Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class

Tanach Class: Achitofel - Part I

This week we went through the basic story of Achitofel's 33-year life. It may be found in Shemuel II 15-17.

Achitofel was one of the most conflicted people in a group of conflicted people who made up King David's staff. He was King David's closest advisor, and his advice was accepted as the word of Gd, as we shall see next week. However, when Avshalom, King David's son, asked Achitofel to join his rebellion against King David, Achitofel joined the rebellion.

Achitofel gave Avshalom two critical pieces of advice, both of which we will expand on next week, Gd-willing:

1. Achitofel told Avshalom to take his father's concubines as his own, in public.
2. Achitofel told Avshalom that he should send a band of his soldiers to root out King David's camp, and kill King David.

When King David heard that Achitofel was advising Avshalom, he sent a man named Chushai to act as a spy and give bad advice to Avshalom, countering Achitofel.

When Achitofel gave the second piece of advice to Avshalom, Chushai countered that this was a bad approach. He argued that King David, as a mighty warrior, would be able to ambush the soldiers and cause great losses, which would cause people to abandon the fight. Better, Chushai argued, to gather nationwide support and rake the country, end-to-end, to find and destroy King David and his supporters.

Chushai's advice gained favor with Avshalom, who prided himself on his popular support around the country. He followed Chushai's advice.

When Achitofel saw that Avshalom had chosen Chushai's advice, he knew Avshalom would lose and he knew that he would pay with his own life. He went home and gave instructions to his household (we'll learn about these instructions later, Gd-willing), and he strangled himself.

Who was Achitofel, that he could have been the greatest advisor of King David? Why did he abandon King David? Hopefully, we will learn about this, and more, next week.

Have a good week and a Kesivah vaChasimah Tovah,

Mordechai Torczyner


Tanach Class: Achitofel, Part II


This week we continued to learn about Achitofel. Please see last week's email for the gist of his life-story.

Achitofel's Lifetime
It is interesting to note that Achitofel never met King Saul's advisor, Doeg (Sanhedrin 106b). They had similar styles - Doeg and Achitofel both hated King David, both sinned with their speech, both began their careers as great scholars and both were banned from Olam HaBa, the Next World. The Midrash frequently mentions them together, in discussing the downfall of great men. Nonetheless, they never met.

Achitofel died young, at the age of 33 (Sanhedrin 69b, 106b). Despite his early demise, he lived to become a grandfather; the Gemara uses the chronology of his lifetime to prove that a man is capable of impregnating a woman at the age of 8, or perhaps 9. That same Gemara also notes that Achitofel's descendants were tied up with King David - his son was named Eliam (Shemuel II 23:34), and Eliam's daughter was none other than Bat Sheva (Shemuel II 11:3), who married King David and bore a son - the future King Solomon.

Achitofel's Wisdom
Achitofel was known as a man of great wisdom. The Midrash frequently uses him as an example of a wise man (Vayikra Rabbah 5:3, Bamidbar Rabbah 10:3, for example). On the other hand, his wisdom is not necessarily a righteous wisdom. One Midrash, for example (Bereishis Rabbah 22:7), compares him to Bilaam, saying that those two wise men arose in the world and were ultimately destroyed.

In Shemuel II 16:23 we are told that people sought Achitofel's advice as though it were the word of Gd. There is a word in the verse, "man," which is actually not written in; we have a tradition that we read it into the verse, but it isn't actually written in Tanach. The Midrash (Midrash Tehillim 3:4) attributes this omission of the term "man" to the fact that Achitofel's advice was like that of an angel.

The Midrash provides a couple of examples of Achitofel's wisdom. The prophet, Shemuel, gave David a scroll containing a tradition as to how to build the Beis haMikdash, but Achitofel actually already knew the information in the scroll, as Gd had given it to him, too. (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2). Achitofel was also great in the development of prayer; see Jerusalem Talmud Berachos 4:4.

Achitofel was honored with the title of "Yoeitz," "Advisor," but the Midrash (Eliyahu Rabbah 18) says that once he became corrupt, HaShem destroyed him. We might see a little bit of foreshadowing in a Midrash (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) which says that when people came to Achitofel for advice, he would advise them and then he would say, "If you don't trust my advice, go check with the Urim veTummim (the Head Kohen's prophecy-bearing breastplate) and see what it tells you." The pride which is obvious in this statement may have been the seed of disaster, as we will see later.

King David and Achitofel
Achitofel was very close to King David; he was King David's closest advisor, and King David feared him very much when they became adversaries (Midrash Tehillim 55:1). King David felt deeply betrayed when Achitofel turned on him; he had made himself ill praying for Achitofel, when Achitofel was sick (Berachos 12b, see Rashi there).

