Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Chayei Sara
קטגוריה משנית
  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Melachim
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

Amram son of Sultana

2 min read
1. "They covered him with clothes, but he could not become warm."
2. "And his father had never grieved him at any time..."
3. The Relation Between the Two Chapters
4. "Call me Bat-sheva"
5. An Afterword

"Now king David was old, advanced in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he could not become warm, so his servants said to him, 'Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and be his attendant, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may become warm'" (Kings I 1:1,2).

"They covered him with clothes, but he could not become warm."
Our chapter opens with an account which is not easy to justify. King David is ill, and the clothes with which he has been covered are ineffective - and the advice of the servants is puzzling.
Let us begin by attempting to provide answers to a couple of questions:
a) What is meant by the fact that the clothes did not help the king become warm? The solution to this problem is difficult to accept from a moral point of view.
b) Is the solution put forth by the servants an earnest one?

Redak (Rabbi David Kimchi), in commenting on the words, "Now king David was old," explains that David, in his old age, became weak and bedridden. And even though he was only seventy years old, he lost much of his strength and became aged due to the wars which he had fought - and the more one ages, the more the body's natural heat is reduced. Hence, "they covered him with clothes."
Redak's explanation here is difficult in light of what is written in the Book of Chronicles. According to what is written there, it appears that David manages to prepare the organizational groundwork necessary for the construction of the Holy Temple. There, we receive a picture of extensive activity, at the center of which are David and his son Shelomo, his heir. It would seem that what is described in Chronicles took place later in David's life than that which we read of in our own episode. The implication, then, is that after David recovered from his sickness, he continued to function for another significant and important part of his life. This leads us to conclude that the question of David's health in our chapter is not connected to age, but to his spiritual state.
According the Hebrew vowel signs in the verse "and they covered him with clothes," we are dealing with a particular set of clothes. David's clothes - the royal vestments.
Also noteworthy is the following: Our chapter opens with a description of David's old age. Initially, this leads to the issue of the king's warmth and his being covered in clothing. As the chapter continues, though, we discover an additional ramification to David's old age - his heir to the throne.

"And his father had never grieved him at any time..."
"Then Adoniyya the son of Haggit exalted himself, saying, 'I will be king': and he set up chariots and horsemen for himself, and fifty men to run before him. And his father had never grieved him at any time in saying, 'Why hast thou done so?' And he also was a very good looking man; and his mother bore him after Avshalom, and he conferred with Yo'av the son of Zeruya, and with Evyatar the priest: and they following Adoniyya helped him. But Zadoq the priest, and Benayahu the son of Yehoyada, and Natan the prophet, and Shim'i, and Re'i, and the warriors who belonged to David, were not with Adoniyyahu. And Adoniyyahu slaughtered sheep and oxen and fat cattle by the stone of Zohelet, which is by En-rogel, and called all his brethren the king's sons, and all the men of Yehuda the kings servants: but Natan the prophet and Benayahu and the warriors, and Shelomo his brother, did not call. And Natan spoke to Bat-sheva the mother of Shelomo, saying, 'Hast thou not heard that Adoniyyahu the son of Haggit is reigning, and David our lord does not know of it?'" (Ibid. 1:5-11).

Following this, we are informed of David's oath before Bat-sheva to the effect that Shelomo will be his successor:
"And she said to him, 'My lord. Thou didst swear by the Lord thy God to thy handmaid, saying, Indeed, Shelomo thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne'" (Ibid. 17).

Yet, when did David make such an oath? The scriptures fail to provide us with any explicit record of such a commitment on the part of the king.
"And David comforted Bat-sheva his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her: and she bore him a son, and he called his name Shelomo; and the Lord loved him. And He sent by the hand of Natan the prophet; and he called his name Yedidya, for the Lord's sake" (Samuel II 12: 24,25).
The above verse describes for us David's comforting Bat-sheva after the death of her first son. Here already, the boy's unique standing has become apparent in the expression "...and the Lord loved him," and in the manner in which the prophet relates to him.

Regarding the words, "and went in to her, and lay with her," Redak explains the repetition as coming to indicate that Bat-sheva did not become pregnant immediately. "And he went to her" - he went to her with the complaint that she was not willing to couple with him. She said to him, "The (previous) baby died because of the sin, and even if I manage to give birth to a healthy baby through you, his brothers will ridicule him because I initially came to you sinfully." David responded, saying, "God forgave me for that transgression, and the first son that I have from you will succeed me as king, for God informed me of this through the prophet." And he made an oath to her and it was to this that Bat-sheva is referring to when she says, "Thou didst swear by the Lord thy God to thy handmaid, saying, 'Indeed, Shelomo thy son shall reign after me.'"

