We have now completed the story of David and Bat Sheva, but it never really goes away. We will look at all of the rest of ספר שמואל though the lens of Bat Sheva.
Even the beginning of this perek, ויהי אחרי כן, is a form of paralipsis: this is a new story, so don’t think about the old one.
And the text gives us a spoiler: this new story is not good.
Starting with ויהי אחרי כן is like a high school English teacher assigning an essay: our job is to “compare and contrast” the previous story, of David and Bat Sheva, with this one, Amnon and Tamar.
Who are Avshalom, Tamar and Amnon?
We know nothing about Amnon except that he is David’s בכור. His mother, אחינעם, was one of David’s two wives when he was a “bandit king” in מדבר יהודה (note the tense of לָקַח: David had married אחינעם before he married אביגיל).
And when he becomes king of יהודה, he has only those two wives:
So Amnon grows up with the expectation that he is the crown prince; he will become king after David. But when David moves to Jerusalem, Natan tells him that’s not what is going to happen:
But the Torah tells us Amnon doesn’t lose his status as the בכור:
He may have expected to become king, but that’s not automatic. The Torah only says that the king’s son should be the heir apparent; there may be an assumption that it will be the eldest, but it’s not required:
We don’t explicitly see the relationship between Amnon and David, but we do see how David felt about two of his other sons, אבשלום and אדניה. Even when they are actively rebelling against him, he refuses to discipline them:
And that is hinted at by Tamar when she is trying to get away from Amnon:
The Septuagint says explicitly that ולא עצבו אביו מימיו applied to Amnon as well:
So we have the picture of a prince, pampered but without responsibilities; David doesn’t expect him to be king.
And who is Tamar? She is Avshalom’s sister, not Amnon’s, even though they are half-brothers, and Amnon calls her אחתי:
So she is more of a sister to Avshalom. There are basically two possibilities:
She is a full sister to Avshalom (they have the same mother and father) but a half sister to Amnon (they have the same father, David, but not the same mother).
She is a half sister to Avshalom (they have the same mother, מעכה בת תלמי מלך גשור, but not the same father) but a step sister to Amnon (no blood relation at all, but she grows up in David’s household).
The problem is that she says, ועתה דבר נא אל המלך כי לא ימנעני ממך. Even if David loves Amnon so much that he will not refuse him anything, we are working with the assumption that the Torah forms the normative universe of our story. Incest is forbidden:
Abarbanel goes with option one. When Tamar says לא ימנעני ממך, she is simply lying to get away:
Tosafot goes with option two:
But חז״ל, followed by most מפרשים, say there is a third possibility: Avshalom and Tamar have the same mother and the same father, but they are not technically siblings (and so neither are Amnon and Tamar) because Tamar was born to a non-Jewish mother, while Avshalom was born after she became part of the Jewish people. This is the סוגיא of the אשת יפת תאר:
There’s a lot of halachic discussion and subtlety in the laws of אשת יפת תאר that I’m not going to go into; we dealt with some of them in the shiur titled The Mystery of Absalom’s Mother. But it does allow us to understand the sequence of laws in פרשת כי תצא:
So Amnon has a crush on his (half or adoptive) sister, but doesn’t do anything about it:
But then he gets some advice from his cousin and friend. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
It’s not clear what לבבות are, but they clearly are quick-cooking things you could make on a portable stove, so our modern latkes are a good translation:
There’s a hint here that the text wants us to think about Yosef as well as David and Bat Sheva. The word בר is unusual; used in later books of תנ״ך, but the only earlier use is throughout the story of Yosef:
And sending Tamar הביתה echoes the Yosef story:
Then we have the explicit story of the rape:
And we have another linguistic allusion to Yosef here:
But לא יעשה כן בישראל; אל תעשה את הנבלה הזאת is more reminiscent of the rape of Dinah:
Interestingly, חז״ל say that Tamar fought back violently:
Tamar’s response is to beg Amnon to take care of her; the social reality is that after she is violated, אני אנה אוליך את חרפתי—she will be shunned by society.
Tamar is wearing a כתנת פסים. The text is telling us that if we weren’t convinced by the subtle allusions to the Yosef story, it is going to hit us between the eyes with a 2 x 4. What is a כתנת פסים? We know the musical answer, an ”amazing technicolor dreamcoat“ but בראשית רבה (and the Septuagint) connect it to the Aramaic word פס, meaning “palm”:
(Heath Dewrell, cited above, connects פסים to the Akkadian passāmu,meaning “veil”, worn by married and marriageable women, but that doesn’t fit with Yosef.)
So it would be a garment worn by someone who did not engage in manual labor, and the Malbim says that it was delicate enough that it was an indoor garment only. Throwing Tamar out clad only in her כתנת פסים is even more humiliating.
