Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Samuel & Abraham: Listen To The Voice

In the course of doing Shmuel homework I came across an interesting parallel (intertextuality is my happy place, after all). Check this out.
    יא וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר מְאֹד, בְּעֵינֵי אַבְרָהָם, עַל, אוֹדֹת בְּנוֹ. 11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight on account of his son.

    יב וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-אַבְרָהָם, אַל-יֵרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עַל-הַנַּעַר וְעַל-אֲמָתֶךָ--כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה, שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ: כִּי בְיִצְחָק, יִקָּרֵא לְךָ זָרַע. 12 And God said unto Abraham: 'Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall seed be called to thee.

    יג וְגַם אֶת-בֶּן-הָאָמָה, לְגוֹי אֲשִׂימֶנּוּ: כִּי זַרְעֲךָ, הוּא. 13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.'

    יד וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיִּקַּח-לֶחֶם וְחֵמַת מַיִם וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-הָגָר שָׂם עַל-שִׁכְמָהּ, וְאֶת-הַיֶּלֶד--וַיְשַׁלְּחֶהָ; וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתֵּתַע, בְּמִדְבַּר בְּאֵר שָׁבַע. 14 And Abraham arose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away; and she departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

    ~Genesis 21:11-14
as compared to:
    ו וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר, בְּעֵינֵי שְׁמוּאֵל, כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ, תְּנָה-לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ; וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל שְׁמוּאֵל, אֶל-יְהוָה. {פ} 6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: 'Give us a king to judge us.' And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. {P}

    ז וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, שְׁמַע בְּקוֹל הָעָם, לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמְרוּ אֵלֶיךָ: כִּי לֹא אֹתְךָ מָאָסוּ, כִּי-אֹתִי מָאֲסוּ מִמְּלֹךְ עֲלֵיהֶם. 7 And the LORD said unto Samuel: 'Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.

    ח כְּכָל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ, מִיּוֹם הַעֲלֹתִי אוֹתָם מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, וַיַּעַזְבֻנִי, וַיַּעַבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים--כֵּן הֵמָּה עֹשִׂים, גַּם-לָךְ. 8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.

    ט וְעַתָּה, שְׁמַע בְּקוֹלָם: אַךְ, כִּי-הָעֵד תָּעִיד בָּהֶם, וְהִגַּדְתָּ לָהֶם, מִשְׁפַּט הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר יִמְלֹךְ עֲלֵיהֶם. {ס} 9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.'

    ~Samuel I 8: 6-9
These two narratives echo one another; the language and situation are similar. However, I think the differences in these two narratives are more compelling than the similarities, since they help to characterize the two men.

1. Abraham is bothered by his wife's suggestion because of his son. However, Samuel seems to be bothered by the suggestion of the people in his own right (after all, in verse 5 they do tell him "'Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.")

2. Abraham is very grieved (va'yera ha'davar me'od) whereas Samuel is simply grieved (the word me'od is not used.)

3. Abraham does not actively do anything to express his unhappiness or grief. Instead, God comes to him and tells him not to be grieved and to listen to his wife. This is in contrast to Samuel who chooses to pray to God. To me this suggests continuity. Chana prayed to God out of her own personal misery; Samuel prays to God as well.

4. God begins his answer to Abraham by stating that he should not be grieved regarding Hagar and her son. He then tells him to listen to Sarah. However, by Samuel, God does not tell Samuel not to be grieved. Thus it suggests that Samuel has legitimate cause to be grieved and should be grieved but nonetheless should listen to the nation.

5. When God and Abraham's dialogue is concluded, Abraham immediately acts upon what he has been told. He does not choose to share the information with Hagar or Sarah but simply does. In contrast, God specifically tells Samuel to speak to the nation and warn them about the future king. Thus, when God's dialogue with Samuel is finished, Samuel talks to the nation and passes on the conversation he had with God.

6. The content of what is told to each person in terms of comfort differs extremely. God tells Abraham he should be comforted because "also the son of the bondwoman will be a great nation" but it is through Isaac that he shall have progeny. In contrast, when God speaks to Samuel he tells the man not to be personally hurt or slighted by the people because it is not Samuel whom the people wish to be rid of and depose but God. Thus God feels Samuel's pain and states that he shares it with the man.

From here we can note distinctions between Abraham & Samuel, or perhaps (if we could prove it) biblical man in Chumash and prophetic man in Tanakh.

A. Abraham feels that he can pray on behalf of others (see Genesis 20:17) but does not choose to pray on behalf of himself or his family. Samuel, in contrast, specifically prays to God when he himself has been slighted. (Perhaps the innovation of his mother Chana had to do with personal as opposed to national prayer.)

B. God comforts Avraham in a more factual, practical way as opposed to the emotional way he approaches Samuel. Avraham is also described as an action-driven, practical man as opposed to someone who talks/ uses words as his primary mode of expression (as Samuel does.)

C. Abraham is to listen to Sarah because she is right and therefore he should not be upset; Samuel should listen to the people even though they are not necessarily right and he is entitled to feel hurt.

Thus, in this particular comparison, Abraham comes across as someone whose emotions do not necessarily transmit themselves to words and prayer. His attitude and defining attribute is not to complain. God comforts him by allowing him a practical and factual solution to a problem. Then Abraham practically and pragmatically follows God's word. Samuel, in contrast, is very emotional. He is hurt by the people's request. God comforts him by stating that in fact the people are turning against Him, not Samuel. He doesn't invalidate Samuel's feelings because he is entitled to them but nonetheless bids him to hearken to the people and listen to their voice. Samuel verbalizes his feelings. Abraham contains them within himself. Thus are two different personalities sketched.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

interesting! i especially like the connection between Shmu’el's prayer and his mother Ḥana's innovation!

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with some assumptions and conclusions, but good eye there spotting the connection. Also, bnei yisrael asking for a king was not the sin; after all having a king was one of the mitzvot for when they enter eretz yisrael. The aveyra is that they wanted a king in order to be like the other nations. Had they come to shmuel and requested a king who would constantly guide them to make sure they did the mitzvot and got closer to god, this would have made god very happy.

Chana said...

Anon 2:17,

That's one approach. The other is that the mitzva in the Torah of appointing a king was intended for the time when Bnei Yisrael would be fully settled in the land. You can thank mori rabi The Family Midrash Says for teaching me that (page 81 in their book on Shmuel 1.) God had not desired for there to be a king to lead the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.

The Family Midrash Says lists Rambam Hilchos Melachim P"A, H"B, Sifri and Derashos HaRan for your approach. It lists the Sifsei Kohen, R' Samson Raphael Hirsch on the Torah, Sifrei Shoftim 17, 4 per the Malbim, Tosefta Sanhedrin P"D, Ramban in Genesis 49 and Rashi to Sanhedrin 20b for the answer I offered.