David had barely escaped being killed with Saul's spear by stepping aside at the crucial moment. He felt himself to be in extreme danger from Saul, and the present chapter narrates the final test which Jonathan set up to see if Saul intended the worst or not.

The constant danger attending the Messianic king is reflected in the epithet given to Mashiach in the Talmud, "BAR NOFLI" (Sanhedrin 96b). While on one level this alludes to how the future Mashiach will raise the FALLEN (NAFAL) Tabernacle of David, it also indicates that Mashiach is all but a NEFEL - an "abortive foetus" that has only a slender hairsbreadth chance of surviving. David almost had no life at all, except that Adam gave him 70 his own allotted 1000, and thus Adam lived only 930 years. Mashiach is in constant danger because of the fierce opposing forces that ever seek to swallow him up. Only by hiding himself in the baffling depths of concealment and secrecy can Mashiach survive.

Jonathan too was in great danger from his demented father, who indeed tried to kill him (ch 20 v 33). However Jonathan knew that David was truly destined to be king and therefore swore an eternal covenant to help and protect him, in exchange for which David was duty bound to protect Jonathan and his family. [David paid a heavy price for violating this covenant when he took half of Saul's son Mephibosheth's estate and gave it to the latter's servant Tziva, see II Samuel 19:30: as a result, a heavenly voice declared that David's kingdom would be divided between his grandson Rehaboam and the rebel Jeraboam.]


Verses 18-42 of our present text are familiar as the special Haftara read in place of the regular Shabbos Haftara whenever Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon) falls on the following day, i.e. the Sunday, for "tomorrow is the New Moon" (v 18).

David (=MALCHUS, Kingship) is bound up with the mystery of the Moon, which wanes steadily after the 15 th of the month until it disappears completely at the very end of the month, and cannot be seen again until a very slender crescent appears on the western horizon for a few minutes after the sunset of the last day of the month. The appearance of the "new" moon heralds the arrival that night of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new month, and from then on the moon steadily waxes day by day - corresponding to the steadily growing light of Mashiach after its initial total concealment. The constant renewal of the moon is a sign of the ever-renewed vitality of Mashiach (and thus when we bless the new moon after Rosh Chodesh in the ceremony of KIDDUSH LEVANAH, "Sanctification of the Moon", it is customary to recite three times "David king of Israel is alive and enduring".)

Jonathan used the sign of the three arrows at his secret tryst with David (vv 20-22 and 36-39) because in relation to David's MALCHUS, the "receiving" attribute, Jonathan is rooted in the mystery of YESOD, the MASHPIA, the giver of influence, which is allusively called the KESHES, the "bow", connoting both the 3-colored rainbow and the archer's bow. YESOD, the power of procreation, "shoots like an arrow".

The news was not good and David had to flee. Saul was so paranoid that he besmirched his own wife in accusing Jonathan of being illegitimate and therefore favoring Saul's enemy. But Jonathan knew the truth and took God as his witness that his covenant with David would be eternal.


After the destruction of the Sanctuary in Shilo in the days of Eli the Priest, the Sanctuary was re-established in the city of Nov , which was entirely given over to Cohanim (priests). Achimelech, who ministered as the High Priest in the Sanctuary, is identical with Achiyah mentioned in I Samuel 14:3 (see also 22:9).

David was in flight from Saul when he came to Nov - alone and unarmed, and apparently starving to the point of being in mortal danger. Numerous halachic questions surround David's eating of the "holy" bread in the Sanctuary since Achimelech stated that there was no "profane" bread (=CHULIN) available. RaDaK (on v 6) offers his father's opinion that the bread that Achimelech gave David was from the loaves of a TODAH (thanksgiving) offering, which are permitted to a ZAR ("stranger", non-Cohen) as long as he is ritually pure (and this is why Achimelech tactfully checked that David had not been with his wife recently, which would have made him defiled with TUM'AS KERI, vv 5-6). However, RaDaK evidently prefers the more obvious though halachically difficult PSHAT of this passage, adopted by the Talmudic sages (Menachos 95b), which is that the "holy bread" that Achimelech gave David was actually the LECHEM HAPONIM ("showbread") from the Golden Table in the Sanctuary. Twelve new loaves were placed on the Table each Shabbos, while the loaves that had sat there for the previous week were removed and divided up between the High Priest (who took six loaves) and all the other priests (who shared the rest; see Leviticus 24:5-9.)

