Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Presumptions about Prophets

The following are just a few points on my method of teaching Navi (my focus is mainly on Neviim Rishonim). As you will see this method is closely connected to what I believe to be the purpose of Navi. These are my thoughts in the raw. Hopefully, they will encourage a good discussion.

1) Navi is fundamentally about failure. Specifically, B'nei Yisrael and its leaders' failure to fully implement the mitzvot of the Torah. The 'sins of our fathers' will forever be revisited upon us if we do not subject their deeds to scrutiny - and this, of course, is of no use if this does not spur us on to scrutinizing our own deeds. To this end, when learning Navi it is critical to clearly formulate the mitzvah with which the Navi is concerned (be it used in the general sense of all mitzvot or a particular mitzvah or class of mitzvot)

2) 'Maaseh avot siman labanim' - 'the deeds of the Fathers are signs for the sons' - many (or perhaps all) of the struggles that B'nei Yisrael go through in trying to establish their nation can already be seen in the lives of the Patriarchs. This is because the Patriarchs were dealing with fundamentally the same issue: how to strike a balance between the development of one's own soul and one's duty to family and nation. The struggle of Yaakov/Yisrael is the the struggle of all of his children. This means it is critical to compare, contrast and connect the two to uncover the message of the Navi.

3) The Navi's focus is mainly on the challenges of malkhut - kingship. This means that in order to learn the message of the Navi we must also learn how to relate to the king and his struggles. The kings struggles are, to a certain degree, like our own just amplified. However, there are unique challenges the king faces which we must come to know through the medium of the narrative.

4) Each book of the Navi is just that: a book. How we understand each part must be informed by the whole. Could one attend a class or lecture on a particular chapter of 1984 without having read the entire book and expect to gain very much? Why would one think Navi is any less worthy of such expectations? Even as one seeks to give order and reason to the apparent vagaries of this or that story one must not forget that one is reading a book. Often the puzzle is solved by remembering this.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ralbag's Preliminary Remarks on Sefer B'reishit

The following is a translation of the first two paragraphs of the Ralbag's preliminary remarks on Sefer B'reishit. Clearly this is fundamental to understanding B'reishit in general and the Ralbag's commentary in specific. Please feel free to ask for clarifications in the comments section.

Levi the son of Gershom says:

It is clearly evident to anyone who has seen the opinions of the people who lived at the time of Moshe our Master, peace be upon him, that in his days philosophy was greatly lacking. The majority of people did not admit to there being any other existence other than that which is sensed. And they had no sense of the formal cause whatsoever. Instead they thought that only a single 'matter' existed in actuality in every thing that exists. Some were of the view that what distinguishes one existence from another is only the condition of the parts of their 'matter' and in their appearance and the increase or decrease in the quantity of those parts. Some saw other reasons for change based on their individual perspectives. What the majority of people had in common at that time was that they did not see that there is an 'agent -cause'. Rather, they said that things exist spontaneously, without any 'agent-cause'. This is clear from what the Philosopher (Aristotle) cites of the opinions of the ancients in the second book of the Metaphysics.

Being that this was the case, and the intention of the Torah is to bring those who follow it to true perfection, as we mentioned, it is fitting that it should first establish for us as a foundation the true principle that there is an Agent-cause of all existing things and set us on the existence of the formal cause because without this principle there can be no gain whatsoever in the perfection of the soul. This is clear to anyone who has investigated the science of the existing things.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

David Withdraws

(שמואל ב, יא)
א וַיְהִי לִתְשׁוּבַת הַשָּׁנָה לְעֵת צֵאת הַמְּלָאכִים, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד אֶת-יוֹאָב וְאֶת-עֲבָדָיו עִמּוֹ וְאֶת-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּשְׁחִתוּ אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן, וַיָּצֻרוּ, עַל-רַבָּה; וְדָוִד, יוֹשֵׁב בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. ס

ב וַיְהִי לְעֵת הָעֶרֶב, וַיָּקָם דָּוִד מֵעַל מִשְׁכָּבוֹ וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ עַל-גַּג בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ

(Shmuel II, 11)
1. And it was, at the return of the year, at the time of the going out of kings [to battle], and David sent Yoav and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed in Jerusalem.

2. And it came to pass, at the time of evening, that David arose from his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house...

