Haftaras Machar Chodesh

This Shabbos is erev Rosh Chodesh, and we therefore read the special “machar chodesh” haftarah. The haftarah begins (Shmuel Alef 20:18-22):
And Yonasan said to him [David]: “Tomorrow is the New Moon, and you will be asked about, for your place will be empty. Stay [in the field] for three days, and then go far down and go to … the marker stone. I will shoot three arrows toward that direction, as if I were shooting at a target (l’shalach li l’matarah). Behold, I will then send the lad, [saying]: ‘Go find the arrows.’ If I say to the lad, ‘Behold, the arrows are this side of you,” then you take the arrows and come, for all is well with you. But if I say this to the young man – ‘Behold, the arrows are beyond you’ – then go, for Hashem has sent you away [my father (Shaul) seeks to kill you].”
On the third day, Yonasan shoots the arrows and tells his attendant: “Behold, the arrows are beyond you.” Yonasan and David then have a parting meeting before David flees. For years I wondered why Yonasan used the signal of the arrows rather than simply telling David how he should proceed, given that the two of them were ultimately going to meet. The Maggid offers two answers to this question. Both involve homiletical readings of the phrase l’shalach li l’matarah.
The first answer is that Yonasan, due to his great righteousness and his sensitivity regarding evil speech, sought to avoid saying outright that Shaul was planning to kill David. He therefore used the signal of the arrows in lieu of a verbal report. He deliberately used three arrows, to hint that evil speech harms three people: the speaker, the listener, and the one who is being spoken about. And we can read the phrase l’shalach li l’matarah as expressing Yonasan’s hope that, just as a target acts as a barrier, the signal of the arrows should serve him as a shield, protecting him from liability for evil speech.
The second answer is that Yonasan used the mechanism of the arrows to elicit from Hashem a sign as to whether or not He had decreed that David should have to flee. A threat from Shaul would not be conclusive, for it is Hashem’s word, and not the word of any man, that determines how events will unfold. Here we can read the phrase l’shalach li l’matarah as expressing Yonasan’s hope that the arrows would aid him in achieving his goal of learning what Hashem had decreed regarding David [the word matarah can be rendered either as target or as goal]. This answer is in line how Rashi comments on Yonasan’s instructions to David. Yonasan says: “If I say to the lad, ‘Behold, the arrows are this side of you,” then you take the arrows and come, for all is well with you.” Rashi comments: “You need not fear. All is well with you. The Holy One Blessed Be He wishes for you to stay here without fear, even though my father expressed evil plans.” Yonasan continues: “But if I say this to the young man – ‘Behold, the arrows are beyond you’ – then go, for Hashem has sent you away.” Rashi comments: “The Holy One Blessed Be He wants you to flee and escape.” Now, had Yonasan meant the arrows as simply a device for conveying a message to David, surely he would tailor his message to match Shaul’s sentiments: If Shaul had expressed evil plans, Yonasan would tell his attendant that the arrows were beyond him, and if not, he would tell him that the arrows were further in. But since Yonasan indicated that the sign of the arrows might run counter to what Shaul had said, we can see that Yonasan was using the arrows not as a mere communication device, but as a means of determining how Hashem wanted David to proceed.
The above explanation fits well with the sequence of events when Yonasan shot the arrows. Yonasan told his attendant that he should run to bring the arrows. Obviously if the attendant started running at the same time as Yonasan shot the arrows, there would be no way that the attendant would get beyond the arrows, for no man can run faster than an arrow flies. Yonasan therefore first told his attendant to run, and afterward he shot the arrows (ibid. 20:36). That is, Yonasan gave the attendant got a head start on the arrows, thereby creating the possibility that he might get beyond where the arrows landed. In this way, Yonasan set up a mechanism for Hashem to indicate what He wanted David to do.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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