The idea that the כתונת is an undergarment is hinted at in the Yosef story as well:
It’s impossible to ignore the allusions to Yosef. But what do we do with that? I think the parallel that is closest to this story, the one we are being led to keep in mind while we read about Tamar and Amnon, is the story of Yosef and Potiphar’s wife. Tamar is Yosef, the beautiful (the text calls this out for both of them), innocent victim who goes הביתה to the perpetrator who demands שכבי/ה עמי. But our story subverts the Yosef one. Yosef can run away and be saved; Tamar is violated. And I think that is the point of the parallel. What saves Yosef? The image of his father:
Even at the level of פשט, it is the lessons from בית יעקב that allow him to say (בראשית לט:ט) ואיך אעשה הרעה הגדלה הזאת וחטאתי לאלקים׃.
And it is the image of Tamar and Amnon’s father that dooms Tamar. The lesson that David’s children learn from his relationship with Bat Sheva is that kings can take whatever woman they want. Power is to be used to benefit the powerful. David can’t deny Tamar to Amnon as long as he is married to Bat Sheva.
The narrative then foreshadows the reaction of Tamar’s brother, Avshalom, that we will deal with later.
And to pull yet another parallel to Yosef:
But ספר שמואל isn’t about Amnon, Tamar or Avshalom. It’s about David. We need to look at this through David’s eyes. His response is ויחר לו מאד, which we’ve seen once before:
David is given two parables for him to understand what went wrong with him and Bat Sheva: the prophetic poor man’s sheep and the experiential Amnon and Tamar. If Tamar corresponds to Yosef, then David corresponds to Yaakov, who saw himself in everything that happened to his child:
And all of Yosef’s suffering was the gradual but inexorable result of his own actions:
The entire story of Amnon and Tamar is set up as a מידה כנגד מידה for David himself:
The message to David is: this is you, a warped, extreme version of you. Just like Amnon, you were דל [בן] המלך בבקר בבקר from love and it led to terrible things. But I would argue that David’s דלות was not the love of a woman but for the one thing David truly loves:
And we’ve talked many times about how that leads to חטא בת שבע. David is now given another look at what that meant. We don’t see his reaction to the story of Amnon and Tamar beyond the ויחר לו מאד, but from this point on, he becomes a much more passive character, reacting to events rather than creating them.
What was going on in Israel as a whole after Nathan comes to David? ספר שמואל doesn’t tell us; all we see is how his sons react. But the gemara discusses it:
The idea that נצטרע דוד, he was stricken with צרעת, I think is symbolic for his rejection:
There is no hint in ספר שמואל about a literal illness. I would understand this as symbolic, as the loss of public support that resulted from חטא בת שבע. We’ve looked at תהילים לח and תהילים לט already in the context of the consequences of the Bat Sheva affair. Now I want to look at another in this series that seems to touch on Amnon and Tamar.
The דל is the connection to our story:
מלטהו ה׳ is (intentionally, I think) ambiguous. Does it refer to the דל: ”Happy is one who learns from the sick who is saved…“; or to the משכיל: ”Happy is one who learns from the sick; such a person will be saved…“? Both are true, but the underlying meaning of the perek isn’t clear until פסוק ד; רש דוי must be talking about the illness.
David is switching between illness (ישמרהו ויחיהו) and physical danger (נפש איביו) because each is symbolic of the other: נצטרע דוד ופרשו הימנו סנהדרין go together. The volta here is in the middle of the pasuk, when David turns from a description (with ה׳ in third person) to prayer (with ה׳ in second person), and in the next pasuk, makes it about himself:
David’s complaint is not so much about the illness,but the lack of friends. Everyone has abandoned him and even those who appear to support him are really conspiring against him. We’ve talked about how that happened with אחיתפל, his closest advisor and חברותא.
דבר בליעל יצוק בו is an interjection in the midst of his complaints: “May their lawlessness be cast back at them; may they fall ill instead of me!” Again, he is mixing the image of illness with political intrigue.
So what has David learned, אשרי משכיל אל דל? That he can’t rely on people to help him when he is down, that he can only rely on ה׳; (ירמיהו יז:ז) בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּה׳ וְהָיָה יְהוָה מִבְטַחוֹ. It’s a good lesson, and it’s true, but if we are connecting this to the story of Amnon and Tamar, then it’s the wrong lesson. He can’t claim ואני בתמי תמכת בי:
At this point David may technically be the king, but without the support of the people, he may have power but no authority. All he sees is are the whisperings behind his back and the gathering conspiracies:
We could see David going down the same path as Saul, becoming more and more paranoid as his crimes multiply. But David will realize that the whispers are not unfounded, and he has not yet completed the תשובה that will allow him to return to his status as מלך ישראל.
We''ll end on a positive note. The perek ends with an extended “Amen”, as do all the books of תהילים. Rav Chaim of Volozhin sees in this one a hint to David’s one desire, to build the בית המקדש: