OU TORAHDedicated by the Jacobs and Chill Families in Memory of Harold and Pearl Jacobs
Dora Bas Rivka Silver O'H
The Battle Joined
David divided his army into three forces, appointing Yoav, Avishai and Ittai each to head a division. He wanted to go into battle, too, but his men objected. Capturing or killing David was the main objective of Avshalom's army. Having David on the battlefield was what they wanted! It would be better if David stayed in the city and helped with prayer. David acquiesced. He only asked that they spare Avshalom. Despite everything, he was David's son.
The battle took place in a forest and David's forces defeated Avshalom's. Avshalom tried to escape, but his long hair became tangled in some branches. (Remember his long hair from chapter 14? We told you that was going to be important!) Avshalom's mount moved on, out from under him, leaving him suspended from the branches by his hair. One of David's men saw Avshalom and informed his commander, Yoav. "Why didn't you strike him down?" asked Yoav. "I heard the king command you not to harm him!" replied the soldier. "Fine," said Yoav, "I'll do it myself."
Yoav stabbed Avshalom in the chest, but he did not die right away, so Yoav's armor-bearers beat Avshalom until he died. Yoav then blew a shofar to signal his troops that the battle was ended. Avshalom's body was tossed in a pit, which was then covered by large stones. We are told that Avshalom had erected a huge monument to himself; nevertheless, he ended up being buried in a pit.
Achimaatz wanted to go to the city in order to tell David what had happened, but Yoav tried to stop him because of the news of Avshalom's death, which David would not like. Yoav sent another messenger instead. Achimaatz persisted until Yoav finally relented and let him go, too. Achimaatz took a different route and overtook the other messenger.
David's lookouts saw a lone runner and realized it was a messenger. They saw another runner behind him and knew that he, too, was a messenger. When he got closer, they recognized the first messenger as Achimaatz and David cheered up that it must be good news. When Achimaatz arrived, he told David that the battle was over and his position was secured. Right away David asked how Avshalom was and Achimaatz realized why Yoav didn't want to send him. Achimaatz held off answering until the second runner arrived with the news of Avshalom's death.
A short Insight into II Samuel, Chapter 18As King David sends his generals and army off to war, he tells the people that he will go with them to the battlefield. However, the people respond (verses 2-3), “You should not go forth! For if we will have to flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us, even if we would be ten thousand times as many as we are. Therefore, it is better that you help us from the city.”
Seemingly, the people were telling King David that the enemy is totally focused on defeating King David personally. As Achitofel said (17,1), “I will strike down only the king.” Therefore, if King David is present in the field of war, he will give additional motivation and vigor to his enemies. If the army flees, David's enemies will come chasing with fury. If David is present the enemy will fight with all of their gusto which will make them harder to defeat. Thus, the people urged King David to stay in the city to help through his prayer.
The Chasam Sofer offers another insight by pondering the general question - is it better for our tzadikim and talmidei chachamim to be with the troops in the theater war? By doing so their merits would help protect the troops. Or, perhaps, they should be back in the shul and yeshiva in the cities with complete peace of mind so that they can focus on their prayers and study to maximize the merits that will accrue as a protection for the troops.
The Chasam Sofer says that the answer is derived from Tehillim 20 which we say every day. Chazal teach us that King David said this prayer when Yoav went out to war. In it King David pleads, “May Hashem answer you on the day of distress, may the Name of Yaakov's G-d make you impregnable. May Hashem dispatch help from the Sanctuary, and support you from Zion.” Rashi explains that King David offered this prayer, not with the people in the theater of the war, but rather in Jerusalem as the verse in our chapter says, “It is better if you help us from the city.”