Erev Rosh Chodesh: Machar Chodesh

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In memory of Ira Beer, Yitzchak Dov ben Tzvi Mendel, on the occasion of his second Yahrtzeit.

After Israel’s first king, Saul, failed to obliterate the nation of Amalek as God commanded, the prophet Samuel told him that God rejected him and would replace him with a better king. Samuel then privately anointed a humble commoner, David, as king. As a leading warrior, David’s victories and fame threaten Saul’s rule. At the same time, David’s musical skill soothes Saul, whose moods and behavior become increasingly irascible and erratic. David eventually marries one of Saul’s daughters, joining Saul’s family, too. Saul instructs his son, Jonathan, and the rest of his royal court to kill David. Sacrificing his claim to the throne, Jonathan refuses this, instead swearing eternal loyalty to David. Saul repeatedly tries to kill David. Yet at other times, Jonathan persuades his father to relent, allowing David to soothe and fight for Saul.

A public royal Rosh Chodesh feast approaches, which David, as a court official, must attend. Uncertain whether Saul will kill him there, David tells Jonathan that he will hide in a nearby field. He asks Jonathan to tell his father that he granted David permission to attend a feast of his own family instead of the royal feast. They agree that Jonathan will assess his father’s reaction to David’s absence and excuse, and inform David whether he can safely return to the palace.

Since David and Jonathan make these plans on the day before Rosh Chodesh, the story of how they unfold, detailed below, is read as the Haftarah on every Shabbat when the following day is Rosh Chodesh. The Haftarah’s name, “machar chodesh” (Hebrew for “tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh”), is taken from its opening verse. It replaces the Haftarah associated with the weekly Torah reading.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 20:18-23: Jonathan tells David how he will shoot arrows to send a secret signal to David as he hides in the field so that he can flee if Saul is angry, or return if he is calm.

I Samuel 20:21-22

I [Jonathan] will order [my] young servant, “Go and find the arrows.” If I call to the servant, ‘The arrows are on this side of you,” [then] take him and come, for it is peaceful for you and there is nothing [to fear]—as the Lord lives! But if I say this to the lad- ‘The arrows are beyond you”- [then] leave, for the Lord has sent you away.

וְהִנֵּה֙ אֶשְׁלַ֣ח אֶת־הַנַּ֔עַר לֵ֖ךְ מְצָ֣א אֶת־הַחִצִּ֑ים אִם־אָמֹר֩ אֹמַ֨ר לַנַּ֜עַר הִנֵּ֥ה הַחִצִּ֣ים ׀ מִמְּךָ֣ וָהֵ֗נָּה קָחֶ֧נּוּ ׀ וָבֹ֛אָה כִּֽי־שָׁל֥וֹם לְךָ֛ וְאֵ֥ין דָּבָ֖ר חַי־ה’׃ וְאִם־כֹּ֤ה אֹמַר֙ לָעֶ֔לֶם הִנֵּ֥ה הַחִצִּ֖ים מִמְּךָ֣ וָהָ֑לְאָה לֵ֕ךְ כִּ֥י שִֽׁלַּחֲךָ֖ ה’

Verses 20:24-26: Saul notes David’s absence at the royal Rosh Chodesh feast but assumes something ordinary prevented his attendance.

I Samuel 20:24

David hid in the field. When the new moon came, the king sat down to eat the [celebratory] bread [meal].

וַיִּסָּתֵ֥ר דָּוִ֖ד בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וַיְהִ֣י הַחֹ֔דֶשׁ וַיֵּ֧שֶׁב הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ (על)[אֶל־]הַלֶּ֖חֶם לֶאֱכֽוֹל׃

Verses 20:27-29: When David does not appear the next day, Saul asks Jonthan to explain. Jonathan states that he granted David permission to heed his brother’s command to join his family’s celebration in Bethlehem.

I Samuel 20:28

Jonathan answered Saul, “David firmly asked leave of me [to go to Bethlehem.”

וַיַּ֥עַן יְהוֹנָתָ֖ן אֶת־שָׁא֑וּל נִשְׁאֹ֨ל נִשְׁאַ֥ל דָּוִ֛ד מֵעִמָּדִ֖י עַד־בֵּ֥ית לָֽחֶם׃

Verses 20:30-34: Saul berates Jonathan for favoring David instead of inheriting the throne. After Jonathan refuses Saul’s command to bring David so Saul can kill him, Saul tries to kill Jonathan. Jonathan leaves angrily.

I Samuel 20:33

Saul threw his spear at [Jonathan] to kill him. Jonathan realized that his father was determined to kill David.

וַיָּ֨טֶל שָׁא֧וּל אֶֽת־הַחֲנִ֛ית עָלָ֖יו לְהַכֹּת֑וֹ וַיֵּ֙דַע֙ יְה֣וֹנָתָ֔ן כִּֽי־כָ֥לָה הִ֛יא מֵעִ֥ם אָבִ֖יו לְהָמִ֥ית אֶת־דָּוִֽד׃ (ס)

Verses 20:35-40: As previously arranged, Jonathan uses a servant and arrows the next morning to secretly signal to David that he must flee from Saul. Jonathan dispatches the servant back to town with his equipment.

I Samuel 20:37

When the lad came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the lad, “The arrows are beyond you.”

וַיָּבֹ֤א הַנַּ֙עַר֙ עַד־מְק֣וֹם הַחֵ֔צִי אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָרָ֖ה יְהוֹנָתָ֑ן וַיִּקְרָ֨א יְהוֹנָתָ֜ן אַחֲרֵ֤י הַנַּ֙עַר֙ וַיֹּ֔אמֶר הֲל֥וֹא הַחֵ֖צִי מִמְּךָ֥ וָהָֽלְאָה׃

Verses 20:41-42: Grateful to Jonathan, David comes out of hiding. David is overcome with emotion as they embrace and weep. Jonathan dispatches David to safety, reaffirming their mutual oath and the eternal alliance between themselves and their descendants.

I Samuel 20:42

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace! For we two have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord: ‘May the Lord be [witness] between you and me, and between your offspring and mine, forever!’”

וַיֹּ֧אמֶר יְהוֹנָתָ֛ן לְדָוִ֖ד לֵ֣ךְ לְשָׁל֑וֹם אֲשֶׁר֩ נִשְׁבַּ֨עְנוּ שְׁנֵ֜ינוּ אֲנַ֗חְנוּ בְּשֵׁ֤ם ה’ לֵאמֹ֔ר ה’ יִֽהְיֶ֣ה ׀ בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֗ךָ וּבֵ֥ין זַרְעִ֛י וּבֵ֥ין זַרְעֲךָ֖ עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃ (פ)


The Mishnah uses the unconditional loyalty of David and Jonathan for one another to exemplify selfless love.

Pirkei Avot 5:16

Every love that depends on something, when the thing ceases, the love ceases. [A love] not dependent on anything will never cease. What is [an example of] love dependent on something? The love of Amnon and Tamar. [What is an example of love] not dependent on something? The love of David and Jonathan.

כָּל אַהֲבָה שֶׁהִיא תְלוּיָה בְדָבָר, בָּטֵל דָּבָר, בְּטֵלָה אַהֲבָה. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ תְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, אֵינָהּ בְּטֵלָה לְעוֹלָם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא אַהֲבָה הַתְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, זוֹ אַהֲבַת אַמְנוֹן וְתָמָר. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ תְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, זוֹ אַהֲבַת דָּוִד וִיהוֹנָתָן:

With emendations, all translations are from To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email