Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Sanctuary of the Altar

When Shlomo’s (Solomon’s) right-hand man Benayahu comes after Adoniyah and Yoav, both of them grab the horns of the altar. But the sanctuary offered by the altar was to allow a chance for the accused to get a fair trial. Adoniyah and Yoav seem to see it as some sort of “Home Base,” where no one can ever get them. Much like the army thought that the Ark was a magic want that guaranteed victory earlier in Shmuel (The Book of Samuel.) In both cases, it was a lethal mistake.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Buck Stops with the King

After Yoav’s (Joab) execution, Shlomo (Solomon) refers to Avner and Amasa, both of whom Yoav assassinated against David’s orders, ”And their blood shall return upon the head of Yoav… but upon David… there shall be peace forever from the Lord.” Even though David specifically ordered Yoav not to kill Avner and Amasa, the fact that Yoav did so while under David’s authority meant that David was culpable. I.e., for a king, “The buck stops here.”

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Women in Tanach

For those who mistakenly believe that women are somehow not central to Tanach (Bible): David’s first act upon abdicating the throne to his son Shlomo (Solomon) was to turn and prostrate himself top Shlomo. King Shlomo, sitting on the throne when his mother Bat Sheva (Bathsheeba) walks in, then prostrates himself to HER. It seems that she was a sort of joint-ruler, as most of Shlomo’s problems and failures didn’t begin until after her death. There are midrashim (Talmudic stories) of her spanking him for misbehavior throughout his adult life.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

David as an Old Man

At the beginning of Sefer Melachim (The Book of Kings,) we see David as an old man who can’t even keep himself warm. His son Adoniyah counts on his father’s decrepitude to usurp David’s chosen successor Shlomo (Solomon.) Suddenly David rises up, puts Shlomo on his mule, anoints him, and issues him decrees for unfinished business. It’s possible that David’s apparent frailty was actually a ruse to tempt potential conspirators to act prematurely, and it succeeds. This also provides Shlomo the pretext to eliminate Yoav (Joab,) something David had always wanted to do.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Who Really Killed Goliath?

In chapter 21 in the Book of Samuel, we read, “…and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Beth-lehemite slew Goliath the Gittite.”  Um... didn’t we read earlier that David slew Goliath?  One possibility: David was a royal name he took up upon assuming the monarchy, and Elchanan was his name previously (we see no references to David by name prior to his beginning on his royal track.)  Another possibility is that the giant David killed in his youth was not Goliath.  Once the back-and-forth between David and the giant ensues in Samuel I 1:17, the giant is always referred to merely as, “the Phillsitine,” or, “the uncircumcised one.”

Monday, April 01, 2013

Why David Didn't Go to War with Ammon

In Sefer Shmuel (The Book of Samuel) 21:17, David is almost killed in battle, so the people ask him to stay behind in Jerusalem next time while they go out and fight, lest “The Light of Israel,” i.e. David, is extinguished.  This is further evidence that the events in chapter 21 occurred at the beginning of David’s reign, as this would explain why, back in chapter 10, David did not go out to war against the Ammonites with the rest of the army.

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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

What Makes a Monarchy Secure?

David, sitting in his palace, sees that the Ark of the Covenant is still sitting in the Mishkan tent, and wants to fulfill the commandment to build the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) now that the prerequisite of a secure monarchy is fulfilled.  God, using the prophet Nathan, stops him.  David mistook the meaning of a secure House of David for physical security, sitting in his palace in fortified Jerusalem. But the true intent was a spiritually secure House of David, and a monarchy is only secure if it is passed on to the monarch’s son, which had never happened before in Israel.  Therefore, by definition, only the second generation of the House of David, Shlomo (Solomon,) could build the Temple upon inheriting the throne.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where is Jerusalem?

The Chumash (five books of Moses,) written four centuries before the time of David, emphasizes the centrality of the then-future capital of Jerusalem, but never gives a specific location though it could easily have done so i.e., at the spring of Gihon, headwaters of the Kidron River, in the shadow of the Mount of Olives, etc.  Its location on the border between Yehuda (Judah, David’s home tribe) and Binyamin (Benjamin, the tribe of the previous King Saul) is almost an homage to the house of Shaul, although this idea is not made explicit in the text.  It seems a very earthly and contemporary consideration for locating the divine and timeless, “Eternal capital of the Jewish People.”  Perhaps the idea of “Jerusalem” was known since the time of the Chumash, but David selected its final temporal location. Or am I just a heretic? J

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What does, "Palestinian," Mean?

