Sunday, March 31, 2013

If Michal Was Barren, How Did She Have Sons?

Chapter 21 of the Sefer Shmuel (the Book of Samuel) refers to the five sons of Michal being hanged by the Givonim (Gibeonites.)  This is a problem in and of itself as earlier we learned that Michal was childless as a punishment for her indignity at David’s dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.  Interpreters explain that there were five children of Merav, Michal’s sister, who Michal had raised as if they were her own.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The True Location of Chapter 21 in the Book of Samuel

Chapter 21 of the Book of Samuel seems very nonsequitor, so I will try to reconcile it with its context over the next several posts.  First off, the chapter starts off with a famine due to what Shaul had done to the Givonim (Gibeonites,) the resident alien Canaanite workers in the Temple who, as non-citizens, had no legal recourse.  Why wait until after David had dealt with his sin with Bat Sheva and all of the wars and revolts to deal with this seemingly trivial matter?  Rather, it seems reasonable that this happened immediately after David assumed power.  This is evinced by the fact the Givonim demand seven of the sons of Shaul, whom David delivers to them.  Earlier in the Book of Samuel, we see David asking if Shaul had surviving sons, so that would clearly have to have happened after the incident with the Givonim.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Story fo David: Sin and Consequences

All of the chapters from David’s assuming power until his putting down Sheva Ben Bichri’s revolt, which constitutes most of what is written about David, seem to have been David’s sin with Bat Sheva and how he dealt with his punishment.  After that point, the text seems to rewind and give a summary of the other relevant events in David’s kingship in a single chapter (21.)  It seems that the most important thing the Prophets wanted us to know about David was how he dealt with his sin.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Torah is More Interesting Than Liberalism

As an aside, if we had spent half the time in religious school learning about Yoav’s Machiavelian political maneuvers and up-close-and-personal assassinations of his opponents that we spent studying the Holocaust and social justice, I would never have dropped out.  I mean, what would a thirteen year old boy rather watch, endless movies of bodies piled up at Auschwitz, or The Godfather.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Yoav's Fierce Loyalty to David and Himself

Sheva Ben Bichri declared another rebellion, Amasa (David’s new chief of staff and Yoav’s replacement) joins in. David dispatches Yoav’s hot-headed brother Avishai to deal with the revolt.  Immediately we see that it is Yoav who arranges to assassinate Amasa, who happens to be his cousin, pretending to be interested in joining the revolt, and leaning over to kiss Amasa until suddenly grabbing hold of his beard and plunging a sword into him. Yoav continues to lead the charge and gets Sheva Ben Bichri.  Very typical of Yoav, fiercely loyal to his king even if he could have rightly felt mistreated.  He was able to think for himself to  go beyond or even violate what he perceives as poorly devised orders but only in cases where those violations coincide with his own self-interest.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Long Kiss Goodnight

As David crosses the Jordan, he offers his loyal ally Barzilai a position in his court.  Barzilai rejects, saying, “I am eighty years old… I can’t tell good from bad, or taste what I eat and drink.”  I.e., I’m getting older and losing my head, so I won’t be much good to you.  David kisses him and sends him off.  In Tanach (Bible,) a kiss is always the final time two people see one another, as with Ruth and Naomi in the Book of Ruth, and Amasa later in Sefer Shmuel, and many other examples.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Upon his return to the Land of Israel, David promotes Amasa, the rebellious Avshalom’s chief of staff, as his own chief of staff, replacing Yoav (Joab.)  He pardons Shimei son of Gera, who had verbally abused him as he fled Jerusalem, and pardons Mephiboshet, who had also been accused of treason, and restores half his estate.  This is much like his generous treatment of the survivors Shaul’s regime.  Making war against David is much like making war against the United States.  Losing is the best thing that could ever happen to you.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

He Who is Kind to the Cruel will Become Cruel to the Kind

As David publicly weeps for his son Avshalom, turning his victory into a day of mourning,  Yoav (Joab) comes to admonish him. “By loving those that hate you, and hating those that love you… you have declared that you regard neither princes nor servants… if Absalom had lived and we all had died today, then it would have been proper in your eyes.”  This is reminiscent of the Talmudic dictum, “He who is kind to the cruel will eventually become cruel to the kind.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Eli and David, Sitting by the Gate

Awaiting news from the battlefront, David, “Sat between two gates,” until a runner arrives, which hearkens back to the very beginning of the Book of Samuel (Sefer Shmuel) when Eli the Cohen Gadol (high priest) stands on the city gates and awaits news of the battle with the Phillistines.  Both Eli and David hope for good news only to learn that their sons have died.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

David Reasserts Himself

When Israel went to war with Ammon, David stayed behind, seeming to lose heart as a monarch.  After his affair with Bat Sheva, he did not even go out to the city gates to judge cases, as the courthouse in ancient Israeli cities was always in the gate.  He seemins to wonder, “How could I judge when I have sinned so terribly.” It gave his son Avshalom the political operating space to begin planning his rebellion, which started at Jerusalem’s city gate. As the Israeli army marches out to do battle with the renegade Avshalom, David first wants to go with them, and then stands by the city gate and watches them pass.  This seems to indicate David is reasserting his military and judicial leadership.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crossing the Jordan Then and Now (Then)

