Malachi, the last Navi whose Nevuot are recorded in Tanach, unsurprisingly delivers Nevuot that are very important for both his generation and for many future generations of Jews who live without Nevuah, including our own. Therefore, almost every year, despite the fact that it is one of the shortest Sefarim in Tanach (only three Perakim long), Malachi is the source of two Haftarot (Haftarat Toledot and Haftarat Shabbat HaGadol). This year, however, we forego the Haftarah from the beginning of Malachi, the one for Parashat Toledot, and choose instead a story from Sefer Shemu’eil that is well-known but hard to relate to. This practice is bewildering not simply because we ignore the normal Haftarah of a Shabbat – indeed, this is common practice on Shabbatot that coincide with any holiday, even a minor one, such as Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah – but because of the occasion on which we choose to do so. What is special about Erev Rosh Chodesh? We do not need a reminder that tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh; this reminder will come right after the Haftarah, when, as on every Shabbat that precedes a Rosh Chodesh, we recite Birkat HaChodesh. What about Erev Rosh Chodesh behooves us to read Haftarat “Machar Chodesh”?
The Haftarah itself, independent of its occasion, is carved in a very surprising way. The curtains open to reveal David and Yehonatan discussing a plan involving Rosh Chodesh and arrows through which Yehonatan can notify David whether to stay with him (and Sha’ul) or flee to somewhere safer. What exactly is the plan, and why is it necessary? Unfortunately, the Haftarah begins when David and Yehonatan are already nearing the end of their discussion, so we don’t know what the two are planning; we must wait for the rest of the Haftarah to be read, in which the plan is actually carried out, to discover this information. In light of this, wouldn’t it make more sense to start the Haftarah at “VaYivrach David” (Shemu’eil Aleph 20:1), giving us a much fuller sense of what exactly David and Yehonatan are discussing?
While Erev Rosh Chodesh may not seem to be a significant occasion, some have the Minhag to fast on Erev Rosh Chodesh and observe it as a “Yom Kippur Katan.” The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (97:1) explains that Yom Kippur Katan is the day we look back at and repent for all the Aveirot of the month that is concluding, allowing us to start the new month with a new slate; this is why we call Rosh Chodesh “Zeman Kaparah,” “A time of atonement,” during Musaf. Thus, the significance of Erev Rosh Chodesh seems to lie in its being a turning point and a time to look back at the past month.
Like Erev Rosh Chodesh, Haftarat “Machar Chodesh” is a turning point; it is a turning point in David’s life. Before the Haftarah, David lives a relatively comfortable life in Sha’ul’s palace. Though Sha’ul harbors ill feelings toward David, David’s own feelings are very positive, especially in his relationship with Yehonatan, which is repeatedly mentioned in conjunction with the emotions of love and desire (Shmu’eil Aleph 18:1-2, 19:1, 20:17). Things begin to change in the Perek preceding this week’s Haftarah, when David must temporarily run away from Sha’ul. The real change, however, comes only after David confirms, in this week’s Haftarah, that Sha’ul wants to kill him. David’s life changes to one of perpetual hiding and fleeing. All signs of love and desire disappear, and they begin to be replaced by fear on the part of David and his men (21:13, 23:3). Most poignantly, at David’s next and last meeting with Yehonatan, Yehonatan must reassure David, “Al Tira,” “Do not fear” (23:17). Even in his relationship with Yehonatan, David’s love and desire have been replaced by fear, which he needs Yehonatan to help remove. “Machar Chodesh” is the turning point between these two different stages of David’s life.
Immediately before this week’s Haftarah begins, David informs Yehonatan that Sha’ul is “Mevakeish Et Nafshi,” “seeking my life” (20:1). David understands that he is on the verge of entering a new stage of his life, just as we, on Erev Rosh Chodesh, are on the verge of entering a new month. Still, how does David transition from one stage of his life to another?
The Haftarah begins with Yehonatan’s plan to shoot arrows because it wants to highlight these arrows. It is these arrows, not the rest of the plan, which are important to us on Erev Rosh Chodesh, since these arrows will signify the end of the earlier stage of David’s life. Yehonatan tells David that if he tells his servant to run farther to retrieve the arrows, “Leich Ki Shilachacha Hashem,” “Go because Hashem has sent you” (20:22). When David hears the signal, Yehonatan wants him to run immediately to his next stage in life without looking back. In fact, Yehonatan and David contrive the arrow signals because they do not expect to meet alone, as David must leave immediately.
Yet David disobeys Yehonatan. When David hears the signal, even after Yehonatan adds, “Meheirah Chushah Al Ta’amod,” “[Go] quickly and do not delay” (20:38), David stays. The Haftarah then ends with David’s final farewell to Yehonatan to show us that before moving on to his next stage in life, David embraces the most positive aspects of his previous one. Just as we look back at the previous month on Erev Rosh Chodesh before entering the new month, David looks back at Yehonatan before leaving him to embark on a new stage in his life.
Thus, the message of Erev Rosh Chodesh and Haftarat “Machar Chodesh” is that when we encounter a change in life, we should look back at our previous experiences, fix our mistakes, and internalize the lessons we have learned. May we be Zocheh to learn from our past in order to improve our future.