The Mishnah (Avos 6:3) tells us that King David called Achitofel his teacher, master and provider of knowledge (Tehillim 55:14) simply for having taught him two lessons - that he should learn with a partner, and that he should enter the study hall with great awe (Kalah Rabsi 5:4, Rashi Avos 6:3).

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 106b-107a) does also say that Achitofel only began his career as King David's teacher; he eventually became King David's student. Nonetheless, we know that King David consulted Achitofel first in deciding whether or not to go to war (Berachos 3b-4a).

There were also two specific occasions when King David turned to Achitofel for wisdom:

The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2; see also Sifri Bamidbar 46) informs us that when King David wanted to bring the Aron, containing the two Tablets, to Yerushalayim, he had a problem. He wanted to have the Kohanim put the Aron on to a wagon, but they couldn't lift the Aron. Achitofel refused to help King David, until King David announced that whoever knew the solution and didn't present it would die by strangulation. At this point Achitofel reminded King David that the Aron was carried on shoulders in the desert, not in a wagon.

The Gemara also tells us (Makkos 11a, see also Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) that Achitofel helped King David stop a flood. King David dug "Shisin," tunnels which eventually served as drains for liquids poured on the altar in the Beis haMikdash (See Rashi Makkos 11a for an interesting chronological point on when this must have occurred). In digging the Shisin, King David shifted a piece of pottery which had been stopping up a deep spring, and the water threatened to cause a fatal deluge. No one knew how to stop the water, and again King David announced that whoever knew the solution and didn't present it would die by strangulation. Depending on which version you follow, Achitofel either told King David to write Gd's Name on a piece of pottery and use that to stop the flood, or Achitofel actually pronounced Gd's Name and so caused the flood to stop. (Rashi Succah 53a-b says King David knew that answer himself; he just didn't want to present a legal ruling - on erasing Gd's Name with the water - in front of his master, Achitofel.)

Achitofel's Downfall
So what could have caused Achitofel to fall, as he did?

The sages presented seven reasons; we saw three of them today:

1. Revenge - As we noted above, Bat Sheva was Achitofel's granddaughter. Recall that King David married Bat Sheva after her husband died in a war in which King David ordered him to serve. According to Radak (Shemuel II 17:3), Achitofel never forgave King David for this.

2. Acted blindly - The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:20) says Gd presents every person with two paths, one good and one bad. Achitofel allowed emotion to blind him, and didn't follow what he knew to be correct.

3. Jealousy - Like Doeg, Achitofel was a victim of jealousy (Sotah 9b). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 101b) tells us that Achitofel had visions which made him think he would become the king, although the visions actually referred to his great-grandson, Shelomo. We are taught (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) that Achitofel refused to give King David advice on how to stop the flood because he hoped King David would die in the flood, and he would then take over the throne.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) also gives another reason for Achitofel's jealousy. King David appointed 90,000 sages to public positions, and he did not give a public position to Achitofel (perhaps because Achitofel was his own, personal advisor). This burned Achitofel; when King David had trouble trying to transport the Aron, Achitofel refused to help him, saying, "Go ask those 90,000 sages you appointed!"

Gd-willing, we will learn more about Achitofel and King David next Shabbos, on the first afternoon of Rosh haShanah.

Have a good week, and Kesivah vaChasimah Tovah,
Mordechai Torczyner


Tanach Class - Achitofel, Part III


We wrapped up our look at Achitofel this week.

As I noted in an email last week, this email will include material we covered on the first afternoon of Rosh haShanah, as well as material from this Shabbos. (I am actually writing this before Shabbos, as I will be running the Brown U Hillel "pre-Yom Kippur" program after Shabbos. As a result, this email will not contain the usual additions from in-class discussion.)

Why Achitofel Fell
Two weeks ago, we saw three possible causes of Achitofel's downfall:
1. A desire for revenge against King David for the incident with Bat Sheva, who was Achitofel's granddaughter.
2. Achitofel acted blindly, following emotion instead of logic.
3. Achitofel was jealous of King David's power. He was also jealous of the judges King David appointed, because Achitofel did not get such a position. On a similar note, one Midrash (Eliyahu Rabbah 29) says that Achitofel's arrogance did him in.

The Midrash adds three other possible causes:
4. Achitofel had the seeds of heresy in him. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 18:17) says that Achitofel was not strong in following HaShem, from the start. As a result, his learning was not able to keep him on the path. This is a broad theme within Judaism - a person who is learned, but does not have a proper relationship with Gd, will always be in danger of losing his way (See Shabbos 31, Sanhedrin 106b, Sotah 21a for more).
As the Gemara (Chagigah 15b) puts it, Achitofel had "Tina," "mud," in his heart. This dirt corrupted him. The Midrash (Koheles Rabbah 1:1:18) even goes so far as to say that Achitofel amassed his knowledge for the sake of committing evil.