It is interesting that when David leaves Israel after being deposed, he crosses the Jordan at Machanaim, the same place Jacob wrestled with the angel all night upon his return to the land.  When he eventually returns, he crosses the Jordan at Gilgal, where the nation, led by Yehoshua (Joshua), first crossed over the Jordan into the Land of Israel after 40 years in the desert.  My personal take: these places seem to be transit points into and out of Israel.  When David left, he was a deposed individual, as was the returning Jacob (both at Machanaim.)  Then David returned, he came across with the nation, as did Yehoshua (both at Gilgal.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Punishment for the Bat Sheva Affair

Following his affair with Bat Sheva, and his conspiracy to have Bat Sheva’s husband killed but made to look like an accident, the punishment meted out to him was measure for measure.  As he had committed sexual impropriety, not only was his daughter Tamar raped, but all of his concubines were violated by his son.  Much like Bat Sheva was first seen on the roof of her building, so too these violations occurred on the roof of the palace.  Just as David conspired to kill Uriah, so his son Avshalom conspired to kill him.  Just as Uriah died, so three of his sons died.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Yoav (Joab) the Cryptic Character

Yoav (Joab) is, to me, the most interesting character I have read about in Tanach (Bible) yet.  You have your Avraham (Abraham), Moshe (Moses,) and David types, who, while they made mistakes, were clearly good.  Then you have your and Korach and Avimelech types, who were clearly bad.  But with Yoav (Joab,) while he has the wily intelligence and penetrating insight into human character helps him manipulate others to do his will, his own motivations are mysterious.  Did he assassinate Avner, and later Avshalom, against the orders of the king, out of personal vengeance or out of a sense of protecting the king from his own weakness?  He is fiercely loyal to David, but often directly violates his orders.  Most of his actions could be taken as either good or bad, depending on his motivations, which remain a mystery to us.  David, for his part, always curses Yoav, but states that the curse should be carried out by God, implying he himself is unsure of Yoav’s motives.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Ark of the Covenant is not a Toy

When David flees Avshalom’s rebellion, Zadok the Cohen tries to bring the ark of the covenant.  David turns to him and tells him to bring it back to Jerusalem, saying, “If I find favor in the eyes of God, then he will bring me back [to Jerusalem.]”   This contrasts significantly with earlier in Sefer Shmuel (the Book of Samuel,) when Israel brought the ark with them into battle thinking it guaranteed victory.  David understands that the ark is not a secret weapon, but a sign of the covenant, and if you’re violating your end of the covenant, the ark isn’t going to help you.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What is a "Yonat Elem Rechokim"?

Tehilla (Psalm) 56 begins, “For the conductor, on yonath elem rehokim,” and then goes on to describe David’s suffering during an episode where he was apparently captured by the Phillistines (this does not appear in the narrative text of Sefer Shmuel, the Book of Samuel.)  But what is Yonat Elem Rechokim?  Some speculate that it is a reference to the madness David feigned, where he was twitching and pecking like a dove (Yonah.)  It may also just be an instrument on which this Tehilla was played but which has now been forgotten.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

God Doesn't Need Your Temple Sacrifice, but He Wants It

In Tehilla (Psalm) 50, God states, “I will not take from your household a bull, from your pens any goats. For all the beasts of the forest are Mine.”  God doesn’t want sacrifices per se, as he control the world and can get animals any time he wants.  It’s like buying your wife an anniversary present on a joint checking account.  God doesn’t want to make a profit on the transaction, what he is asking for is an affirmation of the relationship.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Immortality is Children and Land Ownership

Yoav (Joab) sends the wise woman from Tekoa to convine David to reconcile with his estranged son Avshalom using a parable.  Her one son has allegedly killed her other son, with her surviving murdering son facing execution himself.  She states, “and so they shall quench my coal which is left, so as not to leave my husband a name or a remainder upon the face of the earth."  Again we see that the two links to immortality in Tanach are children and land ownership.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Shakespeare and the Bible

As an aside, I’m noticing a lot of themes from Shakespeare were borrowed from Tanach.  David’s feigning madness to avoid the wrath of the Phillistines is mirrored by Hamlet’s feigning madness to avoid the wrath of Claudius.  Likewise Uriah’s being sent to the front lines with sealed orders for conspiracy to commit his own death is mirrored by Hamlet’s being sent to England with sealed orders for his.  The parable of trees choosing a king is sort of mirrored by, "Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinaine Hill Shall come against him."   (4.1.92-4)  I’m trying to make a connection between Richard III being surrounded and killed with Shaul’s being surrounded by Phillistines and killed on Mount Gilboa.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Land and Immortality

In Tehillim (Psalm) 49, the author states about the wise, “In their heart, their houses are forever, their dwellings are for every generation; they call by their names on plots of land."”  The Tanach (bible) frequently associates two things with immortality; descendants, “Their houses are houses forever,” and land ownership, “They call by their names on plots of land.”  It’s probably why the Tanach repeats, over and over, the centrality of the Land of Israel to the Nation of Israel.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