David remains home - at the time the kings sally-forth David withdraws. What has happened? What precipitates this sudden shift in David? The great warrior stays home as his troops lay siege to Rabba-of-the-Children-of-Ammon?

David awakes from his bed - what is bothering him? What stirs him from his sleep?

What makes this war different? Let us see how the war with the children of Ammon began.

(פרק י)
א וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן, וַיָּמָת, מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן; וַיִּמְלֹךְ חָנוּן בְּנוֹ, תַּחְתָּיו. ב וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶעֱשֶׂה-חֶסֶד עִם-חָנוּן בֶּן-נָחָשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אָבִיו עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד לְנַחֲמוֹ בְּיַד-עֲבָדָיו, אֶל-אָבִיו; וַיָּבֹאוּ עַבְדֵי דָוִד, אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן. ג וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׂרֵי בְנֵי-עַמּוֹן אֶל-חָנוּן אֲדֹנֵיהֶם, הַמְכַבֵּד דָּוִד אֶת-אָבִיךָ בְּעֵינֶיךָ--כִּי-שָׁלַח לְךָ, מְנַחֲמִים; הֲלוֹא בַּעֲבוּר חֲקֹר אֶת-הָעִיר, וּלְרַגְּלָהּ וּלְהָפְכָהּ, שָׁלַח דָּוִד אֶת-עֲבָדָיו, אֵלֶיךָ. ד וַיִּקַּח חָנוּן אֶת-עַבְדֵי דָוִד, וַיְגַלַּח אֶת-חֲצִי זְקָנָם, וַיִּכְרֹת אֶת-מַדְוֵיהֶם בַּחֵצִי, עַד שְׁתוֹתֵיהֶם; וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם. ה וַיַּגִּדוּ לְדָוִד וַיִּשְׁלַח לִקְרָאתָם, כִּי-הָיוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים נִכְלָמִים מְאֹד; וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁבוּ בִירֵחוֹ, עַד-יְצַמַּח זְקַנְכֶם וְשַׁבְתֶּם. ו וַיִּרְאוּ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן, כִּי נִבְאֲשׁוּ בְּדָוִד; וַיִּשְׁלְחוּ בְנֵי-עַמּוֹן וַיִּשְׂכְּרוּ אֶת-אֲרַם בֵּית-רְחוֹב וְאֶת-אֲרַם צוֹבָא, עֶשְׂרִים אֶלֶף רַגְלִי, וְאֶת-מֶלֶךְ מַעֲכָה אֶלֶף אִישׁ, וְאִישׁ טוֹב שְׁנֵים-עָשָׂר אֶלֶף אִישׁ. ז וַיִּשְׁמַע, דָּוִד; וַיִּשְׁלַח, אֶת-יוֹאָב, וְאֵת כָּל-הַצָּבָא, הַגִּבֹּרִים.
(Chapter 10)
1. And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. 2. And David said: "I shall show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, just as his father showed me kindness. And David sent to comfort him through his servants, for his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon. 3. And the princes of the children of Ammon said to Hanun their lord: "Do you think that David honors your father that he sent you comforters? Is it not in order to investigate the city and to spy it out, and to search it that David has sent his servants to you?" 4. And Hanun took David's servants and he shaved off a half of their beards, and he cut off their garments in half up to their buttocks, and he sent them away. 5. And they told it to David; and he sent to meet them; for the men were very much ashamed. And the king said: 'Remain seated in Jericho until your beards grow, and then you shall return.' 6. And the children of Ammon saw that they had become odious to David; and the children of Ammon sent and hired [of] the Arameans of Beth-rehob, and the Arameans of Zobah, twenty thousand footsoldiers, and [of] the king of Maacah, a thousand men, and [of] Ish-tov, twelve thousand men. 7. And David heard [of it], and he sent Joab, and the entire host of the mighty warriors.

David wished to do chesed with Chanun the son of Nachash just as his father had done kindness with him - no where in Tanakh does it record what chesed Nachash did for David. We can only surmise that when David was on the run from Shaul he found refuge for either himself or his family with Nachash. However, this is troubling. Nachash is one of the greatest enemies of Israel (read Shmuel I, 11)! In fact, it was Shaul's triumphant defeat of Nachash's army that consolidated his reign over Israel. Any help he gave David can only be viewed as an implementation of the principle: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Additionally, there is a deep irony in describing Nachash - in the first mention of him since the aftermath of his defeat in Shmuel I - as doing chesed? Isn't he the one that said to the inhabitants of Yavesh-Gilad, "On this (condition) will I make a treaty with you, by gouging out the right eye of every one of you, and I shall make it a reproach against all Israel. " (Shmuel I, 11:2)? What is David doing? The folly of David's international dealings quickly becomes apparent as Chanun responds with anything but gratitude and provokes (or, is convinced he has provoked and then actually provokes) a full-scale war.

Additionally, it must be considered whether David transgressed a prohibition from the Torah through his actions. We have already quoted the Radak in the previous post who cites the chazal that David had transgressed the prohibition of "לֹא-תִדְרֹשׁ שְׁלֹמָם, וְטֹבָתָם - Do not seek their welfare (peace) or their good" (D'varim 23:7). In the 6th chapter of Hilkhot M'lakhim uMilchamot the Rambam discusses this prohibition in the context of Israel's obligation to seek peace before going to war with its enemies. The exception (based on this verse) is Ammon and Moav with whom it is forbidden to seek peace. If we are to maintain the Rambam's explanation of this prohibition we must say that Chazal viewed David's chesed as an overture of peace[1].

Another framework for understanding David's misstep is the prohibition of "לֹא תְחָנֵּם - Do not be gracious to them (idolaters)" (D'varim 7:2). In the 10th chapter of Hilkhot Avoda Zara, the Rambam discusses this prohibitions. The following halakha is highly instructive for our investigation:

וְכֵן אָסוּר לְסַפַּר בִּשְׁבָחָן, וְאַפִלּוּ לוֹמַר כַּמָּה נָאֶה גּוֹי זֶה בְּצוּרָתוֹ; קַל וְחֹמֶר שֶׁיְּסַפַּר בִּשְׁבָח מַעֲשָׂיו, אוֹ שֶׁיְּחַבַּב דָּבָר מִדִּבְרֵיהֶם: שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם" (דברים ז,ב)--לֹא יִהְיֶה לָהֶם חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁגּוֹרֵם לְהִדָּבֵק עִמּוֹ וְלִלְמֹד מִמַּעֲשָׂיו הָרָעִים.
And similarly it is forbidden to relate their (idolaters') praises, even to say, "How beautiful is this gentile in his appearance!". All the more so to relate the praise of his deeds, or to hold precious any thing they say, as it says, "Do not be gracious to them", they should hold no grace in your eyes, because this causes one to cleave to him and to learn from his evil deeds.

Did Ammon hold some grace in David's eyes? Why would this be? Why now? The first verse of chapter 10: " וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן - And it came to pass after this...", suggests we must look back one more chapter to the story of David's chesed with Mephiboshet the son of Yehonatan the son of Shaul for an answer. However, an analysis of that story must wait until the next post.
[1] The Rambam writes, "וְאַף עַל פִּי שְׁאֵין שׁוֹאֲלִים בִּשְׁלוֹמָם, אִם הִשְׁלִימוּ מֵעַצְמָם תְּחִלָּה, מְקַבְּלִין אוֹתָן. - And even though we do not ask/seek peace with them, if they initiate peace of their own accord, we accept them." - perhaps David thought that Nachash's chesed was the initiation he required.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

David's Mistakes?

The following are a number of source that I touch upon in the two shiurim that I have given so far on this topic. They can be hear here:

Source #1
The Ralbag points to David's chesed with Mephiboshet (chapter 9) and Hanun (chapter 10) as examples of the mishpat and tz'daka that he administered to his people:

רלב"ג שמואל ב, מן התועליות אחר פרק כא
השלשים ותשעה הוא להודיע יושר דוד שכבר היה עושה משפט וצדקה לכל עמו לא היה מעלים עינו מאחד מהם כי זאת התכונה ראוי שתהיה למלך הגון וראוי לזאת הסבה זכר גם כן שכבר חרד דוד אם נותר איש לבית שאול ויעשה לו חסד ה' בעבור יהונתן ולזה גם כן ספר שגם לחנון בן נחש השתדל דוד לעשות חסד להשיב לו גמול תחת החסד שגמל לו אביו:
Ralbag, Shmuel II, from the "Lessons" found after chapter 21
The thirty-ninth (lesson) is to make known David's righteousness, that he "administered justice (mishpat) and charity (tz'daka) for all his people". He did not lift his eye from a single individual as this is the character befitting a proper king. For this reason it was proper to also mention that David worried himself over whether anyone was left from the house of Saul so that the chesed of God could be done for him for the sake of Jonathan. This is also why it tells that David also sought to do chesed with Hanun the son of Nahash in order to repay the chesed his father did for him.
Source #2
In the following source the Ralbag, interestingly, identifies the source of the problems David begins to face later with Avshalom, Amnon and Adoniyahu as the fact that he gave them positions of authority during his life time. I find this surprising because nearly all of those events are the result (either as natural consequence or as Divine punishment) of his sin with BatSheva as the Ralbag himself explains in his 43rd toelet.
המ' הוא להודיע שאין ראוי לאדם שיתן ממשלה לבניו בחייו הלא תראה מה שקרה לדוד מהרע מפני מה שעשה בניו שרים כי לולי זה לא היה חוטא אמנון עם אחותו ולא מרד אבשלום בו ולא קרה לאדניהו מה שקרה וזה מבואר מאד:
The fortieth (lesson) is to make known that it is not fitting for a person to give positions of authority to his sons during his life. Is it not evident that the evil that befell David was because he placed his sons in positions of authority? If it were not for this Amnon would not have sinned with his sister, Avshalom would not have rebelled, and what happened to Adoniyahu would not have happened. This is all very clear.

Source #3
In the following source it is, once again, interesting that the Ralbag does not identify any wrong doing in David seeking to do chesed with the son of one of the greatest enemies of Israel.
המ"א הוא להודיע איך עמקו מחשבות הש"י ששם עשות דוד חסד לחנון בן נחש כלי להשחי' בני עמון ועזריהם כי זה היה סבה אל שילקח חנון עבדי דוד וביישם ובזם בתכלית מה שאפשר והם בעצמם היו סבה להדיח על עצמם הרעה לחשבם כי נבאשו בדוד:
The forty-first is to make known the depth of God's "thoughts". He devised that the chesed David did for Hanun the son of Nahash would become an instrument to destroy the Children of Amon and their allies. It became the very cause of Hanun taking David's servants and embarrassing and shaming them to the most extreme degree. They themselves became the cause of the evil that befell them - for they thought "they had become odious to David" (Sh'muel II, 10:6).

Source #4
The Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) cites two midrashim that point to the folly of David's choice to do chesed with Hanun.

רד"ק שמואל ב פרק י, פסוק ב
כאשר עשה אביו עמדי חסד - אמרו כי כשהיה בורח דוד ובאו אליו אביו ואמו ואחיו ואמר וינחם את פני מלך מואב הרגם מלך מואב אחר שהיו עמו חוץ מאח' מהם שברח לארץ בני עמון והחיהו נחש מלך בני עמון, ובדרש עוד לא תדרוש שלומם וטובתם אתה מוצא במי שבא אליהם במדת רחמים סוף בא לידי בזיון ואיזה זה שנאמ' אעשה חסד עם חנון וגו' סוף בא לידי בזיון ויקח חנון את עבדי דודי וגו' ונצטרך להלחם עם ארבע אומות בני עמון וארם צובא ואיש טוב ומלך מעכה מי גרם לו לדוד כל זה שבקש לעשות טובה עם מי שאמר הקב"ה לא תדרוש שלומם וטובתם אמר לו הקב"ה לדוד אתה עובר על תורתי אני כתבתי לא תדרוש שלומם וטובתם ואתה עושה עמהם חסד אל תהי צדיק הרבה מכאן שלא יהא אדם מוותר על התורה:
Commentary of Rabbi David Kimchi, Sh'muel II, 10:2
just as his father showed me kindness they said (B'midbar Rabba 14, 1), that when David ran away and his father, mother and brothers came to him, and it says (Sh'muel I, 22:4), "And he brought them before the king of Moab". The king of Moab killed them once they were with him except for one of them that escaped to the land of the Children of Amon, and Nahash the king of the Children of Amon kept him alive.

