disagreement with the idea, appoints a king, inaugurating the institution of a monarchy in Israel according to Hashem’s command (1 Sam 8). For Samuel this transition is theologically inconceivable. It is not merely a political shift, in which the political and military power are removed from him and given to the monarchy, but a theological shift from a theocracy, in which Adonai is the Great King, to a human king.
Samuel believes that the people’s request for a king is a betrayal of Hashem and all that he has done for them. Apparently, Hashem sees the request similarly, as earlier he had told Samuel that the people were not rejecting him, Samuel, but they were rejecting Hashem as their king (1 Sam 8:7). Here we also get a glimpse of how Samuel took the people’s request as a personal attack against his leadership.
In this week’s haftarah Samuel calls Israel together to confirm the inauguration of the king. He begins by reminding Israel that he has fulfilled their request for a monarch. He then calls on the people to bear witness to his integrity while in office, presents a litany of offenses that he did not commit, and demands that the people of Israel affirm his integrity as a leader. Accordingly the people declare Samuel innocent of any injustice (1 Sam 12:1–5). Ironically, the injustices from which Samuel was declared innocent are the same injustices that Samuel had warned Israel a king would do (1 Sam 8:11–17).
After affirming Hashem as a witness to their words, Samuel reminds Israel of Hashem’s covenantal loyalty to them despite their frequent disloyalty to him. Samuel even rebukes the people for choosing a king to lead them when Adonai has always provided the proper leadership for them whenever needed. Even though Samuel disagrees with the request for a king, and may even be hurt and angry, he is genuinely concerned about the people’s loyalty to Hashem. He warns them and the king that if they obey Hashem all will be well, but if they do not obey Hashem and rebel against him, Hashem’s hand will be against both the people and the king (1 Sam 12:14–15).
To emphasize his words and ensure that his warning will have a lasting effect upon the people, Samuel calls on Hashem to send thunder and rain during the wheat harvest so they can see the gravity of their wicked action in demanding a king. How are thunder and rain evidence of God’s disapproval or judgment against their request for a king? First, the “thunder” is reminiscent of “the voice of Adonai” (Exod 9:28) and indicative of impending judgment. Second, the Hebrew word translated rain is matar (מטר), which indicates heavy rains or storms that are often more destructive than useful. Matar usually speaks of judgment (Exod 9:8, 23; Jer 10:13; Ezek 38:22). If it comes in its season, December–February, it brings a good harvest, but if it comes late matar stops cross-pollination, washes away pollen, or destroys the developing heads of grain (Deut 11:14–17). Matar in this case is destructive because it is not coming at the right time. Wheat in Israel ripens around Shavuot, which is late May or early June. Because the matar is late it is a sign of judgment as the heavy wind and rain separate the grain from the stalk, spoiling the harvest.
This miraculous event fills the people with fear, causing them to entreat Samuel to pray on their behalf so they will not die. Samuel agrees that they have sinned in their request for a king. Yet he exhorts them not to be afraid of Hashem but to continue to serve him with their whole hearts, for Hashem will not abandon his people on account of his good name (1 Sam 12:22) and because he is pleased to make Israel his people. After these loving words of encouragement, Samuel promises his intercession and his commitment to teach them the right way to walk. He closes by admonishing them once again to serve Hashem with all their heart because if they don’t, both the people and the king will be swept away.
Samuel is an amazing example how to face transition in a positive and godly manner. Below are five points drawn from Samuel’s address to Israel that can help us when we undergo a life transition, especially when we disagree with the decision that triggered it.
1. Compliance with the decision: Samuel accepts Hashem’s decision and harbors no bitterness.
2. Acceptance of a new role: Though both political and military power are taken away from him, Samuel continues to be the religious and moral barometer for Israel.
3. Respect for others: Samuel chides Israel for their decision, yet respects their confession and agrees to intercede for them. He is genuinely concerned for them.
4. Balancing justice with compassion: Samuel holds the people accountable for their “wickedness” but does not leave them in their sorrow. He comforts them, assuring them of Hashem’s continued presence.
5. Maintaining integrity: Despite his own opinions, theological convictions, and feelings of being attacked in his integrity and leadership, Samuel continues to act ethically and morally, exhibiting great integrity.
All of us face transitions in life, some more difficult than others. Each one comes with its own challenges, emotions, and fears. As we walk through these transitions, let us learn from Samuel and exhibit integrity, justice, compassion, respect for others, and acceptance of decisions and new roles without bitterness, remembering that Hashem does not abandon his people.