After David hears the lecture of the אשה חכמה, he turns to Yoav to have Avshalom returned, but it’s not clear just how much David has forgiven Avshalom:
And when they return to Jerusalem, David still rejects Avshalom:
Avshalom assumed that when he returned, he would again be the crown prince, beloved by all the people. His father was weak, and could not be a true leader to the people. That was the role that Avshalom expected to fill.
And then the text tells us how wonderful Avshalom was, at least on the outside:
It’s particularly personal for David, because he was chosen as king despite not looking the part:
And the expression יפה בכל ישראל להלל מאד tells us that everyone was impressed by his beauty:
That had to do wonders for his ego, when everyone who saw him breaks out into תהילים. This makes Avshalom look a little better. He doesn’t feel that he deserves to be king because he is beautiful; he deserves to be king because he, by his very existence in the world, brings greater glory to G-d. (Maybe only a little better.) And he saw himself, like his father, as an עבד ה׳:
חז״ל saw the comment about his long hair as a hint to that נדר:
And during all this time, he has a daughter, named after his violated sister, who constantly reminds him of her (and of his father’s inadequacy). He has returned to Jerusalem only 5 years after the rape of Tamar, and I assume that his daughter Tamar is older than that (to be called an אשה יפת מראה), so she must have been named well before the rape. But now it constantly eats at him:
And for two years, all Israel loves him, and his father won’t talk to him. We mentioned last time that Avshalom’s intention was not to rebel against his father, but to be named crown prince and assume the authority of מלכות while his father, who is already exhibiting signs of weakness, retires to his plans for the בית המקדש. But when he comes back to Jerusalem, he’s not punished, but he isn’t allowed back in the palace. He can’t even get anyone to return his calls. So he takes matters into his own hands.
This calls to mind another Nazirite antihero:
Yoav is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He really does want Avshalom restored to a position of authority, but can’t go against an explicit command of the king. But he can’t ignore Avshalom’s provocation, either.
Avshalom’s response is a veiled threat: if he doesn’t get to go back to the palace, he will defect to his grandfather, the king of Geshur. And it seems as though they are reconciled. But it’s not so simple. וישק המלך לאבשלום isn’t a sign of love.
לנשק as a transitive verb, with an object (וישקהו or וישקו איש את רעהו) is an intimate kiss. וישק ל־ is as formal as a French faire la bise.
And the contrast with another story of father and son reconciliation is striking:
There is a perek of תהילים that deals directly with the nature of the sharpness of children:
We’ve looked at this perek before:
But what I want to look at is the nature of this metaphor. תהילים uses a lot a military metaphors, which makes sense, since David was a military man. He is using images that have meaning to him. But that sometimes creates a problem. Do we take the words of תהילים literally? Is David praising military valor and violence?
The פשט is the meaning of the text. For a metaphor, this is not the same as the literal meaning of the words; when יעקב blesses נפתלי (בראשית ט:כא) as an אילה שלחה, he clearly did not mean that he had hooves and antlers. רש״י interprets it as זו בקעת גינוסר שהיא קלה לבשל פירותיה כאילה זו שהיא קלה לרוץ. That is the פשט.
Similarly, in our Gemara, I not would read this as an agreement on the underlying principle, אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו. The argument is determining פשוטו. Is the psalm literally praising the warrior (as רד״ק reads it, מלך המשיך) or is it a metaphor for the sharpness of the Torah scholar? About the משמעות there is no question; the verse says חרבך, your sword. And this question applies to the perek I want to look at in detail, תהילים קמד:
That’s the כותרת, the title. “Thank you Hashem for making me a warrior”. The מפרשים interpret this literally, not as a metaphor:
And I imagine David spoke that way. From his children’s point of view, what David thinks is important is המלמד ידי לקרב. So obviously Avshalom would be a better king than the young Shlomo. But the rest of the perek implies that המלמד ידי לקרב is meant to be figurative.
There is a precedent for this:
The Targum Jonathan takes it literally, while Onkelos takes it metaphorically (which is a reverse from their usual translations):
And the Targum Yerushalmi explicitly rejects the literal meaning:
Rashi goes both ways:
The remainder of the perek says nothing about David’s own skill (even as a divine gift); it is a lesson in humility, attributing everything to הקב״ה:
This doesn’t go with thanking ה׳ for teaching him to fight; this is thanking ה׳ for allowing him to stay safely inside. And the perek goes on to the psukim we use for יזקור:
We are all going to die; ה׳ please save us!
The volta tells us the lesson of the perek. Once ה׳ has saved me, I can sing a new tune:
David is saying “release me, and I will sing a new song”. What is that new song? הנותן תשועה למלכים; הפוצה את דוד עבדו מחרב רעה (note the change to third person; this pasuk is a quote). The root פצה everywhere else in תנ״ך means “open”, specifically opening the mouth:
Even the figurative use is a metaphor for opening the mouth:
This is the only perek in תנ״ך where it means, in context, “release, as a captive”:
So I would take this as an allusion to the other use of פצה: release me and open my mouth (so I can sing my שיר חדש).
And what does David want to be released from? חרב רעה. Whose sword is evil? David’s. He not asking to be rescued from the sword of his enemies; he is asking to be able to put down his own sword.
And the reason it is a שיר חדש is because now the metaphors can change. David is going to talk about raising children, ensuring a legacy. He will talk about the fact that we don’t determine our children’s behavior; we educate them but they go in their own way. But now the metaphor is not כחצים ביד גבור כן בני הנעורים but planting and building:
Rav Wolbe famously used those metaphors:
And the images of success, of ה׳'s ברכה, are not of fortresses and towers (מצודתי משגבי ומפלטי לי) but of economic plenty and social stability:
And that is what David truly wants. המלמד ידי לקרב is an ironic metaphor for חָכְמָתוֹ וּתְפִלָּתוֹ, and only when his mind is no longer focused on war will he achieve his goal:
Because that is what is necessary to build the בית המקדש:
And that is exactly what Avshalom failed to understand.