David is still running away from Avshalom, heading east away from Jerusalem.
We remember מפיבשת and ציבא from earlier in ספר שמואל:
So מפיבשת is the last surviving heir of בית שאול. It makes sense that he would take advantage of the civil war to try to restore his grandfather’s kingdom. So David accepts ציבא’s report, and declares מפיבשת a non-person.
However, it turns out that ציבא was lying:
We will deal with David’s response, his acceptance of this לשון הרע and his final judgment (split the field) later. Right now, I want to look at the implications of this pericope.
David has been king over a united Israel for 28 years, and he thought that he had established a ממלכה worthy of building the בית המקדש.
The affair of בת שבע, the rebellion of אבשלום, were palace intrigue problems. But now it is clear that the rot goes much deeper. As he says in תהילים נה, the perek about Achitofel’s betrayal:
And it gets worse. All the dangers that he thought were past, come back to haunt him. It’s been 30-odd years since (שמואל ב ג:א) ותהי המלחמה ארכה בין בית שאול ובין בית דוד; ודוד הלך וחזק ובית שאול הלכים ודלים׃. But the resentment runs deep:
A few points about this. This is the first time we see David described as איש הדמים, but it’s something that David internalized.
We’ve discussed before that Nathan never told David that the reason that he could not build the בית המקדש was because איש מלחמות אתה ודמים שפכת
But as we’ve said many times before, the requirement for building the בית המקדש is two-fold:
David established Israel’s place among the nations, הניח לכם מכל איביכם מסביב, but could not insure domestic tranquility, ישבתם בטח. Everything he did seemed to lead to more bloodshed. Here David tries to stop the cycle of violence, but it’s worth mentioning that ספר שמואל is a work of literature, with a purpose in how it presents its heroes. David in the latter half of שמואל ב is the quintessential בעל תשובה, and we only see the aspects of his story that illustrate that. But real human beings are more complex that any literary character, and ספר מלכים shows us a different side of David, who does not forget lèse-majesté.
And שמעי בן גרא is from בחורים. We’ve seen that before:
Again, this is a hint that these old and buried stories—here the tragedy of מיכל—are coming back to haunt David. He hasn’t solved these problems; he’s only buried them.
Who is שמעי בן גרא? We don’t know much, but David’s use of the phrase והנה עמך שמעי בן גרא בן הימיני מבחרים tells us that he was of some importance:
So Shimi’s cursing him is another betrayal on the order of Achitofel’s.
I’m less interested in שמעי בן גרא than in מה לי ולכם בני צריה (both of whom David deals with in his final orders to Shlomo). Who are בני צריה?
צריה is David’s sister. I think this is the only case of a matronymic in תנ״ך. I assume the three brothers had a father; he is never named. The brothers are David’s military leaders and advisors. They are notable for being problem solvers—with a well placed blade.
They were fiercely loyal to David, but had their own opinions about what David needed. We saw above that David ordered Shlomo to have יואב killed when he (Shlomo) became king; David needed them too much to act against them in his lifetime.
This pericope illustrates the paradox of בני צריה. We need to remember that it was יואב who worked so hard to bring Avshalom back to the kingdom, and reconcile him with David. He honestly believed that Avshalom was the only one strong enough to succeed David, that naming Shlomo as David’s heir was a mistake (and later, יואב would side with Adoniyah against Shlomo). But when Avshalom rebels, it is בני צריה who stay with David, and it is יואב who disobeys David and kills Avshalom.
And it illustrates two approaches to יסורים. We can react with violence like בני צריה, or treat everything that happens as a potential lesson from ה׳, as David does. It’s clear what the text thinks is the right answer.
In the context of our story, of David resolving not to abandon Israel, and to stay and fight for the kingdom, I want to look at a פרק תהילים that seems relevant. This is how Feivel Meltzer describes פרק טז:
But I don’t think it’s about אושר, happiness, as much as about acceptance, that אהבת ה׳ may not be the easiest path, but that’s OK.
We’ve seen the term מכתם before in the כותרות of a number of תהילים (and dealt with it in more detail in I Spy):
They are all תהילים of violence, אל תשחת.
Hirsch connects the word to the root כתם, which is used in two ways in תנ״ך; in ירמיהו ב:כב it means a stain: כי אם תכבסי בנתר ותרבי לך ברית נכתם עונך לפני נאם אדני ה׳. In the talmud, a כתם is a bloodstain. In modern Hebrew, it is simply a stain.
The second meaning is a synonym for “gold” as in (שיר השירים ה:יא) ראשו כתם פז, קוצותיו תלתלים שחורות כעורב or in (איכה ד:א) איכה יועם זהב ישנא הכתם הטוב; תשתפכנה אבני קדש בראש כל חוצות. Hirsch connects the two by translating it as “red gold” (an alloy of copper and gold), as in (יומא מה,א) זהב פרוים שדומה לדם הפרים.
Hirsch goes on to translate מכתם in the sense of “indelible stain” as an “everlasting memorial” but I would like to connect it back to “bloodstain”. A מכתם is a reflection on spilling blood, the indelible nature of bloodstains.
Our perek is about avoiding violence; David is asking ה׳ to protect him.
אָמַרְתְּ is second person, “you said, ‘Thou art my Master’”, and it is feminine. Who is David addressing? As Meltzer says, this perek is פחות מובן ברעיונותיו. I will follow Rashi’s first opinion:
He is addressing the community of Israel, who have accepted the ברית with ה׳. Then טובתי בל עליך is David speaking again, טובתי בל עליך, whatever good that befalls me is not because I deserve it.
My success (David says) belongs to the people, because they are קדושים.
Then David talks about what he will not do; he will not abandon his faith:
We talked before about how חז״ל saw David about to worship עבודה זרה, which the Maharsha says is a reference to כל הדר בחוצה לארץ דומה כמי שאין לו א־לוה. He was about to abandon his land and his people, which is tantamount to abandoning his faith.
He realizes that ארץ ישראל, his חבל, is נעים.
And he will praise ה׳ for allowing him to make the right decision, even when his “gut feeling”—כליותי—pushed the wrong way.
Then there is a statement about David’s faith even in the face of death. It’s psukim like these that make we wonder why people say there in no mention of עולם הבא in תנ״ך. This seems pretty explicit.
But in our story, David doesn’t die yet. The narrative returns to Avshalom and his co-conspirators.