David inserts an interesting theological dilemma in his speech to Saul. אם ה׳ הסיתך בי is contrasted to אם בני האדם: either ה׳ is inciting Saul against him, in which case David needs עבודה; or it is other human beings inciting Saul. But does that mean that ה׳ is not involved? We may have free will but how can that result in harm to others if ה׳ doesn’t want it to happen? I think this another example of the tripartite model of providence that we dealt with last time: there are cases when ה׳ doesn’t decide on a specific outcome but allows the “natural” world, including the actions of human beings, to take their course.
The commentators all ask where do we see that David was forced to worship אלהים אחרים; David may have been accused of disloyalty to Saul but never to הקב״ה. The universal answer is that this phrase is parallel to גּרשוני היום מהסתפח בנחלת ה׳, either as the targum says: אזיל דוד ביני עממיא פלחי טעותא, or as Rashi says:
The additional phrase בזמן הבית is interesting; it’s not in the original source of this line and may represent an interpolation by the censor.
The first three psukim are the words of those who tell David to flee; from the tone of the perek, they are his friends, telling him that it is too dangerous to remain, he needs to run to his “mountain”. But David has faith in ה׳'s justice. The Malbim sees the parallel in the two parts of פסוק ד:
מטר in תנ״ך indicates not rain but divine reward and punishment, as in (בראשית יט:כד) וה׳ המטיר על סדם ועל עמרה גפרית ואש; מאת ה׳ מן השמים or (דברים יא:יא-יב) והארץ אשר אתם עברים שמה לרשתה ארץ הרים ובקעת; למטר השמים תשתה מים׃ ארץ אשר ה׳ אלקיך דרש אתה; תמיד עיני ה׳ אלקיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה. And the image of אש וגפרית ורוח זלעפות (translated by Rashi as a “burning wind”) echoes Moshe’s warning in נצבים:
And the righteous should not despair; in parallel to עיניו יחזו, the ישר (here a collective noun, hence the plural verb) יחזו פנימו and will see the victory over the wicked.
##To Err is Human
וילך דוד לדרכו is more than “David went on his way”; for the first time, David has a direction, a plan. It’s a simple, elegant plan that will keep him out of Saul’s clutches while still allowing him to protect Israel and maintain his leadership and future kingdom. And it will end in utter tragedy, with Saul dead, Jonathan dead, the Philistines again controlling the heartland of Israel and David’s own family taken hostage by Amalek. The details of the plan and how it turns out we will see. But now, this is the last time that David will have any contact with Saul. And he sings a song of regret, of what might have been and what must happen now:
Interesting כותבת. What is a שגיון, and who is כוש בן ימיני? On the second question, there is no mention anywhere else in תנ״ך of כוש בן ימיני, and some commentators simply say it was just an otherwise unknown adversary in David’s life:
But it sounds too similar to שאול בן קיש הימיני for it to be a coincidence, and most commentators follow the gemara in identifying כוש as שאול:
And this idiom of כושי as “distiguishable person” is seen throughout תנ״ך:
And it’s not a negative term at all. There’s an interesting anti-racist אבן עזרא:
And we will try to interpret this perek assuming that it is about the relationship between David and Saul.
Mistakes Were Made
So what is a שגיון? Simply, like all such terms in תהילים, it’s a musical instrument or direction:
But we’d like to find some meaning to the term. It’s used one other time in תנ״ך:
The תפלה לחבקוק really reads like a chapter of תהילים (it’s the only other place the word סלה is used, for instance). The book of חבקוק has three chapters: in the first חבקוק questions ה׳‘s mercy (צדיק ורע לו); in the second ה׳ answers him (basically an escatological theodicy). The third is חבקוק’s response which start שָׁמַעְתִּי שִׁמְעֲךָ יָרֵאתִי. It makes sense to interpret על שגינות as “on mistakes”, as חבקוק realizes how wrong he was to question.
רש״י reads our perek the same way, that this is David’s response to the mistakes he made in his relationship with Saul:
And the gemara goes even further:
The midrash on this perek blames David for effectively cursing Saul when he spoke of Saul’s death at the beginning of our perek in ספר שמואל:
The first six psukim fit this model, with David admitting that if he was wrong, he should be punished. This first part ends with סלה (hold that thought).
