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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

The Missteps of a Great Man

Our haftara deals with the instructions David gave Shlomo, including general advice and specific directives regarding how to deal with certain people. One had to do with Yoav ben Tzruya, David’s nephew and a key member of his inner circle throughout his career. The language of David’s portrayal of his grievances against Yoav is perplexing. “You are also aware of that which Yoav ben Tzruya did to me, which he did to two generals in Israel, to Avner ben Ner and Amasa ben Yeter, that he killed them and put the blood of battle within peace … he should not die in peace in old age” (Melachim I, 2:5-6).
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Our haftara deals with the instructions David gave Shlomo, including general advice and specific directives regarding how to deal with certain people. One had to do with Yoav ben Tzruya, David’s nephew and a key member of his inner circle throughout his career.

The language of David’s portrayal of his grievances against Yoav is perplexing. "You are also aware of that which Yoav ben Tzruya did to me, which he did to two generals in Israel, to Avner ben Ner and Amasa ben Yeter, that he killed them and put the blood of battle within peace … he should not die in peace in old age" (Melachim I, 2:5-6).

In the past we discussed the phrase "put the blood of battle within peace." This time we will discuss the unclear opening phrase, "that which … did to me." We know what he did to Avner and Amasa, but what did he do to David?

Rashi (based on the Midrash Tanchuma) explains that Yoav’s misdeed to David had to do with the death of Uriya. When Uriya was left to fight alone against the Amonim and was killed, the other officers were furious at Yoav for the betrayal/blunder. To clear his name, Yoav showed them the letter from David, which commanded Yoav to act in that way. This publicizing of David’s very private and damaging communication was his betrayal of David.

The Ralbag says that Yoav’s sin against David was in killing the rebellious Avshalom, despite David’s instruction to spare his life, followed by Yoav’s rebuke of David for objecting to Avsholom’s death. Thus, it was this killing, in addition to those of Avner and Avshalom, that David took personally. It is difficult that the names of the other victims are mentioned and Avshalom is not. The Radak says that the murders of Avner and Amasa were the sin to David, as it made David look bad after he reached an agreement with each of them.

I wish to humbly suggest a different possibility. According to the midrash, Yoav showed the officers David’s instructions about Uriya only after there was great, undeserved dissention against Yoav. If one studies the p’sukim carefully, he can see that Yoav did not follow David’s instructions in this matter. Yoav did not abandon Uriya but risked his life along with Uriya, repelling an attack the Amonim initiated. Still, Yoav was upset with David because of the letter, and he decided, at the time, to rebel against David and depose him. That is why he showed the letter to his leading officers, as the midrash relates, but before Uriya was killed. Later on, Yoav decided not to rebel. Shlomo and Benayahu understood that Yoav’s criticism of David was well-founded, and, therefore they killed Yoav because he killed Avner and Amasa, not for a direct sin toward David.

The idea that Yoav considered rebellion against David finds expression in a pasuk: "Word of the matter came to Yoav, for Yoav had ‘leaned’ after Adoniya and did not ‘lean’ after Avshalom" (ibid. 28). The gemara (Sanhedrin 49a) derives from these words that Yoav leaned toward following Adoniyahu but did not follow him.

Let us pray to merit army officers and leaders like Yoav – people who sanctify Hashem’s name in their lives and are "buried … in the desert" (Melachim 1,2:34) – as the gemara says: "Just like the desert is free of theft and promiscuity, so was Yoav’s house clean from theft and promiscuity."
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