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Commentary on Tanakh Discussion January 25, 2021: The House of David, a Dark Tale 

Don Perlmutter

In this class, we continued with the narrative of King David and his son, Avshalom. In the previous week, we learned of Avshalom’s act of Blood Redemption, the permitted assassination of his half brother, Amnon, after the rape of their sister, Tamar. Rabbi Edery reminded us that in many Biblical stories, the first born, e.g., Amnon, is not a hero. This role often fell to second or third-born, such as Avshalom. We infer that Avshalom, whose name translates to Master of Peace, is a character to be admired. The name conferred on these personalities was often used to convey a subtle message about the individual. Avshalom was described as charismatic and physically attractive, with long, flowing hair. He was vain, much like his father, David. 

Avshalom retreats to the kingdom of Geshur, the home of his maternal grandfather, Talmai, while David mourned the death of his first-born, Amnon. Eventually, David wanted Avshalom back in Jerusalem. Was it because he missed him, or because he feared that Avshalom would conspire against him? (As in The Godfather: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”)

A Forced Reconciliation Between a Weakened Father and a Strengthened Son  
David remained ambivalent about Avshalom. He was, after all, responsible for Amnon’s death. At the same time, Avshalom harbored resentment towards his father for not judging and punishing Amnon for his crime. David was so uneasy with this relationship that he refused to see Avshalom. After two years back in David’s court, Avshalom complained about this to Joab, David’s general, and challenged David to either accept him or put him to death. David capitulated and kissed his son for the first time in five years.   

Avshalom’s Conspiracy and Insurrection
Having his status restored, Avshalom proceeded to consolidate his power with the tribes of Israel who had always been resentful of David’s Judean power base. He positioned himself as a champion of the people and sought to be the purveyor of justice, a role that David had ignored. In four years, Avshalom had amassed a following sufficient to depose David as king. From Hebron, he marched on Jerusalem. When David learned of the rebellion, he enlisted Hushai as a double agent, loyal to him, while pretending allegiance to Avshalom. Through this ruse, Hushai managed to allow David and his troops to safely flee Jerusalem to re-group. Although David was unwilling to cede the throne, he ordered his army not to harm Avshalom. Meanwhile, Avshalom, after invading the palace, in an alpha male act, had sex with David’s concubines in public.

David’s Judean-based troops defeated the Israeli rebels; and Avshalom, while fleeing, was left hanging grotesquely by his prized hair when it became ensnared in a tree limb. Despite David’s order, Joab killed him. 

“What Goes Around Comes Around…”  
David had been granted much: dominion over Israel and Judea through great military victories, beautiful wives, delivery from Saul, and the gift of music. But driven by lust and vanity, he took Bathsheva and had her husband killed. In response, the prophet, Nathan, who often served as David’s alter ego, reminded him of these blessings from God and admonished him on his transgression. He delivered to David a curse: “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you.” David confessed his sins, but this was not sufficient to prevent the treachery and death that was to follow. Nathan’s words proved to be truly “prophetic."

Wed, July 17 2024 11 Tammuz 5784