The rest of the perek is David asking ה׳ to defend him against the nations, and seems to have nothing to do with Saul (as Rashi says, אבל ענין המזמור אינו מוכיח על כך). But we could interpret this as David turning his attention away from Saul, toward those he recognizes as Israel’s true enemies. The Alshich quotes a midrash that I cannot find in my בראשית רבה:
This is an amazing midrash. It imagines a dispute between David and Avram. David wants a “pre-emptive strike” against the nations; if we have a prophecy that they will oppress the Jewish people, just wipe them out now. Prevent any problems, while they are still weak. It is a very different way of looking at the symbolism of the ברית בין הבתרים, with the sacrificed animals representing the nations of the world, and the עיט,the bird of prey, representing David. Avram saves them from David’s hands.
While I do not think we need to take this literally (David was some 850 years after the ברית בין הבתרים), I think it illustrates David’s mindset at this point. We know what David is about to do, after he leaves Saul and joins Achish. He will protect Israel by wiping out the tribes south and east of the land, even nations that had never battled בני ישראל. As I see it, when David writes this שגיון he is acknowledging that this too was an error.
And we know that David regretted his wars against the nations around Israel; he felt that was the reason that he could never build the בית המקדש. As Ibn Ezra says (in the context of the law forbidding the murder of non-Jewish slaves):
The Alshich continues to interpret David’s words: And if You will not allow me to destroy all the nations, at least judge me by their standards, not compared to Saul:
בוחן כליות ולב
בחן לבות וכליות is an interesting phrase, one that we say in the Yom Kippur davening. Rabbi Natan Slifkin has a long essay on whether the rabbis of the Talmud and the Rishonim took this idea literally, that the kidneys are part of the seat of “mind”, the way we think of the brain now. The Talmud seems to take this literally:
This brings up the question of how we deal with statements in the Talmud that are inconsistent with the way we understand the world to work; do we attribute infallibility to חז״ל, and say that modern scientists are wrong? Or should we take the words of חז״ל as metaphoric? Or accept that they worked with the best that contemporary science had to offer, but that human knowledge develops over time?
I won’t deal with that question, but point out that Rabbi Slifkin highlights a greater problem here: this is the תנ״ך speaking about the כליות as the seat of “counsel” (as is true in many places in תנ״ך). Can we say that David, writing ברוח הקודש, was wrong?
I don’t know what David knew about physiology, but I have to say that I am not terribly bothered by this question. Notice the difference in how we react viscerally to the two organs in our pasuk. We have no problem with speaking of ה׳ examining the heart, since we know exactly what it is to feel something in our hearts. It’s not really metaphoric; that’s part of what the word “heart” means in modern English. “Kidneys” sounds funny to us because that’s not how the word is used (though we use the word “gut” in a similar way). בחן כליות means ”examines motives“, not “tests renal function”, no matter what the author thought of how kidneys really worked.
כליות makes us uncomfortable because it’s clearly meant to mean something that is simply does not invoke in English. In תנ״ך it’s a dead metaphor, not a scientific statement.
אלקים שופט צדיק
The rest of the perek has two interpretations. אם לא ישוב refers to the רשע, but what does חרבו ילטוש mean? Rashi says it refers to ה׳, ”if the wicked does not repent, then G-d will sharpen His Sword“ and the next pasuk describes how He will prepare the רשע‘s punishment. Radak and Hirsch interpret it as referring to the רשע himself, “if the wicked does not repent and sharpens his sword [to attack the righteous]”. This seems to fit the rest of the perek better; why describe ה׳’s preparation (sharpening the sword, bending the bow) but not the actual punishment. If it refers to the רשע, then it makes sense: he tries to attack, יחבל און והרה עמל (Malbim translates יחבל as fertilization). He conceives (nice pun in English!) of evil, gestates his sin, but does not succeed: ילד שקר. What he births is a lie; he is caught by his own trap. Radak interprets this as a reference to Saul, who died by his own sword, though that seems inconsistent with the idea that this perek is about David’s mistakes.
I would read this as David’s determination about the future; from now on he will rely on ה׳'s justice, allowing the רשע to fall into his own trap as ה׳ acts behind the scenes, so David can say אודה ה׳ כצדקו.