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.