According to Redak, the oath pronounced in our chapter goes back to the time before Shelomo was born, a fact which indicates that already at the outset, David was aware of the fact that the bond between himself and Bat-sheva was destined to be that which would give birth to his heir.
We may add to this the fact that David also knew that neither Avshalom nor Adoniyya would inherit the throne from him. This was clear from the divine promise which necessarily implied that the son who was to be heir to the throne had not yet been born.
"And when the days are filled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, who shall issue from thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will make firm the throne of his kingdom for ever" (Samuel II 7:12,13).

Indeed, matter fact is nearly explicitly stated by Natan the prophet in the Book of Chronicles:
"Behold, a son shall born to thee, who shall be a man of tranquility; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Shelomo, and I will give peace and quietness to Yisra'el in his days" (I Chronicles 22:9).
David is informed that the son who will reign after him will bear the name Shelomo, and, as we have seen, when the boy is born to Bat-sheva, he names him Shelomo:
"And David comforted Bat-sheva his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her: and she bore him a son, and he called his name Shelomo; and the Lord loved him. And He sent by the hand of Natan the prophet; and He called his name Yedidya, for the Lord's sake."
Redak points out that this verse can be approached from two different angles: that of the text of Scripture as it is written, and that of the masoretic reading of the scriptural text. According to the text of Scripture as it is written, we read that He (i.e. God) named the boy Shelomo. This is in keeping with what we read in Chronicles, "But the word of the Lord came to me... for his name shall be Shelomo, and I will give peace and quietness to Yisra'el in his days." Therefore, "...and the Lord loved him," accurately reflects "...and he shall be my son and I shall be his father" (ibid. 10). The masoretic reading of the scriptural text, though, informs us that it was she (i.e. Bat-sheva) who named the boy Shelomo, just as David told her, in the name of the prophet.

Having said all this, let us ask a number of questions:
1) Why does David not put the prophecy into practice, and his oath to Bat-sheva?
2) What significance should we attach to this restraint on the part of David? What's more, The steps taken by Adoniyyahu recall an earlier rebellion - that of Avshalom. David knows quite well the danger of what happened there. Why, then, does he allow himself here to lose control of things? Is he not aware of what is taking place?
3) In the end, David comes out with a very clear statement: "And the king swore and said, As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my soul out of all distress, even as I swore to thee by the Lord God of Israel, saying, Indeed, Shelomo thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead; even so will I certainly do this day" (Kings I 1:29,30).

The Relation Between the Two Chapters
We noted at the outset that David's weakness and need do be covered with the clothing is not a mere technical observation. In addition, we noted that the Scriptures attribute the failure to warm David with the clothes, to a particular set of clothes: the royal vestments. The very fact that such a relation is drawn between David's illness and the royal attire teaches us that the source of the problem is in the arena of the kingship. Yet, the problem spread until it took the form of a general physical weakness, to the point where "he could not become warm," even, apparently, with any clothes.
What this adds up to is the fact that both of the weaknesses mentioned in our chapter can be attributed to a weakness of the king's authority.

Now, let us move ahead and try to put our finger on the true and ultimate cause of the problem. We will avoid an all encompassing study and simply say that one who looks closely at the events which unfold starting with chapter 11 of Samuel II will discover that the central theme of events therein is the life of David and the nature of his rule after his sin with Bat-sheva. In the following excerpt David is notified by Natan the Prophet of the harsh punishment which stands to be meted out:
"And David's anger burned greatly against the man; And he said to Natan, 'As the Lord lives, the man that has done this is worthy to die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.' And Natan said to David, 'Thou art the man. Thus says the Lord God of Yisra'el, I anointed the king over Yisra'el, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Shaul; Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house; because thou has despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriyya the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy eyes, and give them to thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun'" (Samuel II 12: 5-7, 10,11).

David's response to all of this is to admit his guilt and to accept his punishment in its entirety.
"And David said to Natan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' And Natan said to David, 'The Lord also has commuted thy sin; thou shall not die'" (ibid. 13)

Yet this is not just David's initial response. He continues to accept responsibility - with unparalleled honesty and sincerity. Part of this integrity finds expression in a clear weakening of the force of his authority as king. This is due to the recognition of the fact that the source of the power of authority or of judgement lies in honesty and inner purity. Because, in the case of David, these qualities have been tainted, he lacks the might to lead with the full power of judgement. Let us bring a number of examples:
1) David's accepting the decree: "and he shall restore the lamb fourfold" - the death of the his child, Amnon, Tamar's act, and Avshalom. According to Ralbag, Adoniyyahu is the fourth, because Tamar did not die.
2) David hears of Amnon's violating Tamar, yet the only response is that "he was very angry."
3) Influenced by the parable of the Tekoite, David also shows compassion for Avshalom after the murder of Amnon.
4) Avshalom's words at the outset of the revolt also indicate quite clearly the weakness of David's judicial leadership at that time (see Shemuel II 15:2-4).
The question "Which son will inherit the kingship stands at the very foundation of our chapter. It is clear to David that Shelomo is the son. The clarity springs from the prophecy and from his oath to Bat-sheva.

