On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, we will read the Haftarah from the first Perek of Shmuel Alef. The passage relates the story of Elkanah and Chanah, and their struggle to have a child. Towards the end of the Perek, the couple finally has a son, and they name him Shmuel. Shortly afterwards, when Shmuel is weaned, Chanah brings Shmuel to the Beit HaMikdash, and asks Eli, the Kohein Gadol, to raise the child. As the Pasuk states (Shmuel Alef 1:28), “VeGam Anochi Hish’iltihu LaHashem Kol HaYamim Asher Hayah Hu Sha’ul LaHashem VaYishtachu Sham LaHashem,” “‘Furthermore, I have dedicated him to Hashem – all the days that he lives he is dedicated to Hashem.’ He then prostrated himself to Hashem.”
Radak (ad. loc. s.v. Hu Sha’ul) offers two explanations for the phrase “Kol HaYamim Asher Hayah Hu Sha’ul LaHashem.” His first approach is a very straightforward way of looking at the Pasuk. This Peshat explanation states that the Pasuk is teaching that Shmuel is loaned to Hashem all the days that he is alive; that is, everything that he does is geared towards service of Hashem. The Radak then presents a Derash approach, stating that the Pasuk can teach that for all the days that Shmuel was alive, Sha’ul (a homonym of the verb “Sha’ul”) too was alive. His proof is the close proximity of the deaths of Shmuel and Sha’ul, both related at the end of Shmuel Aleph.
I would like to present my own approach to this Pasuk, which I believe can be translated as follows: “All the days that (Shmuel) was (alive), he, Sha’ul, was devoted to Hashem,” and in return Hashem was with Sha’ul. This idea is supported twice in the Pesukim of Shmuel Aleph. The first is shown regarding the incidents of Perakim 26 and 27, in which Sha’ul’s relationship with Shmuel begins to deteriorate. This deterioration and the ultimate end of the relationship between Shmuel and Sha’ul causes Hashem’s spirit to leave Sha’ul – this implies that Sha’ul’s relationship with Shmuel had created the bond between Sha’ul and Hashem. However, while Shmuel is alive, Sha’ul is still with Hashem to a certain degree. Although his pursuit of David seems to show his lack of devotion to Hashem, this point could be refuted. Many times he stops of his own volition to chase after David; alternatively, the entire chase was caused by a “Ruach Ra.”
Additionally, when Sha’ul travels to Nayot (Shmuel Aleph Perek 19), he is able to receive Ruach Elokim. However, in Perek 28, after Shmuel’s death, Sha’ul attempts to speak to Hashem, but He does not respond. This could be because once Shmuel has passed away, Sha’ul is no longer as close to Hashem, and Sha’ul therefore cannot speak with Hashem. This idea also solves the issue of the Navi repeating that Shmuel died (Shmuel Alef 28:3) after it had already been stated (25:1). The death might be repeated to emphasize that the reason for Hashem not answering Sha’ul is linked to Shmuel’s death – once Shmuel is gone, the bond between Hashem and Sha’ul is no longer. This idea also seems to be supported by the Pesukim, with regards to Sha’ul’s reaction to Hashem not answering him. Sha’ul goes to the “Eishat Ba’alat Ov,” a woman practices sorcery (28:8). Sha’ul goes to this idolatrous woman because Hashem is not answering him; he wants to bring Shmuel back to life so that Hashem will answer him once again and be with him against the Plishtim; however, only when Shmuel was alive was Hashem with Sha’ul.
This story has a two-fold lesson. The initial is that people should try to find a role model, such as a Rabbi or a parent, to advise them on decisions and help them with their religious life and devotion to Torah and Hashem. The second lesson is related to Aveilim, mourners. When Shmuel passes away, Sha’ul tries to bring Shmuel, his role model, back from the dead. Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, once explained the following phrase that consolers recite to mourners: “HaMakom Yenacheim Etchem Betoch Sha’ar Aveilei Tzion ViYerushalayim,” “The Place (Hashem) will comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem,” in the following fashion: The relationship between a parent and child is framed by the recognition of the parent’s Makom, place, as demonstrated in the Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) in defining the Mitzvah of Yir’ah, fear. The Gemara states a person may not sit in his father’s seat, stand in his place at the pub, or sit in his place in shul. This means to say, even if a person has a great relationship with his father or mother, his parents are not his friends, and he still must have awe and reverence towards them. When a parent passes away, the challenge of a child is to enter his parent’s Makom and take what that parent stood for and make it part and parcel of his behavior; if a child enters the Makom of his parent, part of the parent will live on through him. We say to the Aveil, “HaMakom Yenacheim Etchem Betoch Sha’ar Aveilei Tzion ViYerushalayim;” that is to say, the Makom of the diseased will be the greatest consolation to the Aveil.
Often, the Gemara compares a Rabbi to a parent. When Shmuel dies, Sha’ul should have tried to step into Shmuel’s place and embody the Middot that Shmuel represented. However, his mistake is that instead of trying to continue Shmuel’s legacy by embodying his Middot, Sha’ul instead tries to physically bring Shmuel back to life. He does not see Shmuel’s passing as an opportunity to do Teshuvah and to continue to be one who follows Hashem wholeheartedly – this tragedy leads to his ultimate downfall and loss of the dynasty at the conclusion of Perek 28 of Shmuel Aleph.
May we all learn from the The Rav’s exaplantion and the mistake of Sha’ul, and bestow from one generation to the next the plethora of generosity and kindness for which the Jewish people are famous.