The Hebrew word Plishti, “Philistine,” is the noun form of the Hebrew word, “Liphlosh,” to invade.  After their failure to destroy Israel in 1967, the Arabs of Israel adopted this name of the long-dead seafaring Greek Philistines and began calling themselves, “Palestinians,” ironically proclaiming themselves to be, “Invaders.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Yoav's Ambush

After Yoav, David’s cousin and chief of staff, ambushes Avner, the late King Shaul’s defecting chief of staff, David launches into a dirge.  He curses Yoav’s family with the words, “May God repay the evildoer according to his evil.”  One interpretation could be that David thought Yoav might have been right to kill Avner, whose defection from his king and fellow Benjaminite to David, a Judean, might have been a ruse. If Yoav was wrong, he should be cursed, but if he was right, he did no evil and so there is no evil to be repaid.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

David's Flight to the Philistines

The first time David flees Shaul to the Phillistine city of Gat, the townspeople begin to rumble against him despite his feigning insanity and he has to flee.  The second time, he is actually welcomed with open arms by King Achish, put in charge of a Phillistine city, and entrusted with military command.  One explanation for the Phillistine change of heart is that word of Shaul’s hunting David had not yet become public knowledge the first time he fled to Gat.  By the second time, the dispute was well known, and Achish thought he was spreading discord amongst his Israeli enemies by sheltering an upstart rebel, David.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Was the Necromancer for Real?

There are two schools of thought regarding King Shaul’s (Saul’s) use of the Necromancer to raise the spirit of Shmuel (Samuel) from the dead to inquire about his prospects against the Phillistine invasion force gathering at Beit She’an.  The rationalist school, followed by Rambam, Rashi, etc., holds that it was entirely an act of smoke and mirrors, and there is no reality to black magic or witchcraft.  The alternative school of thought, mostly Ramban and those with a more Kabbalistic bent, holds that dark forces are very much real, but Torah forbids using them.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Shaul and the Necromancer

When the Necromancer raises the spirit of Shmuel (Samuel) from the dead, who tells Shaul (Saul) that the kingdom will be taken from him and given to David, he falls on his face.  While we, the reader, knew about Shmuel’s secretly anointing David as king, and have all this time seen King Shaul as shamelessly hunting down his legitimate successor, for Shaul, this is the first time he has been told that David was chosen by God to be his successor all along.

David Loses his Tribe, but Gains the Northern Tribes

As David returns to the Land of Israel to rule again, one sees the division between Yehudah (Judah,) who are the last to send messengers to greet David, and Israel (the northern 10 tribes) who don’t hesitate to reinstate him again.  It is possible that Yehudah was nervous, seeing as how Avshalom’s rebellion began in Hebron, Yehudah’s capital city.  It’s ironic that the roles have now been reversed, with Israel embracing David while his own tribe of Judah seems to be wary.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Judging King Saul Favorably

Finished Shmuel Aleph (Samuel I.)  Personally I feel a great deal of sympathy for Shaul (Saul.)  He was a good boy looking for his dad’s lost sheep when suddenly Shmuel anoints him and proclaims him King of Israel, a position he never sought. He is seized suddenly by the divine spirit, which, after his failure at several critical moments for which he was unprepared, was ripped away from him, along with his kingdom.  He dies a gruesome death on Mount Gilboa after seeing his three sons killed in front of him. I think most of his actions can be justified.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shaul's Tragedy

In reviewing the life of Shaul (King Saul,) I think of his story as a tragedy in the classical Greek sense, i.e. a noble hero with a tragic flaw that undoes him.  In Shaul’s case, I think of his flaw as a lack of respect.  He did not respect the monarchy enough to defend it against slanderers early in his reign, or to uphold several oaths he as king had made.  He did not respect the Shmuel’s instructions to wait for the prophet be present to make a sacrifice, or later to wipe out Amalek.  And he did not respect God’s decision, through Shmuel, to revoke his monarchy, and went down fighting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why We Have Prophets

Look at David’s rise from the perspective of a citizen of Israel at the time.  After 400 years of anarchy, Israel finally has a legitimate king, Shaul (Saul).  Then David becomes a better warrior than Shaul, moves in with and even serves militarily on the side of the Phillistines, gathers an army of 600 outlaws, he has an altercation with Naval, who mysteriously dies, and immediately marries Naval’s widow Avigayil.  If we didn’t have the prophets in Shmuel to tell us David’s motives were pure, we would be inclined to think the worst. This may explain why it took seven years from David’s coronation until his recognition as king by all the tribes of Israel.

Personally Responsible, National Responsibility

David offers to go to battle against his son Avshalom, but the people protest, because if he gets killed, what was the point of the war in the first place?  When Avshalom is killed, against David’s orders, he sobs and weeps over the loss of his son, even though it is his own victory and salvation.  In both cases, David evinces the tension between what he personally wants to go and do, and what the proper behavior of a king is.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Was the Mishkan Functional in Shaul's Time?

