Avraham ben Yaakov


Verse 7 of our present chapter dates Absalom's rebellion "AT THE END OF FORTY YEARS". This cannot mean at the end of forty years of David's reign, since he reigned for only forty years altogether while the ensuing narrative deals with numerous events that took place after the quelling of the rebellion. Thus our rabbis stated that this verse means "forty years from the time the Children of Israel first asked Samuel for a king" (Talmud Temurah 15a). For one year thereafter Samuel reigned jointly with Saul, after which Saul reigned alone for 2 years. "At the end of forty years" thus brings us to the thirty-seventh year of David's reign, three years before he died.

The closing years of David's reign were thus wracked with troubles, of which Absalom's rebellion was one of the most serious, coming very close to succeeding.

Absalom was the archetype of the self-seeking, power hungry narcissist whose evil eye was turned against his father's kingship (see Likutey Moharan I, 55). Absalom built his power-base in precisely the same way as a populist politician, telling everyone exactly what they wanted to hear. He would give everyone who was aggrieved and disenchanted the feeling that he was totally on his side and would give him his full support, subtly smearing the established regime as being indifferent to people's suffering (vv 3-4). Like present day political campaigners, Absalom literally went around hugging and kissing the crowds (v 5).

This was how "Absalom stole the heart of the men of Israel ". "Stealing the heart" is the same as what in rabbinic literature is called GENEVAS DA'AS, "stealing the mind" by craftily deceiving other people into thinking exactly what one wants them to think. The Talmud comments that Absalom "stole" THREE hearts: that of his father David, that of the Beis Din (the court of law) and that of all Israel , and he therefore died having THREE stakes driven into his heart Sotah 9b).

Absalom deceived his unsuspecting father into allowing him to go to Hebron , the very heartland of Judah , where he staged a carefully contrived plot to spring a sudden coup d'etat on everyone. Rashi (on v 11) brings a midrash from the Jerusalem Talmud Sotah stating that Absalom asked David to give him a written slip ordering any two men that he invited to go with him to do so. Absalom kept showing the same slip to more and more pairs of men, until he ended up with a most impressive band of men following behind him.

Absalom's greatest "catch" was Achitophel, who emerges as another mysterious, sinister, outstanding Torah genius somewhat reminiscent of Doeg HaAdomi in his power to cause harm. Not only was Achitophel the leading sage and counselor of the time, whose advice to Absalom - had it been followed - would certainly have led to the defeat of David. Even more surprising is that Achitophel was actually the grandfather of David's own wife, Batsheva! Batsheva's father, Eli-am (II Samuel 11:3), was the son of Achitophel (II Samuel 23:34). The rabbis taught that it was Achitophel's own MAZAL ("destiny") that deceived him into siding with Absalom. Achitophel thought that he himself was going to be king, and intended to trick Absalom into killing David in order that Achitophel would be able to condemn him in the Sanhedrin and thereby depose him. What Achitophel did not understand was that the kingship was not destined to come to himself but to his daughter Batsheva's son Solomon.


Absalom's "coup d'etat" put David in extreme danger. Realizing that Absalom's flaw was that of turning MALCHUS, "kingship" into ARROGANT SELF-SEEKING, David took refuge in the opposite quality of supreme humility, taking his entire household on foot from Jerusalem into self-imposed exile.

David evidently did not believe that he had the power to overcome Absalom's nation-wide rebellion even in his own capitol city. Instead he made for the east bank of the Jordan (Gil'ad) where the Israelite population owed a debt of gratitude to David for providing them with security through his successful campaigns against the neighboring peoples of Mo'ab and Ammon.

David went into exile accompanied by a sizeable contingent including his "mighty warriors (ch 16 v 16), "all the KEREISY ('archers') and all the PELEISI ('slingers')" and "six hundred men that came on foot from Gath ", who may have been Philistine mercenaries. The rabbis state that the KEREISY and PELEISI actually allude to the Urim VeThumim (Talmud Berachos 4a): even in his hour of dire crisis, David sought guidance only from God. The rabbis teach that David first turned to Eviatar the High Priest to ask guidance from the Urim VeThumim, but Eviatar received no answer and was thus deposed from being High Priest. This was in accordance with God's decree, as Eviatar came from the rejected line of Eli the Priest, who was descended from Aharon's fourth son, Ithamar. It was then that Tzadok, who was from the line of Aharon's third son, Elazar, became High Priest (RaDaK on v 23).

