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  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shmot
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Once a King, Always a King?


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

9 Tevet 5769
Our haftara ends (Melachim I, 2:11) with a summary of David’s kingship. He was king for 40 years: 7 in Chevron and 33 in Yerushalayim. However, parallel p’sukim in Shmuel II (5: 4-5) say that he was king for 7 years and 6 months in Chevron and 33 in Yerushalayim; thus, there is a discrepancy over 6 months. Chazal were quite disturbed by the 6 months’ "disappearance," and we find several attempts at explaining it.

The Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 1:1) gives technical answers: 1) The larger numbers "swallow up" the smaller ones; i.e., the 40 years and the 7 in Chevron are round numbers. 2) David ruled for only 32½ in Yerushalayim, and it was rounded up to 33 to show respect to Yerushalayim.

However, three other approaches see the missing time as criticism of David for different reasons. Rav Yehuda (Sanhedrin 107a) says that David had leprosy for 6 months, and the Sanhedrin distanced themselves from him (a leper is equated with a dead man). This was in response to David’s sin involving Batsheva and Uriya. Rav Chuna (Yerushalmi, ibid.) said that while David was in flight from the revolt of his son, Avshalom¸ he lacked the status of a king (the context is that if he had needed to bring a korban, it would have been that of a regular person, not a king). This is an indication that the revolt lasted for 6 months, a matter the p’sukim do not address. Finally, Rav Yudan (Yerushalmi, ibid.) said that the 6 months correspond to the 6 months that Yoav fought on David’s behalf against the Edomites (see Melachim I, 11:16). This was arguably against the prohibition to quarrel with that nation (Devarim 2:5). The message was, says Rav Yudan, that when you do not follow the Torah’s precepts in leading the nation, your kingship is not counted. (We should note that according to the Bavli (Bava Batra 21b) the war against Edom was justified.)

The question is what we can learn from these various opinions and the difference between them. Is it possible for the nation to banish a king who was appointed by a prophet and approved by the nation? According to Rav Chuna, David was not considered king at the time the people were behind Avshalom instead of him. The nation gave, and the nation took. When the nation no longer accepts the legal king, he even loses his halachic status. This is in line with the Rambam and Rashbam’s opinion that the concept of "the laws of the kingdom is the law" depends on the populace’s acceptance of the kingdom. According to the other approaches, that which can deprive a king’s rule of legitimacy are severe sins. Deposing can only be done by a prophet such as in the case of Shaul and Yerovam, not by a popular revolt. According to everyone, a leader who was chosen by the people can be removed by the rules that the nation’s representatives set in law.

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