Saul's massive military pursuit of David now moves to the wilderness of Ein Gedi, an area of enchanting natural beauty familiar to many visitors to the "Dead" Sea area, some of whom may in a quiet, still moment have caught sight of the nimble, exquisitely graceful but very shy mountain goats (ibex) that are to be found in the hills and rocky crags (v 2).

When Saul modestly entered the recesses of a cave to attend to his bodily needs, it would have been permissible for David to kill him since "if someone is coming to kill you, you should kill him first" (Sanhedrin 72a based on Exodus 22:1). David must have been very tempted and his men were encouraging him, yet even after merely cutting the corner of Saul's garment, David was smitten by his own heart (v 5) - the sign of a truly humble Tzaddik who after doing something even only mildly improper feels deep contrition. David then "tore his men apart with words" (v 7), showing that he would not allow himself to be swayed by "public opinion", unlike Saul, who listened to the people when they told him to spare the Amalekite king and flocks.

When Saul, having sinned by doing so, had gone after Samuel, "he took hold of the corner of his coat and it was torn" (ch 15 v 27). The text there is ambiguous and it is not clear whose coat was torn, Saul's or Samuel's (see Rashi ad loc.), but either way Samuel took it as a sign that "God has torn the kingship of Israel from you today": he gave Saul a sign that whoever would tear the corner of his garment would rule in his place.

David's speech of self-defense before his persecutor, Saul (vv 9-15) is another example of David's outstanding nobility and eloquence. He would not set his hand against Saul even when he had the opportunity: he knew and trusted that God would vindicate him and that "as the proverb of the ancients says, Wickedness proceeds from the wicked and my hand shall not be against you". The "proverb of the ancients" (v 13) refers to the Holy Torah, which states that God Himself brings death upon the wicked (Exodus 21:13, see Rashi there and on our verse, I Samuel 24:13; see Talmud Maccos 10b).

When Saul heard the actual VOICE of David (v 16), it was a "reality check" that temporarily put to flight the paranoid madness that constantly fed him with demonic fantasies about his imagined persecutor and his evil designs. The actual presence of David had from the beginning had the power to cure Saul of his evil spirit and bring him back to sanity and lucidity (see ch 16 v 23). For while Saul's soul was rooted in OLAM HATOHU, the "world of devastation", David was rooted in OLAM HATIKUN, the "world of repair", and he therefore brought healing wherever his true influence was felt. However, as soon as Saul left David's healing presence and went back to his home, his madness came to the fore again.


Samuel had become old prematurely (ch 8 v 1) and he died at the age of only 52, in order that he should not see the first king that he had anointed die in his own lifetime. The death of Samuel thus opened the way for the death of Saul, which came only seven months later. David therefore now stood on the very threshold of kingship. Samuel was buried at his home in Ramah, and the hilltop mosque that marks his tomb is a prominent landmark until today and is clearly visible to travelers on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway near the entrance to Jerusalem .


It is necessary to bear in mind throughout the narrative of Saul's reign that it lasted a total of only two years (see ch 13 v 1) and that the events described followed very closely on the heels of one another. Since Samuel had been born on Rosh HaShanah (the New Year) in answer to Hannah's prayer, he died on the same day, because God "completes the years of the Tzaddikim" to the very day. The rabbis dated David's request to Naval for sustenance to the eve of the same Rosh HaShanah (see Rashi on v 8), and thus Naval's "heart failure" (v 27) occurred on the morning of Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment, and his death ten days later came on Yom Kippur, when God's decree is sealed if the sinner does not repent.

Naval's town of Ma'on and the " Carmel " where his affairs were concentrated (v 2) were both in the mountainous area west of Ein Gedi, some way to the southeast of Hebron . Thus the Carmel in our present text cannot be identified with Mt Carmel in the north of Israel by Haifa , the site of Elijah's challenge to the priests of Baal generations later.