5. Achitofel stopped learning. The Midrash (Midrash Tehillim 119:16) says that Achitofel, during his career as an advisor, stopped studying. He serves as a lesson to scholars that they dare not halt their learning.

6. Achitofel was drawn in by evil speech (Jerusalem Talmud Peah 1:1, Vayikra Rabbah 26:2, and many more). We see that his own speech was evil, when he advised Avshalom, and it may be presumed that this is what the Midrash refers to.

As an interesting aside, the Midrash points out that Doeg and Achitofel both were drawn in to evil speech, and both permitted the same crimes: Adultery (Doeg for Michal to marry Palti, Achitofel for Avshalom to live with his father's concubines) and Murder (Doeg for Shaul to destroy Nov, Achitofel for Avshalom to kill King David).

Achitofel's advice to Avshalom, regarding his father's concubines
Achitofel's first advice to Avshalom was that Avshalom should take his father's concubines and live with them, publicly. The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) notes that the word "Ish (man)" is omitted at one point in reference to Achitofel's role as an advisor; we presented one reason for this in an earlier email, but this Jerusalem Talmud says the word is omitted because Achitofel could not be referred to as a "man" after giving this advice to Avshalom.

As a matter of law, Ralbag (Shemuel II 16:22) points out that Avshalom was allowed to live with those concubines. Since they weren't actually married to his father, and they weren't his mother, they had the technical status of "Mefutas Aviv," a woman his father had lived with without a marriage relationship.

The commentators present two motives for this advice:
1. Ralbag Shemuel II 16:22 - So the people would see he was serious, and this wasn't a test of their loyalty to King David
2. Radak Shemuel II 16:23 - To guarantee that there would be no going back, and no peace between himself and King David

Achitofel sided with Avshalom
The Gemara (Berachos 17a-b) uses Achitofel as a prime example of a traitor. When a certain group of sages would part from each other, they would pray that their group should remain a good group of people, and that they shouldn't end up like King David's group, from whom Achitofel departed.

The Midrash mentions that Achitofel tried to belittle King David after leaving him; he refused to call King David by his full title (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:17), and he slandered King David for his descent from a Moavite woman (Koheles Rabbah 10:2).

We know that King David was terrified when he heard that Achitofel had gone over to Avshalom, but his reaction was not what we might expect. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 38:1, Tanchuma Noach 23) says that King David requested that HaShem not kill Achitofel, only render him powerless. The Midrash explains that King David wanted people to remember their acts, and what had happened to them.

Why did Achitofel leave King David? As we mentioned above, Radak credited the split to the incident involving King David and Bat Sheva, Achitofel's granddaughter. The Gemara (Sotah 21a) adds, though, that Achitofel thought King David was heading for a fall. Achitofel thought that King David's guilt over his involvement with Bat Sheva would overpower him, and HaShem would abandon him. Achitofel did not realize that King David's learning, as well as his Mitzvos, would protect him.

Achitofel's Death
As we said a few weeks back, Achitofel died at the young age of 33 (Sanhedrin 69b, 106b), by his own hand.

Achitofel strangled himself, fulfilling the warning which King David had levelled against him on earlier occasions when he refused to provide the answer to a problem (see earlier emails, or Eliyahu Rabbah 29, Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2, Makkos 11a).

The Midrash (Tanchuma Vayyetze 6) notes that Achitofel died by hanging; the wicked are rejected by both Heaven and Earth, and so he couldn't die in either place.

The Navi (Shemuel II 17:23) tells us that Achitofel "gave instructions to his household" before he strangled himself. What were these instructions? The Gemara (Bava Basra 147a, Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2; Eliyahu Rabbah 29 and Otzar Midrashim have variant editions) says Achitofel gave three pieces of advice to his family:
1. Don't get involved in disputes
2. Don't fight against the monarchy of the house of King David
3. He told them how to know whether to plant wheat at Shavuos time.

Achitofel in the Next World
The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:2) lists Achitofel among those who are locked out of the "Next World." The Midrash (Tanchuma Metzora 1) explains that the people on this list all sinned with their speech.

However, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 104b-105a, Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) says that Gd will decide, in the end, to bring Achitofel in.

Next week, Gd-willing, on the 1st day of Succos, we will begin to learn about Rachav.

[I did not send out email about Rachav. The next email is about Yishai.]

Gemar Chasimah Tovah,
Mordechai Torczyner

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