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.

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