The priests were only allowed to eat the showbread AFTER the incense in the golden spoons that sat on the table side by side with the bread all week had been burned on the Altar (as the AZKARA, "memorial" Lev. 24: 7 - for the Altar had no share in the showbread itself). This is the meaning of David's words to Achimelech (v 6) "and it is by way of profane" - i.e. the incense had ALREADY BEEN BURNED, thereby releasing the bread for consumption. David went on to say, ".even if today it had been sanctified in the ministering vessel" (ibid.) meaning that in any case, even if this was the new bread that had only just been sanctified for putting on the golden table, he would still have been permitted to eat it because of SAKONAS NEFOSHOS - a danger to life. All the commandments of the Torah (except for the prohibitions against idolatry, murder and fornication) are suspended if there is a danger to life.

RaDaK also explains why Achimelech could not provide David with any other bread despite the fact that there must have been bread somewhere in the city of Nov. Nov was a city of priests, whose main food is Terumah. The penalty for a ZAR who eats Terumah is death at the hands of heaven, and although David would have been permitted to eat Terumah because of SAKONAS NEFOSHOS, it is preferable, where there is a choice, to feed the person in danger with the less serious of two prohibited items. While a ZAR is also forbidden to eat the Showbread, doing so does not carry the penalty of death at the hands of heaven like Terumah.

Thus it was that David, although not a Cohen, tasted from the LECHEM HAPANIM, the "bread of the inner face", which remained hot on the Sanctuary Table for over a week from the day it was baked before Shabbos until the time the priests ate it on the following Shabbos (v 7 as explained in Menachos 96b). The heat of the bread is the same as the heat of the sun which God took out of its "scabbard" after Abraham circumcised himself and sat at the door of his tent "in the heat of the day" (Gen. 18:1). Circumcision strips off the thick concealing outer ORLAH foreskin from the world, exposing and revealing the inner PNIMIUS ("interiority") that governs everything. The "heat" of the sun of revelation burns up all God's enemies (see Likutey Moharan I, 30:9).

The Talmud (Menachos 95b) comments on the enormous good that comes from feeding a needy person even a mouthful. If Jonathan had had the good sense to provide David with a couple of loaves of bread when he fled, the priests of Nov would not have been slaughtered, Do'eg the Edomite would not have been driven out from the life eternal, and Saul and his three sons would not have been killed.

As it was, David, who was starving and in mortal danger, had no choice but to stop at the Sanctuary to eat the LECHEM HAPONIM, and while there he was seen by the sinister DO'EG, who as discussed previously is emblematic of Torah brilliance turned perverse. Thus he was called an Edomite, not only because Edom was the name of his town, but also because he was jealous of David, who was called ADMONI ("ruddy"), and because he ruled that the priests of Nov should be massacred, that David's wife could be given to another man and that Agag should not be killed - he turned everyone's face red with shame in face of his "brilliant" rulings and tried to consume David's merits like the red thread that swallows up the merits of Israel (Yalkut). The text states that Do'eg was "NE-ETZAR before Hashem" (v 8) - i.e. he was "detained" at the Sanctuary in Nov. NE-ETZAR also carries the connotation of "was closed up, constipated" - the Sages taught that Do'eg did not purify his body of waste when he studied, and this was the reason for his perversity (See Likutey Moharan I, 61.)


In a further intensification of mystery and darkness, David was forced to flee to the territory of Israel 's very enemies, the Philistines (v 11). The Midrash states that the attendants of Achish king of Gath were Goliath's brothers and wanted to avenge his blood by killing David. However Achish answered that Goliath himself had challenged David to kill him. If so, they replied, Goliath's stated condition was that whoever overcame him would rule the Philistines, in which case Achish should step down in favor of David. This is why they called David "king of the land" v 12.

David - who was MASKIL ("intelligent") in all his ways (ch 18 v 14) - could not understand why God created madmen, until he found himself in mortal danger in Gath and discovered that the best cover was to make it appear as if he was crazy. The Midrash states that Achish's wife and daughter were both mad and would rant inside his house while David would rant outside. This is why Achish asked, "Am I lacking in madmen?" (v 16). David's true inner face in this moment of crisis is expressed in the Psalm he wrote at the time: Psalm 34, "David's prayer when he changed his personality before Avimelech and he sent him away and he went". Avimelech was a generic name for the Philistine king just as Pharaoh was the generic name of Egyptian kings (RaDaK on ch 21 v 11).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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