Yet, it is important to understand that things are far from simple. Shelomo is the son of Bat-sheva, and Bat-sheva was taken by David from Uriyya to be his wife. In order to decide that Shelomo will be heir to the throne David must possess the moral force to stand up and pronounce not only that the relationship with Bat-sheva is a pure one, but that it is precisely this relationship - one which began in sin - that will serve as the path which is most fitting for the establishment of the continued chain of royalty in Israel
The words of Bat-sheva in our chapter also reveal the connection between the two episodes:
"And thou, my lord, O king, the eyes of all Yisra'el are upon thee that thou shouldst tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it shall come to pass, when my lord, the king shall sleep with his fathers, that I and my son Shelomo shall be counted offenders (Kings I 1:20, 21).

David, then, is faced with an important decision, yet he dose not possess the moral might to take hold of the reins and push forward. According to the sages, David's sin with Bat-sheva was well known. It would make sense that this is what gave Avshalom the power to lead such a large public rebellion against the king. This is also part of the reason for David's political weakness.

How is it possible to have awakened the life force in man, the force of leadership and kingship?
David's servants see this weakness and attempt to solve it devious methods. If the most threatening strike against Shelomo's kingship is David's sin with Bat-sheva, then the way to destroy Shelomo's chances is by causing David to stumble again in a similar manner. This could be expected to cause king David to become completely weakened.
Though this would appear to be a solution in that its objective is to awaken the life forces of the king so that his body be made warm, such an awakening effects the surface level alone, while by its very nature is designed to serve the opposite goal.

"Call me Bat-sheva"
Bat-sheva enters the king's chamber in order to make claim on behalf of her son Shelomo, and the Scriptures take note of Avishag.
"And Bat-sheva went in to the king into the chamber: and the king was very old; and Avishag the Shunammite ministered to the king" (Kings I 15).
With the help of an insightful Midrashic elucidation (Sanhedrin 22a), we can see the emphasis of the above verse as lying not so much in Bat-sheva's actual physical entrance as in the juxtaposition of Bat-sheva and Avishag. Batsheva went "in to the king into the chamber" in the sense of matrimony, giving expression to David's strength. Avishag, on the other hand, only "ministered to the king."
In light of this, the verse which comes later - "Then king David answered and said, 'Call me Bat-sheva'" (ibid. 28) - gives expression to the transition - the reawakening of David to say that Shelomo will be the next king of Israel. Natan and Bat-sheva together weaved a plan in order to cause David to be reawakened. The sages of the Midrash pinpoint David's clinging to Bat-sheva as expressing the moment of transition toward the reawakening of his strength.

What caused the strength of David to be reawakened? On a basic level, we can say that circumstances he found himself in forced him to this. It is possible, though, to discern here something beyond pure compulsion - God communicates with man through life events, calling upon him to do the right thing.
It is also possible to discern in David's standing up to the temptation of Avishag an aspect of repentance, that, after all, David was partly responsible for the awakening of his own strength in deciding that the son of Bat-sheva would be his heir to the throne.
We might, then, point to two quite different causes on the road to David's awakening: the path of base desire, that which was caused by the deviousness of servants; the path of profound reflection, via Natan the prophet and Bat-sheva.
Adoniyyahu saw in Avishag the symbol of the source of David's weakness. But, in fact, the opposite was true: "But the king had no intimacy with her." As we have seen, this was not because of his old age.
In light of this, we find that it was precisely the attempt to cause David to sin which had a part in causing him to become reawakened; in David's choosing Shelomo to succeed him as king there is a dimension of rectification of his sin

An Afterword
Our chapter is that which lays the foundation for the kingdom of the house of David. Up until this point God provided judges for Israel, judges who saved the People of Israel; yet their leadership was not passed on to their sons.
David is the first to receive a promise in this respect. Natan the prophet tells him: "And the Lord tells thee that He will make thee a house" (Samuel II 7:11).
Regarding the expression, "And the Lord tells thee," Rashi explains, "Today, through Me, that He will make a house for you in order to set your son on your throne, and your royal house will be established for you, and He will build the house
Following this:
"But my covenant love shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Shaul, whom I put away before thee. And thy house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee" (ibid. 15,16).
Placing authority in the hands of the king implies the possession of enormous strength. The capacity to carry out plans over extended periods of time without fear of a change of leadership or early dismissal. The king need not strive to continuously please the public. The first chapter of the Book of Kings teaches us of the birth pangs of David's royal house, the stages in the process which led David to the longed-for declaration of Shelomo's appointment.

Here, we have explained that the great strength which was to mark the kingdom was given to David in this chapter. In addition, Scripture teaches us of the great setbacks along the way, setbacks which in fact point to the source of the strength of the Kingdom of Israel - purity of heart and honesty, along with a deep awareness of the eternal and everlasting word of God.
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