David ordered Tzadok to take the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem , where in fact the priests would be able to spy on Absalom for David's benefit. And "if I find favor in the eyes of God, he will bring me back and show me the Ark and its resting place. And if He says thus, 'I do not desire you', here I am, let Him do to me as is good in His eyes" (vv 25-26). Thus David surrendered himself to God completely, praying that He should thwart Achitophel's counsel (v 31).


Even in his hour of supreme crisis, David had certain allies and helpers who proved themselves true friends in his time of need.

One who was less than truthful, however, was Tziva (ch 16 v 1), who certainly owed a debt of gratitude to David for having appointed him manager/director over all the estates of Saul for the benefit of the late king's only surviving grandson, Mephiboshes, as told in I Samuel ch 9. When Tziva now arrived in the wilderness with badly needed supplies of food for David and his men, he answered David's question about the whereabouts of Mephiboshes by accusing him of having stayed in Jerusalem with the intention of using the upheaval caused by Absalom's rebellion to take back the throne for the House of Saul. According to the rabbis, this was LASHON HARA (unwarranted slander) on the part of Tziva, yet David accepted it (Talmud Shabbos 56a). Under the influence of this slander, David awarded Mephiboshes' estate to Tziva (which is presumably exactly what the latter intended), but later Mephiboshes was to come to David to argue that he was innocent (II Samuel 19:25).


Shimi ben Gera , who came out cursing David in his flight and throwing stones and mud on the king and his men, was far from being some lowly foul-mouthed ruffian. He was a prominent member of the family of Saul as well as head of the Sanhedrin (Rashi on ch 16 v 10). He execrated David as "a man of blood" (v 7), accusing him of having engineered the deaths of Saul's son Ish-Bosheth and his commander-in-chief, Avner as well having killed in order to take Batsheva (see RaDaK on v 7).

Shimi ben Gera's insults were intended to further increase David's pain and humiliation, yet when Avishai asked David for permission to strike him down, David refused, teaching that even though this humiliation was coming to him through the instrumentality of a human being, in fact it was God who had put Shimi ben Gera up to it and that it would be better for David to bear the humiliation with patience than to rebel against God's chastisement. It is indeed a great level to be able to discern the hand of God in the suffering that comes to us through other people. David prayed that God would see his humble resignation and pay him back with goodness in exchange for bearing these curses (v 12).


Various characters enter our narrative about whom we have little or no supplementary information from other sources. Among these are Hushi HaArchi (ch 15 v 32), who was apparently one of David's leading advisors yet succeeded in entering into Absalom's innermost circle of advisors as David's "plant", and in that position he was indeed able to thwart Achitophel's counsel, thus saving David's kingship from collapse (Yalkut Shimoni).


When Achitophel advised Absalom to go into his father's concubines, he was not telling him to commit an actual sin. Under the Torah laws of forbidden incest relationships, for Absalom to have relations with his father's concubines was not technically a sin, because it is only a woman who is formally married to a father that is forbidden to his son: the prohibition of marrying a father's wife does not apply to a woman RAPED or SEDUCED by the father (ANUSAS or MEFUTAS AVIV) and the PILEGESH ("concubine") comes into this category (Yevamos 11:1, see RaDaK on II Samuel 12:11).

The reason why Achitophel advised Absalom to go into his father's concubines was because only a public demonstration of this order would convince the people that Absalom was fully determined to carry his rebellion through relentlessly to the very end. Had people thought that he was not serious, they would have abandoned him. The Torah law of kings forbids anyone except the new king from taking the wives of a former king for himself. Going into David's concubines was thus Absalom's way of publicly asserting his ascent to the throne, which was an act so treasonable that David would never be able to make peace with him.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved