The text interrupts the dramatic tale of the dysfunctional relationship between the halves of the split kingdom to update us on David’s home life:
And it certainly provides a contrast with the upcoming story of how Ish Boshet’s kingdom falls apart. But it foreshadows a far darker future for David’s kingdom. Each of these sons has a story:
We know the story of Amnon and his rape of his half-sister Tamar:
He was the crown prince in Hebron and ends up murdered by anonymous assassins.
We’ve briefly looked at Kilav in the story of Avigail. דברי הימים has a slightly different version of David’s sons:
Why the name change?
And he was a good boy:
And what’s more striking is that he is never involved in the battle for succession. Rav Medan hypothesizes that this very perfection disqualified him from being king:
So the line of Avigail fades from history. David’s marriage to Avigail was, as we discussed, different; it was a manifestation of her נבואה about the future Bat Sheva and the danger and opportunity for David, Avigail was never going to be Queen Mother herself.
Avshalom was of course the son that David thought was perfect. That didn’t work out so well:
Adoniah wasn’t quite as bad as Avshalom. He never rebelled against his father, but assumed that he was the heir apparent:
And rebelled against Solomon when that didn’t work out:
Shefatiah never appears in תנ״ך, but is mentioned in the gemara:
This is important because it establishes the legitimacy of רבי יהודה הנשיא:
The line of actually begins with הלל and continues until the close of the תלמוד ירושלמי:
חז״ל wanted to make the point that the leaders of the Jewish community, even with the loss of autonomy to the Romans, was in the hands of the descendents of David. The Hasmonean kings were kohanim, and should never have taken the kingship after the revolt of חנוכה. That dynasty started out well but soon fell victim to Hellenization and eventually invited the Romans to take over.
Who is עגלה אשת דוד, and why is the only one called that? We have to back to the mishna:
Where does 18 come from? There’s only one mention of 18 wives in תנ״ך, and רחבעם isn’t exactly a positive role model:
חז״ל connect the number to David himself and נתן's rebuke:
But יתרעם can’t be מיכל's son:
The Rashash puts this interpretation back in to the פשט of the text:
מעכה בת תלמי מלך גשור
Back to Avshalom and his mother, מעכה בת תלמי מלך גשור. Why would David marry the daughter of the king of Geshur? We might assume that it was for diplomatic purposes: a way to ally himself to a neighboring country (Geshur is in the modern Golan). But that does not fit the rest of the story, which takes us back to Amnon and Tamar:
Leaving aside the important details of this story (which we will have to return to), how can Tamar say לא ימנעני ממך?
חז״ל answer that halachically, Tamar was not David’s daughter and so was not forbidden to Amnon:
I had thought that this aggadic explanation (that Tamar was בת יפת תואר) was rather far-fetched, but if we look closer we realize that David was not, in fact, at peace with Geshur:
And later when Avshalom runs away after the murder of Amnon, it is clear that Geshur does not have an extradition treaty with Israel:
So now the idea that David married בת תלמי מלך גשור to cement a political alliance is much less likely. That she was a prisoner of war seems more probable, and so she may well have been an אשת יפת תאר.
This was not an uncommon thing in David’s time:
It’s important to note that this is a fundamentally immoral law. It’s not allowing the war-time rape; it is saying that when that happens, the rapist cannot abandon the woman. As the Rambam says, “לא יבעול אותה, וילך לו”:
And חז״ל connect this law with the ones following, especially the בן סורר ומורה:
And Avshalom’s subsequent downfall is connected to David’s mistake in taking a יפת תואר in the first place:
Rabbi Marc Shapiro has an interesting comment on the meaning of “immoral laws” like this, and how we are to look at the Torah’s attitude:
All in the Family
So this little paragraph introduces us to David’s future: the family and the conflicts that will destroy it. And so much starts from כנגד יצר הרע that is his ultimate weakness.