Monday, July 27, 2009

David & Saul: Rebellious Sons

There are two common rules regarding crime and punishment in Tanakh. They are as follows:

1. Ma'asei avos siman l'banim - The actions of the fathers are an example to their sons (or in other words, the past predicts the future)

2. Tzadik gozer v'Hashem m'kayem - A righteous man decrees and God fulfills His words (examples: Yaakov cursing whoever stole the Terafim with death, and therefore Rachel died/ Eli stating that if Shmuel withholds any information, he will be cursed)

Most powerful of all (and inclusive of the other rules), there is the idea of middah keneged middah- a person is punished in the manner that he offended. Thus, for example, the ten plagues that the Egyptians suffered each counter a particular type of affliction or suffering that they caused the Jews.

Now, here's an idea I had after watching Kings (I love that show and am sorry it was cancelled.) Why was David punished by having both Adonijah and Absalom rebel against him and attempt to take the monarchy for themselves?

I believe this is meant to be middah-keneged-middah for the fact that Jonathan also rebelled against his father and took the monarchy from him, so to speak.

Now, you will ask me, what do I mean? After all, Jonathan didn't attempt to steal the reign from King Saul, did he?

You're quite right. Jonathan never tried to rule in place of King Saul. However, he did aid in his friend's attempt to rule in King Saul's place. In effect, Jonathan joined sides with David (when it came to protecting him, warning him and helping him) and thus helped David to take the monarchy from King Saul. Therefore, from King Saul's perspective, Jonathan rebelled against him. More than that, he aided a usurper in taking the throne.

There is no place that demonstrates this more clearly than Samuel I 20: 30-31.

ל וַיִּחַר-אַף שָׁאוּל, בִּיהוֹנָתָן, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, בֶּן-נַעֲוַת הַמַּרְדּוּת: הֲלוֹא יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-בֹחֵר אַתָּה לְבֶן-יִשַׁי, לְבָשְׁתְּךָ, וּלְבֹשֶׁת עֶרְוַת אִמֶּךָ. 30 Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him: 'Thou son of perverse rebellion, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own shame, and unto the shame of thy mother's nakedness?

לא כִּי כָל-הַיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר בֶּן-יִשַׁי חַי עַל-הָאֲדָמָה, לֹא תִכּוֹן, אַתָּה וּמַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְעַתָּה, שְׁלַח וְקַח אֹתוֹ אֵלַי--כִּי בֶן-מָוֶת, הוּא. {ס} 31 For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the earth, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he deserveth to die.'

David's conversation with Jonathan and the matter of the arrows are juxtaposed with the scene regarding the priests of Nov. David demands bread and water of the priests and also takes the sword of Goliath; due to this, the entire city is destroyed. Saul kills them all. This is considered as a sin that David committed. (See Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews, Volume 2: "All these sufferings did not suffice to atone for David's sin. God once said to him: "How much longer shall this sin be hidden in thy hand and remain unatoned? On thy account the priestly city of Nob was destroyed, (109) on thy account Doeg the Edomite was cast out of the communion of the pious, and on thy account Saul and his three sons were slain. What dost thou desire now--that thy house should perish, or that thou thyself shouldst be delivered into the hands of thine enemies?" David chose the latter doom. ")

Why is David's conversation with Jonathan juxtaposed to the sin he commits in seeking help from the priests of Nov? I think this juxtaposition is meant to imply that David's involvement of Jonathan was also a sin. That David was chosen by God to rule no one can deny. And it is clear that Jonathan defended David to his father and loved David like his own soul. But in that particular scene David came seeking Jonathan and made a request of him that he ought not to have made. If David suspected King Saul, he ought to have fled him without waiting for signs and arrows. He should not have involved Jonathan, Saul's son. He should not have used son against father.

ד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹנָתָן, אֶל-דָּוִד: מַה-תֹּאמַר נַפְשְׁךָ, וְאֶעֱשֶׂה-לָּךְ. {פ} 4 Then said Jonathan unto David: 'What doth thy soul desire, that I should do it for thee?' {P}

ה וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-יְהוֹנָתָן, הִנֵּה-חֹדֶשׁ מָחָר, וְאָנֹכִי יָשֹׁב-אֵשֵׁב עִם-הַמֶּלֶךְ, לֶאֱכוֹל; וְשִׁלַּחְתַּנִי וְנִסְתַּרְתִּי בַשָּׂדֶה, עַד הָעֶרֶב הַשְּׁלִשִׁית. 5 And David said unto Jonathan: 'Behold, to-morrow is the new moon, when I should sit with the king to eat; so let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.

David should not have allowed Jonathan to side with him against his own father. He ought to have found a different way to save himself- just as he ought to have found a different way to survive, without involving the priests of Nob. Because David did use son against father, he was punished by having his own sons rebel against him. Thus he learned and experienced for himself the bitter pain he had caused King Saul- even though it was not deliberate. If God is so harsh with tzadikim that he fulfills their words even when that causes them pain (think Rachel's death after Jacob's curse), how much the more so would he be harsh with David, who could and should have spared King Saul the pain of watching his own flesh-and-blood support his rival.

(P.S. Obviously I am aware there is a distinction between David, who was chosen by God to rule, and Adonijah/ Absalom, who were not, but I think that even so, the pesukim wish to show us that we must be incredibly careful regarding family relationships and must try not to sunder them.)


Tobie said...

It's an interesting parallel, but I think slightly undercut by the fact that Tanach is quite explicit about why David had his sons rebel against him: punishment for the Batsheva affair.

Samuel I 12: 9 Wherefore hast thou despised the word of the LORD, to do that which is evil in My sight? Uriah the Hittite thou hast smitten with the sword, and his wife thou hast taken to be thy wife, and him thou hast slain with the sword of the children of Ammon.
10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from thy house; because thou hast despised Me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. {S} Thus saith the LORD: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.'

fear from love. said...

Tobie beat me to it but the text itself and the meforshim all point to the affair with Batsheva.
Still loving all of the tanach stuff though, keep strong!

Anonymous said...

maybe one answers the next and many other david questiions-batsheva may have not been a real sin but for david after jonathan he should have been extra careful in keeping families together as opposed to causing uriahs wife to "rebel" against him as the the pasuk calls the adulteress...

Chana said...

anon 11:42,

brilliant! brilliant! totally brilliant! and I shouldn't have read that comment because this gives me joy and the whole point is that I'm not supposed to learn on Tisha B'av- damn!- but that's totally brilliant.who *are* you? can we be friends?

Anonymous said...


Chana said...

what- why the sigh?

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