I Samuel – Chapter 11

What Am I, Chopped Oxen?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Nachash, ruler of Ammon, attacked the city of Yaveish. They asked for a pact, in which case they would agree to serve him. He said, “On one condition – each of you must put out his right eye.” (The commentators explain this to symbolically refer to a number of things, for example dissolving the Sanhedrin.) The people of Yaveish asked for a week’s time. They then sent messengers to get help.

When the people heard of the attack, they wept. Shaul came in from plowing his field (according to Radak still not quite acting like a king!) and asked what the commotion was. When he heard what occurred, he took charge. He cut two oxen into pieces and had them sent throughout the land, saying that’s what would be done to the oxen of anyone who doesn’t join the fight. (This may superficially resemble what the Levite did with his concubine’s body at the end of the Book of Judges, but you can see from the text that the intention of the two acts was very different. The Levite meant to shock people with “Look what they did!” Shaul meant to rally the people and to send a message of “united we stand, divided we fall.”)

330,000 troops gathered and they sent word to Yaveish that they would be saved by the next afternoon. The people of Yaveish told Nachash, “We’re coming to you tomorrow.” Nachash took that to mean they would surrender the next day, so he was unprepared for attack.

Shaul divided his forces into three companies, which entered the Ammonite camp at dawn. They routed the Ammonites and the few survivors scattered. The Jews were so inspired by Shaul’s leadership that they wanted to execute those who had bad-mouthed Shaul for their treasonous slander. Shaul refused to have anybody executed on a day on which Hashem had wrought such a victory. Instead, they retired to Gilgal, where they crowned Shaul again, this time unanimously. They offered sacrifices to Hashem and rejoiced there.

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