The Judean Carmel was a grazing region where Naval evidently became extremely prosperous: he is depicted as the archetype of the wealthy, selfish, arrogant, mean-eyed villain. The ARI states that the soul of Laban was incarnated in Naval: the Hebrew letters of the two names are identical. There are many parallels between Laban's attitude to Jacob and Naval's to David. Our text counterpoints the paradigm case of the EVIL EYE against the messianic David, who had "beautiful eyes and good vision" (ch 16 v 12). David's intrinsic nature was to see and reveal goodness everywhere, while his worst enemies (Saul, Do'eg and now Naval) had the opposite nature and saw only negativity and evil all around them. [The conceptual interrelationship between the evil eye and the death of the heart on the one hand and messianic goodness on the other is analyzed by Rabbi Nachman in Likutey Moharan I, discourses 54 and 55.]

When David sent his emissaries to Naval he told them to open with a beautiful blessing for Naval's future prosperity and peace (v 6): this is included in the passages of blessing customarily recited on Saturday night after the departure of the Shabbos. Despite his gracious overture to Naval and despite the fact that David was indeed his relative since Naval was from the Judean house of Caleb (v 3), Naval contemptuously brought up the issue of David's "tainted" Moabite lineage and snidely dismissed him as yet another of the rash of upstart servants who in recent times had taken to rebelling against their masters (v 10, see Rashi).

David and his men had heroically helped and supported Naval's shepherds, as testified by one of Naval's own "lads" (v 15-16), yet Naval found it offensive that he should be asked to give any of HIS OWN bread, HIS water and HIS succulent fresh meat "to men that I have no idea where they come from" (v 11). Many of the Jews forced to demean themselves by going from door to door to beg funding for needy Torah institutions from some of the rich "fat cats" of today can testify from personal experience that Naval's attitudes still persist.

"And David said to his men, Let each one gird his sword, and each one girded his sword and David too girded his sword" (v 13). Naval's contemptuous refusal to help David and his "servant" smear made Naval a MOREID BE-MALCHUS (rebel against the kingship) because all Israel now knew that Samuel had anointed David to be king (RaDaK on v 13). Yet although this was a capital case, David girded his sword only AFTER asking his men to do so. From this we learn that in capital cases before a Beis Din (rabbinical court) the head of the court states his opinion only AFTER all the other judges have stated theirs, starting with the most junior. For if the head of the court were to state his opinion first, none of the other judges would have the audacity to openly disagree with him (Sanhedrin 36a).


A bloody massacre was averted only through the shrewdness and presence of mind of Naval's wife Avigail, who is counted as one of the seven outstanding prophetesses of Israel together with Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah and Esther (Megillah 14b). In our present text we see that Avigail prophesied the imminent death of Naval when she said that all David's enemies should end up like him (v 26).

Just as Laban's daughters Rachel and Leah had no illusions about the character of their father (Genesis 31:14-15), so Avigail, despite being married to Naval, preserved her integrity and knew exactly how despicable he was. Matching David himself in the eloquence and subtle, tactful delicacy with which she deflected the threatening storm, Avigail saved him from unnecessary bloodshed that would have put a dark stain on his kingship.

Avigail's blessing to David, "Let the soul of my master be bound up with the bond of life" (v 29) alludes to the life eternal, and a slightly modified version is customarily included in the form of the initial letters of each of the Hebrew words in the phrase "Let the soul be bound up with the bond of life" (TAV NUN TZADE BEIS HEH) as the last line of inscriptions on Jewish gravestones or dedications in memoriam. Likewise Avigail's curse that the soul of David's enemies should be "shot from the sling" (ibid.) is the foundation for the concept of the KAF HAKELAH (the "pouch of the sling") from which the souls of the wicked are slung by vengeful angels from one end of the universe to the other and back again (Talmud Shabbos 152b).

Naval had what today would be called a massive heart attack on hearing the news of the gift given to David (one wonders if the epidemic of heart disease among today's fat and wealthy is related). Naval lingered for 10 days but still did not repent, and he died on the day of God's sealing of His judgments, Yom Kippur. David subsequently took the outstanding TZADDEKES-prophetess Avigail as his wife, as well as Achino'am from Jezre'el (who interestingly has the same name as Saul's wife, see ch 14 v 50). How Saul could have given his daughter Michal, who was already married to David, to Palti ben Layish, and how David could have taken her back afterwards is the subject of extensive discussion in the Talmud and commentaries (Sanhedrin 19a; see RaDaK on v 43) but we will have to leave the intricacies of this discussion for some other time!



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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