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The Prophecy Project

Our Haftorah (II Samuel 22) recites a song composed by King David upon reaching a point in his career where his enemies were conquered and his monarchy now sustainable. He sings these words, the Navi tells us, on the day God “saves him from under the hand of all his enemies and from under the hand of Saul.” Rashi wonders why King David specifies Saul of all his enemies? He concludes that Saul retained a greater enmity and chased him more than any other. Indeed, Saul ruthlessly chases his former ward, warrior, and minstrel for years. His desire to capture and destroy David becomes obsessive. Yet, looking back at Saul’s death, one hardly views it as salvation. II Samuel 1 describes the upstart King David informed of Saul’s death. An Amalekite youth describes how he mercifully kills a dying Saul, at the latter’s request. David, enraged by the Amalekite’s gumption in killing the King of Israel, kills the youth. David then sings a tragic elegy, lamenting in chorus how “the mighty warriors have fallen”. He refers to Saul as the “deer of Israel” and “the beloved”. It seems that David forgives the harshness of Saul’s pursuit. Moreover, previously, when David overcomes Saul, he refuses to kill his supposed enemy. Finally, even after Saul’s death, David takes extra care to see to it that the past king’s family is properly cared for. Alternative to Rashi, we might suggest that David singles out Saul, as Saul could not be included among his enemies. David empathizes with his pursuer; he understands Saul’s frustration that his own son will not sit upon the throne of Israel that he founded. Further, he no doubt feels indebted to Saul who adopted this youngest and least heralded child of Yishai, transforming him into a national hero. David understands that he could not ascend the throne without Saul’s removal; however, he cannot in good conscience refer to Saul as his enemy. David’s song reflects the frequent ambiguity of the categories of good and evil. His song focuses most on God’s salvation and his own mortal danger. He refers to those that would capture him vaguely as “waves of death” and the “sons if Belial” so as not to impugn a specific character. Specifically because of Saul’s death, David cannot refer to those vanquished indiscriminately as evil. David’s song reflects the complexity of existence. With ease, we might characterize our own struggles in black and white categories of good and evil. Reality, we must understand, is far more intricate. David instead focuses on his own salvation and all that he has to be thankful for.