When David, fleeing the suspicious Shaul, comes to the Cohanim (Priests) of the Mishkan (tabernacle) at Kiryat Yearim, they offer him some of the Lechem Hapanim (Temple Bread,) which is forbidden to David, a non-Cohen, in Halachah (Jewish Law.)  One explanation is that David was starving and was fed only to save his life, permissible in Halachah.  However, I find this interpretation a bit difficult as he had been travelling a great deal already, seemingly without trouble, and because he took enough to last many days, which would seem to be going beyond the bare necessities of survival permitted by Halachah.  Another possible explanation is that the Mishkan at Kiryat Yearim was not fully functional so soon after the destruction of the Mishkan in Shiloh by the Phillistines, so the bread did not yet have the status of actual Lechem Papanim and exception could be made.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Avigayil the Eshet Chayil

When David is shamed by Naval he prepares to fight, but Naval’s wife Avigayil (Abigail) calms him down and reasons with him.  Ten days later Naval dies of natural causes (alcohol poisoning is implied,) and David marries Avigayil.  The text also says that he marries Achinoam, the same name as the wife of his now bitter enemy, Shaul (Saul.)  Coincidence?  It seems to imply that, by marrying the guy’s wife, he has completely defeated him (both Naval and Shaul.)

Personally, I think that David just realized that Avigayil had calmed him down, reasoned with him, and prevented him from doing something he would later come to regret.  All characteristics of a good wife, like mine!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Do What's Right in Your Own Eyes

Nachash the Ammonite threatens to shame the townspeople of Yavesh Gilead by blotting out their eyes, branding them as his slaves rather than God’s.  When Shaul gathers an army to fight back, the people of Yavesh Gilead respond, “Tomorrow we will fight you, do what’s right in your own eyes.”  A beautiful way of throwing Nachash’s words back at him.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Seeds of Division

When Shaul (Saul) gathers an army to fight the Nachash the Ammonite, the army is numbered as 300,000 from Israel and 30,000 from Judea.  Apparently the seeds of the eventual division of the united monarchy of Shaul, David, and Shlomo (Solomon) into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judea upon the death of Shlomo 101 years later had already been sown from its inception.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shaul's Three to David's Six

Shaul’s (Saul) army is always a number divisible by three (300,000 Israelites, 30,000 Judeans).  David’s is divisible by six (600 men.)  Shaul is listed as having one wife and three sons; David, upon his coronation, has two wives and six sons.  That David is always listed as having double what Shaul does seems to be a hint of David’s two-faceted monarchy, both military and spiritual, whereas Shaul’s was exclusively military.  The number three also appears repeatedly in Shoftim (the Book of Judges) hinting that Shaul was still connected to the anarchy of the past whereas David was able to make the break and become a divine monarch.

It's a Shame about Mephiboshet

One of Shaul’s descendants who was hanged by the Givonim was named Mephiboshet, yet earlier in the book (but later in time) David found Mephiboshet, son of Yonatan (Jonathan,) and took him into his court.  Apparently there were two Mephiboshets.  Incidentally, according to Divrei Yamim (The Book of Chronicles) the suffix “Boshet” was originally “Baal,” the Canaanite idol.  The prophetic authors of the text did a find-replace and switched, “Baal,” idol, with, “Boshet,” shame.  Shaul’s descendants seem to have fallen into shame in that they were naming their children after idols.

David's Appropriate Punishment

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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Whither Amalek?

Agag, the King of Amalek and final survivor of Shaul’s (King Saul) attack on them, is killed by Shaul.  How is it that the Amalekites reappear during David’s time?  One possibility is that Agag was king over just one tribe within the nation of Amalek.  Another possibility is that the work Amaleki comes to mean Amalek-like behavior; anyone who takes advantage of another’s weakness.

The Bat Sheva Affar: Forgiven, not Forgotten

After David’s son Amnon raped his daughter Tamar, David remained silent on the matter, apparently thinking that his own sin with Bat Sheva (Bathsheba) would open him up to the accusation that he was in no position to pass judgement.  This leads David’s son Avshalom to take matters into his own hands, which causes his eventual rebellion and death.  Even though the prophet Natan has declared that God forgave David’s sin, the consequences keep coming.  Apparently, to forgive is not the same as to forget.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Samuel Descends from Korah

Shmuel (Samuel) was the direct descendant of Korach, who led the rebellion against Moshe after the Torah was given.  Both had the middah (personality trait) of speaking back to power, Korach for personal gain, Shmuel for the benefit of the nation.  Shmuel was a tikkun (repair) for Korach’s actions.

Monday, February 11, 2013

When was David Annointed?

Shmuel (Samuel) secretly anoints David as king in chapter 16, and then the story jumps ahead to David, now an established warrior, playing the lyre to calm down Shaul.  Chapter 17 tells of the battle between David and Goliath which made David’s warrior reputation in the first place, and chronologically seems to fit in the middle of chapter 16. One explaination for the seeming discontinuity is that chapter 16 is the final chapter of Shmuel’s prophecy before he went into retirement, and the next author, the prophet Gad, picks up with David’s story a little bit earlier than Shmuel had left off.

