Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II SAMUEL CHAPTER 23
"AND THESE ARE THE LAST WORDS OF DAVID" (v 1)
This verse is rendered by the Targum as: "These are the words of the prophecy of David that he prophesied about the end of the world and the days of comfort that are destined to come." David testified that his words came not through his own wisdom and intelligence but through "prophecy" - holy spirit. This final prophecy of David (vv 1-7) is very dense and highly allusive. In effect it is David's own self-composed "epitaph" summarizing his status and achievements. In the same breath he calls himself "David son of Yishai" and "the anointed one of the God of Jacob " (v 1), as if to say that prophecy never left him from the time that he was David the lowly shepherd until he became God's anointed Mashiach (Metzudas David).
"Says the man that was raised up (HOOKAM ' AL )" (v 1). The Talmud darshens that David raised (HEIKIM) the yoke ('OL) of repentance, because having repented even after his serious sin with Batsheva, he showed the wicked that anyone can repent no matter how serious his sins (Avoda Zara 5a, Yalkut Shimoni). The word ' AL in the verse has the numerical value of 100 (Ayin 70 + Lamed 30), corresponding to David's institution of the requirement to recite 100 blessings every day. (These include all the daily morning blessings, the blessings over Psukey DeZimra and over the morning and evening Shema, the thrice-repeated Shmonah Esray, the blessings before and after eating, etc.) David instituted these blessings in order to rectify the ignorance of the people of his generation about the Temple that had to be built (Bamidbar Rabbah 18) - for the Temple is "built" out of prayers and blessings. This ignorance was the root cause of the terrible plague described in the next chapter. David's whole concern was to prepare for the Temple , and he merited being the "sweet singer of Israel " (v 1): it was the songs of David that were sung ever after in the Temple services.
As ruler over his people, David was unique, because the purpose of his rule was to instill in everyone the fear of God (v 2). God made an eternal Covenant with David because David based his own life and that of his household only upon the Torah (Rashi on v 3).
"THESE ARE THE NAMES OF THE MIGHTY WARRIORS OF DAVID" (v 8)
Our text's registry of David's mighty warriors and some of their outstanding exploits is also extremely dense and highly allusive. These were not merely sword-wielding fighters in the literal sense: they were mighty warriors of the Torah, forerunners of the Tannaim and Amoraim of the Mishneh and Talmud. Verse 8 which speaks of "Adino Ha-Etzni" is interpreted as alluding to David himself, who would sit with the utmost wisdom in the Sanhedrin and was ROSH HASHOLISHI (lit.="leader of the three") in the sense that he was first in beauty, wisdom and might (Rashi) as well as being head of the chain (SHALSHELES) of the three patriarchs (RaDaK), i.e. David is the fourth "leg" of the throne. The name Adino Ha-Etzni alludes to the way David would "delight himself" (ME-ADEN) like a worm whilst studying the Torah yet harden himself like a mighty tree (ETZ) when going out to fight in war.
The leading mighty warriors of David are listed in sets of three. In verses 9, 13, 18, 19, 22, 23 and 24, the words SHELOSHAH (=3), SHELOSHIM (=30) and SHALISHIM (="captains", as in Ex. 15:4) keep recurring. While "the text does not depart from its simple meaning", the arrangement of David's warriors in sets of three also alludes to the way in which the attribute of Malchus, the "receiving vessel", is built through receiving a balance of the influence descending to it from the hierarchy of triads of attributes above it.
The mysterious exploits of Shamoh ben Ogei in the field full of lentils (v 11) are midrashically connected with the three captains who came to David during his wars against the Philistines and who, in response to his craving for water from the wells of Bethlehem, risked their lives to bring him the water despite the presence of the Philistine garrisons there. The midrash teaches that what David wanted was Torah (=water) from the Torah wellsprings at the gate (=Sanhedrin) of Bethlehem . The Philistines were hiding behind sheaves of lentils in the field, and David wanted to know if he was permitted to destroy sheaves that belonged to Israelites in order to "flush out" the enemy. Even though, as king, he was permitted to do so without asking, "he did not want to drink from the waters" - he did not want to have any benefit from his fellow Israelites if there was even a question about its legality (see RaDaK on v 16).
Benayah son of Yehoyadah (v 20) was later to become Solomon's commander-in-chief. His smiting of the "two mighty lions of Moab " is explained allegorically to mean that he was so outstanding in Torah wisdom that he had no equal in either the first or second Temples . (Ariel is an allusion to the Temple , which was built through the efforts of David, who was descended from Ruth the Moabite - Berachos 18b).
There is merit in simply reading the names of David's warriors as listed in this chapter, since these were the outstanding Tzaddikim of his generation, who prepared the way for the building of the Temple .
This very mysterious chapter is a fitting climax to the story of David, because it describes the chain of events that led him to discover the site of the Temple , to the preparation for whose building his entire life had been devoted.
Rashi on I Kings 3:7 provides a detailed chronology of the last twelve years of David's life from the birth of Solomon onwards. Solomon had been born immediately prior to Amnon's rape of Tamar, two years after which Absolom held the sheep-shearing celebration at which he had Amnon assassinated. Thereafter Absolom spent three years in exile in Geshur before returning to Jerusalem for two years before his rebellion. This was followed by the three years of famine that were rectified through the reburial of Saul's bones together with those of his 7 grandchildren slain by the Gibeonites (II Sam ch 21:1). This was in the tenth year after the birth of Solomon.
It was thus in the eleventh year after Solomon's birth that David ordered his count of the population, while in the twelfth year - which was the last year of David's life - he reorganized the priestly Temple duty-rota, after which he died. (Solomon was 12 years old when he came to the throne.)