A Spring from Mount Zion

Tehilla (Pslam) 40 refers to the strength of God and then makes a reference to a time when rivers spring forth from Jerusalem.  The prophets Yeshaya (Isaiah) and Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) also make reference to a future messianic time when rivers flow from the city.  The neighboring Kingdoms of Egypt and Babylon had the Nile and Euphrates rivers, and so never felt the need to turn to God for sustenance.  Israel, with its dry climate, is entirely dependent upon the annual rains, forcing the people to recognize their dependence on divine intervention. The rivers bursting forth from the mountains of Israel in a future messianic time, will be a constant reminder of divine intervention.

Friday, March 08, 2013

As A Thirsty Deer

In Tehilla (Psalm) 46, David says, “You desired neither sacrifice nor meal offering; You dug ears for me; a burnt offering or a sin offering You did not request.”  This is reminiscent of Shaul’s (King Saul’s) first blunder, when he makes a sacrifice without following the Prophet Shmuel (Samuel’s) warning not to jump the gun and do it too early.  What David is saying is that it is the intent of the sacrifice, far more than the act, which God demands.  This is a constant theme throughout Tanach (Bible.)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Rebellion Brews Against David

After being denied the privilege of building the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple,) one sees an increasing disconnect between David and his kingdom.  The text explicitly tells us that he did not go out to the war against Ammon.  Later, David seems unaware of his son Avshalom’s (Absalom), clearly plotting revenge against David’s heir apparent Amnon for the rape of Avshaloms sister Tamar, doesn’t seem to raise any alarm bells.  When Avshalom sits outside the gates of the palace gathering supporters, and then heads off to Hebron with his supporters to, “Go make a sacrifice there,” David also fails to pick up on this rebellion in progress.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Why Jews Have Beards

David delivered condolences to the people of his enemy nation Ammon (located in present day Amman, Jordan,) a Torah prohibition. Hanun, King of Ammon, takes David’s messengers and shaves off a half of each one’s beard, a humiliation.  David orders them to go to the city of Jericho and wait for their beards to grow back.  From this we infer the proper Jewish look of having a beard, as David could have just as easily just ordered them to simply shave off the other half.  I’d have one too, if mine didn’t get so very itchy and sore when I try to grow it.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Yoav the General

When Yoav (Joab) is besieging Ammon in retaliation for their treatment of David’s emmisaries, he is suddenly attacked from the rear by an army of Arameans.  He splits his army into two, and sends his elite forces to attack the Arameans while his main force goes against Ammon.  It reminds me of two sayings by Confederate General and military genius Nathan Bedford Forrest, “Get there first with the most men,” and, “When surrounded, split in two and attack both ways.”

Monday, March 04, 2013

David's First Sin as King

David committed a seemingly inconsequential sin by sending condolences to Ammon, with whom the Torah prohibits friendly relations.  Ammon’s humiliation of David’s servants leads to a war, which his officer Uriah is sent out to fight.  With Uriah away from home, David succumbs to the temptation to have an affair with his wife, then cover for the sin by having Uriah (and some bystanders) killed in battle.  So a small failure cascaded into a great one, and David is cursed to spend the rest of his life living by the sword because of it.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

As a Thirsty Deer

Psalm 42 begins, ” As a hart (deer) cries longingly for rivulets of water, so does my soul cry longingly to You, O God.”  The Hebrew word used is “Taarog,” translated into, “cries.”  The infinitive verb, “Laarog,” is the word used to describe a distinctive seasonal cry of a deer searching through the dry riverbeds of the Negev (Israel’s southern dry region) for a puddle remaining from the floods of winter.  It just goes to show that to have a full understanding of the meaning of any line in Tanach (Bible,) it is necessary to have an understanding of Hebrew, as well as the flora, fauna, geography, climate, and seasons of the Land of Israel.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

David's Dancing

When David’s wife Michal, daughter of the late King Shaul, sees David dancing with reckless abandon in front of the Ark as it enters Jerusalem, she chastises him for conduct unbecoming of a king, to which David replies that, before God, he is a lowly servant, and the text tells us Michal never had children, seemingly a consequence of her statement.  Michal is still stuck with her father’s inappropriate sense of when to be regal and when to be humble, and, like her father, her line is also extinguished.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Michal Bat Shaul

Sefer Shmuel (the Book of Samuel) explains Michal’s childlessness as a consequence of her inappropriate scolding of David, but if you think about it, Michal HAD to end up childless.  God, through his prophet Shmuel, had already taken the kingship from Shaul’s line for his failure to destroy Amalek.  At the same time, David was already married to Michal, Shaul’s daughter, and had sworn to preserve Shaul’s line (implying having children with her.)  If Michal were to have a child, this child would have been a descendant of Shaul but still part of royalty, violating God’s curse.  So the only way for both David and God to keep their contradictory promises was for Michal to be barren.