David and Goliath; the Underlying Meaning

David comes to the battlefield finding Goliath taunting the Israeli army.  To paraphrase:

Goliath: You are all slaves of Shaul (King Saul.)  I have shamed you!

David (to the army): Are you guys going to let this uncircumcised Philistine talk to you like that?

What shame is he referring to?  Since a slave can’t have two masters, by accusing them of being slaves of Shaul, he implies they are not slaves of God, a major insult.  David brings up the fact that Goliath is uncircumcised, as circumcision is the “branding” of a slave of God, and reminding army of its true master.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Rights of a King

When the people ask Shmuel (Samuel) to appoint a King of Israel, he threatens them that the king will conscript their sons for soldiering and labor, take women for servants, and confiscate their property.  It is noteworty that he does not threaten that the king will take their daughters as wives and concubines, given that this disregard for women’s rights was commonplace throughout the ancient world and appears repeatedly within the Tanach (bible.)  It seems that such licentiousness is completely unthinkable for a God-fearing person, even one with absolute power.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The loss of the Ark

When Eli heard that the Israeli army had been defeated by the Phillistines, he took the news like a man.  When he heard that both his sons were killed in the battle, he accepted it.  When he heard that the Phillistines had captured the ark, he fell to the floor, broke his neck, and died.  Pinchas’ wife has the same reaction and goes into labor and dies.  This seems to indicate a level of spiritual failure of the people, that the army was defeated with tremendous loss of life, yet what really caused grief and anguish was the loss of this inanimate object.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Hofni and Pinchas' Sins

The people complain that the sons of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) Eli are accused of delaying people from making sacrifices at the Mishkan (tabernacle,) spearing the choicest meats from the sacrifices for themselves, and sleeping with the women who came to make sacrificial offerings.  Later, Eli confronts his sons about the first two accusations, but not the last.  This would seem to indicate that Eli investigated the accusations and found that the first two were true, but the accusations of sexual misconduct lacked merit.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Groups of Three

The book of Shmuel (Samuel) has as an underlying theme, the dynamic tension between groups of three.  First is the decline of the House of Eli the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) and his wayward sons Hofni and Pinchas set against the rising House of Tzuf with parents Elkana, Hannah, and their son Shmuel.  Later the ageing Shmuel and his two corrupt sons Aviyah and Yoel decline against the rising House of Shaul (Saul,) Shaul’s his son Yonatan (Johnothan,) and his chief of staff Avner (Abner.)  This is followed by the decline of the house of Shaul against the rising House of David with Evyatar, his Cohen Gadol, and Gad, his prophet.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Hannah's Song

When Channah (Hannah) goes to the Mishkan (tabernacle) in Shiloh to pray for fertility, she sings a poetic song, one of seven songs which appear in Tanach (the Jewish bible.)  Her song includes a prayer for children, but has many other references to wars, poverty and other things which don’t seem to be connected to Channah’s situation.  It is possible that this was a song which was generally used at that time in praying for children, even though it carried many other references, much like the Tehillim (Psalms) which are recited today for the same purpose.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Chanukkah Fun Fact

Hanukkah fun fact: Hanukkah literally means, “dedication,” celebrating the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after a period of oppression.  When taking a college course on the ancient middle east, I asked Dr. Drake, my secular Gentile professor, why he thought the Jews had survived when all the other peoples the course was covering had long vanished.  To paraphrase his answer, “Simple.  When other peoples were defeated, they assumed their god was weak and their enemy’s god was strong, so they switched gods.  When the Babylonians hauled the Jews into slavery, they decided that their God hadn’t failed or abandoned them, rather they had failed and abandoned their God. It was a unique innovation that helped them rededicate and reenergize themselves in exile.”

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Posting my Chiddushim

In merit of Elisha Meir Refael Ben Devorah, my wife’s coworker’s son suffering from severe illness who should have a speedy recovery, as well as that the people of Israel should merit safety and security, about a month ago during the latest Gaza conflict I started learning through the OU’s Nach Yomi podcast.  You listen to one chapter per day of Nach (Prophets and Writings,) the final 19 books of the Jewish Bible, and over the course of two years you can complete the cycle and have a relatively in-depth understanding of the entire thing.  Each mp3 lesson is anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes long, about the length of my commute. Since they just started Ketuvim and are in Tehillim (Psalms) right now, I decided to keep up with the podcast on my drive to work, but learn Nevi’im (Prophets) when I’m on my way home to try to finish the cycle a bit faster, so I’m learning Sefer Shmuel (the  Book of Samuel) concurrently.  I will post interesting chiddushim (novel concepts) I hear here on my blog, Planet Israel.