II Samuel – Chapter 19

Absalom, Absalom!

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

David grieved over Absalom’s death. He went upstairs and cried, “Avshalom, my son! If only I could have died in your place!” (He actually said “Avshalom” five times and “my son” eight times.) This turned the victory celebration of David’s followers into a period of mourning. Yoav came and gave David a metaphorical “slap in the face.”

“These people put their lives on the line for you! By mourning over Avshalom like this, you’re sending the message that you’d rather he lived and they died. Now get out there and act like a king before you lose the support of everyone who fought on your behalf!” So David went out to the people.

The Tribes who had abandoned David in favor of Avshalom heard about the battle’s outcome and started moving towards properly reinstating David. David wanted his own Tribe, Judah, to be foremost among them. Furthermore, he told Amasa, who had commanded Avshalom’s forces, that he would make him general of his army. (The words in Hebrew “tachas Yoav” could either mean “instead of Yoav” or “under Yoav,” so it is unclear which David meant. Either way, it was a good offer.) Amasa encouraged the heads of Judah towards reconciliation.

On his way back to Jerusalem, David once again encountered Shimei ben Gera, who had cursed him on his exile. Shimei begged for his life. Avishai again wanted to punish Shimei for his insubordination, but David again stopped him. “What difference does it make?” said David, “I know I’m king.”

Mephiboshes came to greet David. He had been mourning since David’s exile from Jerusalem and his unkempt appearance showed it. “Why didn’t you join me with the rest of my followers?” asked David. “I wanted to,” said Mephiboshes. “I was the one who instructed Tziva to load those donkeys with supplies for you, but he left without me, knowing that I can’t walk!” David wasn’t sure who to believe, so he split the property he had given to Tziva in two, between them. “I don’t care about the property,” Mephiboshes said, “I’m just glad to see you restored safely to the throne.”

Barzilai also came to greet David. The king wanted to reward him for sending provisions to his men when they were down and out. He offered Barzilai to come live in Jerusalem. “I’m 80 years old and I have lost the capacity to enjoy the finer things in life,” said Barzilai. “I’d rather live out my life in my own town. It would be better if you took my son Chimham.” So David took Chimham to Jerusalem with him.

When they crossed the Jordan, representatives of the Ten Tribes asked why Judah (and to a lesser degree, Benjamin) were monopolizing David. The people of Judah replied that it was simply because David was from their Tribe – he was a relative of theirs. “That makes no difference!” replied the Ten Tribes, “We have ten times as much stake in the king even if he is from Judah!” They reached an impasse in this debate, although Judah appears to have gotten the last word.

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