David's census was apparently carried out for "military" purposes since the numbers given in verse 9 are of "sword-wielding men", but this also alludes to the "sword" of prayer. It is not clear exactly what David had in mind when he insisted on holding a census despite the fact that the Torah expressly teaches that Israel must not be counted directly in order not to suffer a plague (Exodus 30:12). From David's later contrition for having sinned (v 10) it is clear that he knew very well that it was wrong to count the people. The fact that he was able to persuade himself to do so indicates that he allowed himself to fall prey to some kind of rationalization that justified the census. The mind can play tricks on even the greatest of people. It was evidently through this rationalization which God planted in his mind that He "incited" David to sin (v 1). It is said that He did so in retribution for David's having introduced the same concept when he much earlier said that God had "incited" Saul against him (I Samuel 26:19). The paradox is that despite the fact that the census was a mistake and led to a terrible plague, it did, nevertheless, lead indirectly to David's discovery of the site of the Temple in Jerusalem .
Joab was opposed to the census, arguing eloquently that Israel can be greatly blessed numerically by God without having to count them - Joab's blessings for Israelite population growth are compared favorably with those of Moses (Deut. 1:11). Joab's opposition to the king here is noteworthy since he actually rebelled against him at the very end of David's life one year later. Yet in spite of his reservations, Joab journeyed around the entire Israelite settlement east and west of the River Jordan. From Jerusalem he crossed over to the east bank of the Jordan and started his mission in the city of Aro'er , the southernmost settlement of the Reubenites. There "he camped" (v 5) - i.e. he took his time, hoping all along that the king would relent. Then he worked his way up northwards through the territories of Gad and Menasheh in Gil'ad, before going up to Dan (in the north of present-day Israel), further north to the "new" settlements in Syria and the BIK'AH (valley) of Lebanon, and then westwards to the Mediterranean coast, where he counted the Israelite populations in Sidon, Tyre and all the settlements further south, returning thereafter to Jerusalem. We thus have biblical evidence of Israelite settlements in Syria and Lebanon back in the time of David.
As soon as Joab returned with his report, David was smitten with remorse and contrition for having counted Israel - because Israel are beyond the concept of number, which is finite. Putting a "number" on Israel puts finite limits on the people and their ability to receive blessing. Souls cannot be counted, because each one is totally unique and has infinite potential. Counting the people lays them open to the Evil Eye, which views abundant blessing with mean-eyed hostility.
It was the prophet Gad who brought God's grim decree to David: until the very end of his life, David conducted himself in all his affairs in accordance with the prophets, unlike Saul, who had disobeyed them. Gad offered David three alternatives in order to expiate his sin: seven years of famine, three months of defeat in war or three days of plague. (Similarly, David had said that Saul would die in one of three ways, I Samuel 26:10). In a famous verse that is part of the Tahanun supplications in the daily prayers (v 14), David threw himself upon God's mercy - reasoning that famine would hurt the poor more than the rich and war would hurt the weak more than the mighty, while a plague would strike indiscriminately, thus spreading the suffering more fairly (RaDaK on v 14).
"Through the very wound, God sends the medicine". The plague was mercifully short - less than the three days originally announced by the prophet (v 15, RaDaK), and when David saw the angel with his sword drawn over Jerusalem , he prayed for compassion. According to the midrash on v 16 (BA-AM RAV, lit. "with many people"), the dead included Avishai son of Tzeruyah (Joab's heroic brother): the loss of a sage who was the equivalent of more than half (ROV) of the Sanhedrin brought atonement (Berachos 62b). With this, the Angel stopped the slaughter - and David saw that the Angel was standing by the side of the Threshing-floor of Aravna (RaDaK on v 16). Aravna was the "Jebusite" Prince of Jerusalem - though not one of the Canaanite Jebusites, but a Philistine descendant of Avimelech in the time of Abraham. According to Metzudas David (v 16), he was a righteous convert.
Since it is prayers in the Temple that save Israel from plagues and other evils, David knew that the site at which he prayed successfully for the cessation of the plague was none other than the location of the Temple, which God had promised He would choose from among the territories of the tribes (Deut. 12:14).
Aravna was willing to GIVE David the site to build his altar together with the ox for the sacrifice and the wood to burn it (v 22) but David protested, "I shall surely ACQUIRE them from you for a PRICE and I will not offer up to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost nothing" (v 24). There is a discrepancy between the fifty shekels of SILVER mentioned as the price here and the sum of SIX HUNDRED shekels of GOLD mentioned in I Chronicles 21:25. This is resolved through the fact that David collected fifty golden shekels from each of the twelve tribes to buy the site of the Temple ("from all your tribes" Deut. 12:4; 50 X 12 = 600) while he paid for the ox and wood for his altar with fifty silver shekels (Talmud Zevachim 116b).
Just as Abraham had PURCHASED the Cave of Machpelah as the burial place of the patriarchs with GOOD MONEY, similarly David PURCHASED the site of the Temple with GOOD MONEY, which means that all those who claim that Hebron and the Temple Mount do not belong to the people of Israel are guilty of blatant slander.
"The rabbis taught that all the thousands who fell from the plague in the days of David died because they did not demand the building of the Temple . If people who had never had a Temple built or destroyed in their lifetimes fell in the plague because they had failed to demand the Temple, how much more are we, who have already had a Temple and had it destroyed, obligated to demand the rebuilding of the Temple. Therefore the elders and prophets instituted the planting of prayers three times daily in the mouths of Israel for the return of the Divine Presence and Kingship to Zion and the order of Your service to Jerusalem , Amen." (Radak on v 25).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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