Monday, May 06, 2013

Poetic Justice in the Deaths of Avner and Amassa?

I had a thought.

In the story of the massacre of the Kohanim of Nov by Doeg, King Saul first asks his advisors to put the priests to death. We find this in I Samuel 22:17:

יז  וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לָרָצִים הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו סֹבּוּ וְהָמִיתוּ כֹּהֲנֵי יְהוָה, כִּי גַם-יָדָם עִם-דָּוִד, וְכִי יָדְעוּ כִּי-בֹרֵחַ הוּא, וְלֹא גָלוּ אֶת-אזנו (אָזְנִי); וְלֹא-אָבוּ עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ, לִשְׁלֹחַ אֶת-יָדָם, לִפְגֹעַ, בְּכֹהֲנֵי יְהוָה.  {ס}17 And the king said unto the guard that stood about him: 'Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew that he fled, and did not disclose it to me.' But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD. {S}

Rashi and other commentators identify these men who refused to kill the priests of God as Avner and Amassa. One thing that I find interesting is that they were unwilling to do the actual killing, but it does not seem that they interceded in order to stop it once Doeg decided to do it. Of course, it is possible that King Saul removed them from the room or tied them up in order to prevent them from interfering.

But if we go with the plain sense of the text, where they were unwilling to kill defenseless priests, but did not step in and try to execute Doeg and/or defend the priests, then perhaps their deaths make sense.

Both of these men are killed by Yoav, and they are killed through deception and trickery. They do not die in combat; rather, they die defenseless, unprepared and unwarned of their impending doom. Perhaps the reason this is so is because they did not defend the priests. Just as the priests died defenseless, so too Avner and Amassa die defenseless and this is an example of middah k'neged middah, measure for measure.

Here are the scenes of their deaths.

1) Avner's death in 2 Samuel 3:17.

כז  וַיָּשָׁב אַבְנֵר, חֶבְרוֹן, וַיַּטֵּהוּ יוֹאָב אֶל-תּוֹךְ הַשַּׁעַר, לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בַּשֶּׁלִי; וַיַּכֵּהוּ שָׁם, הַחֹמֶשׁ--וַיָּמָת, בְּדַם עֲשָׂהאֵל אָחִיו.27 And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there in the groin, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.

David's lament is suggestive of the defenseless, ignominious nature of the death:

לד  יָדֶךָ לֹא-אֲסֻרוֹת, וְרַגְלֶיךָ לֹא-לִנְחֻשְׁתַּיִם הֻגָּשׁוּ, כִּנְפוֹל לִפְנֵי בְנֵי-עַוְלָה, נָפָלְתָּ; וַיֹּסִפוּ כָל-הָעָם, לִבְכּוֹת עָלָיו.34 Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters; as a man falleth before the children of iniquity, so didst thou fall. And all the people wept again over him.

2) Amassa's death in 2 Samuel 20:10.

ט  וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹאָב לַעֲמָשָׂא, הֲשָׁלוֹם אַתָּה אָחִי; וַתֹּחֶז יַד-יְמִין יוֹאָב, בִּזְקַן עֲמָשָׂא--לִנְשָׁק-לוֹ.9 And Joab said to Amasa: 'Is it well with thee, my brother?' And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.
י  וַעֲמָשָׂא לֹא-נִשְׁמַר בַּחֶרֶב אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד-יוֹאָב, וַיַּכֵּהוּ בָהּ אֶל-הַחֹמֶשׁ וַיִּשְׁפֹּךְ מֵעָיו אַרְצָה וְלֹא-שָׁנָה לוֹ--וַיָּמֹת; וְיוֹאָב, וַאֲבִישַׁי אָחִיו, רָדַף, אַחֲרֵי שֶׁבַע בֶּן-בִּכְרִי.10 But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand; so he smote him therewith in the groin, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. And Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri.

Both of these men die by treachery. They don't see their deaths coming; it is all entirely unanticipated.

This is exactly what happened to the Kohanim of Nov. Achimelech had no idea as to why he had been summoned before the king. Once there, he explained that he had nothing to do with the treason the king suspected him of. But he still died, alone and defenseless, laid low by Doeg's vicious testimony and (at least in my possible interpretation), the fact that Avner and Amassa did not choose to save them, so perhaps they were deemed complicit.

So: Has anyone seen this idea in any of the commentaries?


jake said...

Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 20a:

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב מפני מה נענש אבנר מפני שהיה לו למחות בשאול ולא מיחה


למחות בשאול. בהריגת נוב עיר הכהנים

Perhaps look for commentaries on this gemara that might discuss the connection.

Chana said...

Thanks, Jake. Will do. I looked up the full context of that passage and see that one Rabbi holds that Avner did not protest at all and the other holds he did protest. But what I'm confused by is the meaning of protest. Does "protest" refer only to a verbal protest, or would it have to be stronger than that (that he would have to actively try to kill Doeg/ try to protect the Kohanim?) I will go try to look it up.

Chana said...

I found the following here on, written by Dr. Moshe Sokolow.

Avner and Amasa, ironically, play a critical role themselves in the derivation of the halakhic principles of obedience.

In 1 Shemuel 22:17, Shaul commands his servants to kill the kohanim of Nov because they had aided and abetted David in his escape. The soldiers refuse to shed the blood of “servants of the LORD,” so Shaul turns the task over to Doeg the Edomi who has no such compunctions and kills them.

The Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 29a) asks:
Who were those servants [who refused the order]? Rav Shemuel ben Yitzhak said: They were Avner and Amasa. They said to Shaul, If we owe you anything besides these belts and coats (their military insignia?), take them back!

The Bavli (Sanhedrin 20a), however, has certain reservations about their conduct:
Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: Why did Avner meet an untimely death? Because he failed to take a stand against Shaul. Rav Yitzhak said: He took a stand, but he was overruled.


Avner’s death at the hands of Yoav is his just desserts for his failure to assume a more vigorous opposition to the murder of the kohanim of Nov. This provides us with our second important insight into the halakhot of obedience: It may not be sufficient to abstain from obeying an illegal order; you might have to offer more than your resignation.

[Indeed, the Gemara (Shabbat 55a), in elaborating on Yehezkel 9:4 (“Go through the streets of Yerushalayim and place a mark on the foreheads of all who sigh and groan over the abominations committed in her”), makes the point that it is not enough to refrain from committing evil when one can also take a strong stand against it.]

Batya said...

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