Avraham ben Yaakov


The rabbis advised to "be careful of the government, because they only reach out to a person to serve their own need and appear to show him love only so long as they have benefit from him but do not stand up for him in his hour of hardship" (Avos 2:3). King David showed himself a notable exception to this mode of government, displaying his truly royal nature in searching for any surviving members of the House of Saul that he might be able to help despite the fact that he had nothing whatever to gain from showing them favor.

David remained loyal to the covenant he had struck with Jonathan at the very beginning of their acquaintance (I Samuel 18:1-3) and which had been renewed several times with both Jonathan (I Samuel 23:18) and Saul himself, to whom David had promised that he would never cut off his seed (I Samuel 24:21-2).

Tzeeva, the "servant of the House of Saul" whom David called for information about surviving members of Saul's family, evidently had the status of EVED KENA'ANI, a "Canaanite slave", who according to the law of the Torah remains a slave unless his master frees him and who is part of his master's estate, passing on his death into the possession of his inheritors (see Leviticus 25:44-6 and RaDaK on II Samuel 9:2). Unless he or she is freed, the Canaanite slave is not permitted to marry a free Israelite and enter the Kahal ("Assembly"), but is nevertheless a member of the Covenant and is bound by all of the commandments that Israelite women are obliged to fulfill. (Thus the Canaanite slave must observe Shabbos, eat kosher, share in the Paschal lamb, etc. but does not wear Tefilin or pray the set daily prayer services etc.)

With the death of Saul and his three sons in the war against the Philistines and the subsequent assassination of his fourth son, Ish-bosheth, the only male survivor of Saul's house was the son of his first-born Jonathan - Mephibosheth -- who had been a small child at the time of the Philistine war and who while being evacuated by his nursemaid had fallen and injured both legs, leaving him permanently lame (II Samuel 4:4, see RaDaK there). His lameness is symbolic of the collapse of Saul's house.

It appears that Saul's family estate now legally belonged to king David because Saul's son Ish-bosheth was MOREID BE-MALCHUS, a "traitor against the kingship", since with Avner's encouragement he had acted as king despite the fact that all Israel knew that Samuel had anointed David to be king after Saul. Under Torah law, the estate of a traitor falls to the crown, and thus David's kindness to Mephibosheth lay in returning the estate to the family, which he was not legally obliged to do (see RaDaK on v 7). David thus appointed Tzeeva as APOTROPUS ("adult executor" or "guardian") over Saul's estate for the benefit of the young Mephibosheth. Tzeeva and Mephibosheth will enter the narrative again in II Samuel ch 16.


After the death of Nahash king of Ammon, David wanted to "practice kindness" with his son Hanoon - i.e. to send a delegation to comfort him in his mourning - because "his father practiced kindness with me" (v 2). Nahash's "kindness" to David lay in taking in the one member of his family who survived when the king of Moab killed all the others after David had taken them there when he fled from Saul (I Samuel 22:1-6; see Rashi on II Samuel 10:2).

The Torah commands Israel not to seek out the peace and goodness of the Ammonites or Moabites "all your days forever" (Deut. 23:7) because far from hospitably coming out with bread and water to help their Israelite cousins in their journey from Egypt through the wilderness to their land, they even hired the Aramean Bilaam to come and curse them.

The rabbis criticized David for showing kindness to those who were intrinsically unkind, pointing out that it led only to a humiliation for David and his delegation that escalated into a full scale war (see RaDaK on ch 10 v 2). [Similarly, contemporary attempts to appease angry terrorists and their supporters have only led to escalating terror and violence.]

The new Ammonite king's advisors convinced him that David - whom they presumably perceived as a menacing expansionist - was seeking to spy on them in order to prepare to incorporate them into his growing empire.

In view of the history of Jewish costume in the last few hundred years, it is interesting to note that the humiliation which the Ammonites chose to inflict on the Israelite delegation was to shave off their beards and cut their garments in half over the buttocks. Similarly, in 19 th century Germany, the first acts carried out by Jews wanting to dissociate themselves from traditional European Jewish culture were the removal of their beards and the drastic shortening of their coats, turning them into jackets that barely covered their buttocks, earning for Jews of German origin until today the nickname of YEKERS ("short jackets").

Realizing that their blatant provocation of David was likely to elicit a very firm-handed military response, the Ammonites repeated their ancestral ploy of calling in help from Aram . Since the times of Bilaam, the Aramean clans had spread westwards from Mesopotamia into the territories of modern-day Syria and Lebanon , and the Ammonites summoned Aramean mercenaries from there to attack David's forces from the rear when they advanced against the capital city of Ammon .


The serious military crisis in which David's commander-in-chief Joab found himself in the war with the Arameans and Israel's other enemies is reflected in Psalm 60. The Ammonites intended to coordinate with the Arameans in order to stage a pincer attack on the Israelite forces, who saw the war closing in on them "from in front and from behind" (v 9). It is noteworthy that Joab did not merely raise his hands to God and hope for the best: first he carried out his HISHTADLUS ("effort in the world of practical action"), dividing the Israelite forces into two, sending his brother Avishai against Ammon while he himself marched against the Arameans, who because of their numbers and training were the more serious threat. Only after making a pact of mutual support with Avishai (v 11) and giving him a powerful "pep talk" on being courageous "for the sake of our people" (that they should not be captured) and "for the sake of the cities of our God" (that they should not be sacked) did Joab then entrust the outcome of their efforts into the hands of God (v 12).

This trusting believer's way of making war met with a positive outcome, and the Arameans fled from Joab while the Ammonites fled from Avishai (v 13-14). Hadad-ezer, the king of Aram Tzova (in the BIK'A of Lebanon ) now sent for Aramean reinforcements from east of the Euphrates , but David went out against them with the entire Israelite army and forced the Arameans into submission (v 19). This gave David's kingdom supremacy in the entire region, opening the way for the conditions of peace in which the future builder of God's Temple in Jerusalem could be born through the mysterious chain of events that is the subject of the ensuing chapters.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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