In another d'rash (Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 3) "Do not seek their welfare or their good." (D'varim 23:7), you find that one who comes to them in kindness will ultimately be disgraced. What is the actual case? As it says (Sh'muel II, 10:2), "I shall do chesed to Hanun..." and ultimately he came to disgrace: "And Hanun took the servants of David..." (v. 4) causing him to have to go to war with four nations, the Children of Amon, Aram Tzovah, Ish Tov and King Ma'akha. What caused all of this to befall David? He sought to do good with one whom the Holy One, blessed is He said, "Do not seek their welfare or their good." The Holy One, blessed is He said to David, "You go beyond my Torah! I wrote, "Do not seek their welfare or their good", and you do chesed with them! "Do not be overly righteous." (Koheleth 7:16), from here we learn that one should not put aside the Torah.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

David's Chesed

At the end of the eighth chapter of Shmuel II, David seems to have reached the peek of his reign:

טו וַיִּמְלֹךְ דָּוִד, עַל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיְהִי דָוִד, עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה--לְכָל-עַמּוֹ. טז וְיוֹאָב בֶּן-צְרוּיָה, עַל-הַצָּבָא; וִיהוֹשָׁפָט בֶּן-אֲחִילוּד, מַזְכִּיר. יז וְצָדוֹק בֶּן-אֲחִיטוּב וַאֲחִימֶלֶךְ בֶּן-אֶבְיָתָר, כֹּהֲנִים; וּשְׂרָיָה, סוֹפֵר. יח וּבְנָיָהוּ, בֶּן-יְהוֹיָדָע, וְהַכְּרֵתִי, וְהַפְּלֵתִי; וּבְנֵי דָוִד, כֹּהֲנִים הָיוּ.
15. And David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and charity for all his people. 16. And Joab the son of Zeruyah was over the host; and Yehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder. 17. And Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Ebiathar were [the] priests; and Seraiah was scribe. 18. And Benayahu the son of Yehoyada [was over] the archers and the slingers; and David's sons were chief officers.

At the beginning of each of the next two chapters David is described as seeking to do chesed with two individuals:

The beginning of chapter 9:

א וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד--הֲכִי יֶשׁ-עוֹד, אֲשֶׁר נוֹתַר לְבֵית שָׁאוּל; וְאֶעֱשֶׂה עִמּוֹ חֶסֶד, בַּעֲבוּר יְהוֹנָתָן.
1. And David said: "Is there yet anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may do chesed to him for the sake of Jonathan?"

The beginning of chapter 10:

א וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן, וַיָּמָת, מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן; וַיִּמְלֹךְ חָנוּן בְּנוֹ, תַּחְתָּיו. ב וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶעֱשֶׂה-חֶסֶד עִם-חָנוּן בֶּן-נָחָשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אָבִיו עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד לְנַחֲמוֹ בְּיַד-עֲבָדָיו, אֶל-אָבִיו; וַיָּבֹאוּ עַבְדֵי דָוִד, אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן.
1. And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. 2. And David said: "I shall do chesed to Hanun the son of Nahash, just as his father showed me kindness. And David sent to comfort him through his servants, for his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.

Now consider this quote from the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishna:

רמב"ם, פירוש המשניות, פרקי אבות ה, ו
וחסיד, הוא האיש החכם כאשר יוסיף במעלה, רצוני לומר: במעלות המידות, עד שייטה אל הקצה האחד מעט, כמו שבארנו בפרק הרביעי, ויהיה מעשהו רב מחכמתו, ולזה נקרא חסיד, להוספתו, לפי שההפלגה בדבר תיקרא חסד, בין שהיתה אותה ההפלגה בטוב או ברע.
Rambam, Commentary on the Mishna, Pirkei Avot 5, 6
A chasid is a chakham (wise individual) who has increased in virtue - meaning to say: ethical virtues - such that he leans to some degree to one side, as we explained in the Fourth Chapter (of the eight introductory chapters to Pirkei Avot). His actions go beyond his wisdom and so he is called a chasid due to an excess - any kind of profusion being called chesed whether this profusion is for good or bad.

Was David's chesed an excess for good or was it an excess for bad? Consider this question while re-reading the rest of chapters 9 and 10.