BS”D KNOW YOUR BIBLE: I Chronicles 11-12
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
I CHRONICLES CHAPTER 11
“And all Israel gathered themselves to Israel to David…” (v 1). With the setting of the star of King Saul, the star of David now shone forth in all its radiance. The present chapter and the next tell of his following of mighty warriors and how all Israel came together in unity and submitted themselves to his leadership. The people said to him, “…You shall be shepherd over God’s people” (v 2). But according to the Midrash, David replied: “How can I be shepherd? It doesn’t depend upon me, for ‘God is my shepherd…’ (Psalm 23:1) and only then ‘…I shall not want’ (ibid.) i.e. I shall not be wanting in what you need!” (see Rashi on v 2).
V 3: “And David struck a covenant with them in Hebron before HaShem”: as explained by Rashi (ad loc.), this was a three-way covenant in which the people undertook to be God’s servants and also to be servants of the king in accordance with the law of the kingship, while King David undertook to treat his servants in accordance with the law and to fight their wars (see Rashi on v 3). David was not an overbearing autocrat: his monarchy was CONSTITUTIONAL!
V 4ff: “And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem…” The purpose of this passage is not so much to relate the story of the conquest of Jerusalem from the Jebusites as to highlight the role of Yo’av ben Tzeruyah, who thereby became David’s commander-in-chief. This introduces the account of all the other mighty warriors of David in vv 10-47.
The inner essence of David, archetype of the messianic king and redeemer, is deeply hidden, but we can learn more about it through knowing about his followers. In the words of Rabbi Nachman, “It is impossible to understand the Tzaddik himself since his intrinsic essence is beyond our grasp. Only through the followers of the Tzaddik is it possible to understand the Tzaddik’s greatness… This is similar to a seal. The writing on the seal is unreadable because the letters are back to front. Only when one takes the seal and stamps it on wax can one understand the letters and designs inscribed on the seal, and one then sees what is written on the seal. Similarly, through the Tzaddik’s followers one can come to understand something of the Tzaddik himself” (Likutey Moharan I, 140).
“And these are the chiefs of the mighty men…” (v 10). The account of David’s leading captains and warriors in the remainder of the present chapter parallels the account in II Samuel 23:8-39 with certain variations in the names and details.
According to the surface meaning of our text, after Yo’av, his commander-in-chief, David had an inner “panel” of three chiefs (vv 11-14): these were (1) YASHAV-AM BEN HACHMONI (v 11); (2) EL’AZAR BEN DODO (v 12) and (3) SHAMAH BEN AGEI who is not mentioned here in Chronicles but is mentioned in the parallel account in II Samuel 23:11. These three chiefs were considered the most outstanding warriors of all.
After them came another three captains, whose names are not given at all in our texts but who distinguished themselves in the self-sacrifice which they displayed in bringing David water from Philistine-dominated Bethlehem (vv 15-19). After them, certain others are mentioned who came very close to their level yet were still not considered as members of “the three”: these were Avishai brother of Yo’av (I Chron. 11 vv 20-21) and Benayah ben Yehoyada (vv 22-25). The account then continues with the names of David’s other mighty warriors (vv 26-47).
The fact that David’s chief warriors were arranged in trios indicates that they represented a perfect balance of the three Sefirotic columns of Chessed-Kindness, Gevurah-Might and Tiferet-Harmony (cf. Likutey Moharan I, 60:4). This entire chapter and the next – which speak of the unified support that the messianic king had from all Israel – deal with OLAM HATIKKUN, the World of Repair.
The passages in our text that deal with David’s most outstanding warriors are highly allusive spawning many midrashim. Thus Targum on v 11, which ostensibly speaks about “YASHAV-AM”, renders the verse as follows: “And these are the numbers of the mighty warriors that were with the mighty David, head of the camp sitting upon the throne of law with all the prophets and sages surrounding him, anointed with the holy anointing oil. When he would go out to battle he was helped from above, and when he sat to teach Torah the halachah came out according to his opinion. Choice, distinguished, beautiful in appearance and noble in bearing, he was proficient in wisdom and understanding in giving counsel, mighty in strength, the head of the assembly, sweet in voice and multiplying songs, and a leader over all the mighty warriors. He was bedecked in armor and took his spear, on which was hung the sign of the ranks of the camp of Judah, and he went out in accordance with the voice of the holy spirit and conquered in battle, carrying three hundred dead on his spear at one time.”
The exploits of EL’AZAR BEN DODO (vv 12-14) and “the three” (vv 15-19) were courageous acts of defiance against the Philistines, who were flushed with their victory over Saul and were making life miserable for the Israelites. According to Rashi (on v 13) the Philistines were intending to burn the Israelites’ barley, while in v 16 we learn that they had their own garrison in Bethlehem and were evidently putting severe restrictions on the free movement of the Judean population. The fact that Israel was under the shadow of the Philistines at the beginning of the messianic era marked by King David’s reign may be of comfort to us today since the shadow cast over our lives by those who continue to bear their name surely signifies that we too are on the very threshold of Mashiach.
Rashi explains that David’s sudden craving to taste the waters of Bethlehem (v 17) was very natural since he had grown up in the place and “the water and air that a person is used to are good for him, while if he is not used to them, they can be harmful”. [David craved a taste of the vitalizing waters of Torah he knew from his youth.] The reason why David did not want to drink the water when they brought it to him was that they had risked their very lives to fetch it and he looked on the water as if it was their blood (Metzudas David). Instead he poured it out on the Altar as a libation. (Rashi on v 18 brings the view in Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 2:5 that it was the festival of Succoth, when a libation of water is daily poured on the Altar.) In this way David put himself and his personal desires aside, elevating the heroic instincts of his warriors as an offering to God.
The description of the exploits of Benayah ben Yehoyada is also highly allusive. Targum (on v 22) states inter alia that one time he accidentally stepped on a dead lizard, thereby becoming ritually defiled, and despite the fact that it was the coldest snowy day, he broke the ice and immersed in the mikveh and proceeded to recite the entire halachic Midrash Sifra D’vey Rav on Leviticus in the course of one short winter’s day in the middle of Teves. Such were David’s warriors!
Vv 1-2: “Now these are those who came to David in Tziklag… They were armed in bows and could use both the right hand and the left in slinging stones and shooting arrows from the bow…” (vv 1-2). Once again we see how David’s warriors were proficient in both hands – the right hand of Chessed-Kindness and the left hand of Gevurah-Might.
V 2: “…from among the brothers of Saul from the tribe of Benjamin” – “Even King Saul’s own brothers came to David during the lifetime of Saul” (Rashi).
David’s Benjaminite warriors had the faces of lions and the speed of mountain roes (v 9).
Vv 15ff: After the Benjaminites who came to David, the first of the other tribes mentioned as having come to support him are the mighty warriors of the Gad, who lived in the territories east of the River Jordan. Verse 16 suggests that they were so powerful that as they entered the river to wade across to make their way to Hebron, the very waters – swelled from the spring-time melted snow – fled. The commentators explain that it was the surrounding nations who fled.
Vv 17ff: For many of the Benjaminites, David was the rival of their fallen hero Saul. David’s noble gesture of reconciliation (v 18) elicited the immortal, divinely-inspired words of Amasai, which are included in the collected Biblical verses of blessings recited on the departure of Shabbos and at other junctures: “Yours are we, David, and on your side, son of Yishai: peace, peace be to you and peace be to your helpers, for your God helps you.”
Let us all give our hearts to Melech HaMashiach in peace!!!