Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class

Tanach Class: Avigayil - Part I


This week we began to look at Avigayil. Avigayil is known as one of the seven Jewish prophetesses to have their prophecy recorded in Tanach, and she was also a wife of King David.

Today we looked at Avigayil's major appearances in Tanach, and at some Midrashic statements regarding her righteousness.

Avigayil as the wife of Naval
Avigayil first appears in Shemuel I 25, as the mediator of a dispute between David and her husband, Naval.

Naval was a wealthy man, with a herd including some three thousand sheep and one thousand goats. He lived in Carmel.

Our story occurs some five months after Shemuel, the prophet who annointed both King Shaul and King David, died. There was a seven month gap between Shemuel's death and Shaul's death. In the first five months, King David lived by the Philistines, feigning madness. He did this in order to escape Shaul. In the latter two months he came back to Israel, until Shaul died in war with the Plishtim. (This chronology may be found in Radak Shemuel I 25:1.)

As such, King Shaul was still alive at this point, and still in pursuit of the annointed David.

Naval came to shear his sheep, and David, badly in need of resources, sent some of his men to request aid from Naval. David's men had been in the area for some time, and had protected Naval's shepherds and flocks from danger. David had not been hired to do this, but he hoped that the goodwill, combined with Shemuel's known support of David, would encourage Naval to help him out.

Naval refused to help, mocking David and his men. "Who is David, who is the son of Yishai?" he responded. "It seems as though every rebellious slave calls himself a king!"

When David received this response, he ordered 400 of his men to march with him against Naval. He swore that he would wipe out every member of Naval's camp, down to the dogs.

One of Naval's servants brought word of the incident to Avigayil, Naval's wife. Avigayil is introduced in Tanach as a woman of a good mind and of great beauty. She heard this and was horrified, and she sent a caravan bearing a great gift to David. She, herself, followed the caravan on a donkey. (As was noted during the class, there are several parallels between this encounter and that between Yaakov and Esav. The red-headed Esav came with 400 men, and Yaakov sent a caravan of gifts, following behind himself. The red-headed David came with 400 men, and Avigayil sent a caravan of gifts, following behind herself.)

Avigayil persuaded David not to kill her husband, asking him to remember her when judging her husband. When she returned home, her husband was drunk, partaking in a feast. He sobered up the next day, and then she told him what had happened. His heart froze within him, he became "like a stone," and he was dead in ten days.

When David heard the news, he sent messengers asking Avigayil to marry him, which she did.

Avigayil later in Tanach
Avigayil, and David's other wife, Achinoam, were taken captive by an Amalekite band in Shemuel I 30. David pursued them, and defeated the band in battle.

Avigayil bore a son, who was alternately named Daniel and Kilav. We'll see more about him later, Gd-willing.

Avigayil's Righteousness
There is much to see regarding Avigayil, her husband, and her involvement with King David. We began by looking at some statements regarding Avigayil's righteousness.

The Mishnah in Sanhedrin (2:4) mentions the Torah's rule that a king may not marry too many wives. The Mishnah there says that a king may not even marry too many wives like Avigayil; Avigayil is held up as the model Jewish wife. (The Tosefta Sanhedrin 2:5 has an alternate version (see also Bava Metzia 115a), in which this point is debated. R' Yehudah says a king may marry many wives if they are like Avigayil.)

The "Otzar Midrashim" collection of Midrash lists seven dwellings of women in Eden; we read some months back that Chuldah the Prophetess is in the fourth dwelling (pg. 84). Avigayil is in the fifth. Avigayil is also on the Otzar Midrashim's list of 23 "Yesharos Gedolos," "Great righteous women," of Tanach (pg. 474).

The Gemara (Megilah 14a-b) lists Avigayil among the seven prophetesses whose prophecy was recorded in Tanach. We know that she prophesied because David responded to her words, "Baruch Taameich," "Your advice is blessed." This is not a response to simple good counsel; it is a response to divinely inspired counsel.

What was her prophecy?
1. Rashi Megilah 14b "Hachi" indicates that Avigayil prophesied to David that he would ultimately stumble in involvement with Batsheva, the wife of Uryah haChiti.
2. Rashi Bava Kamma 92b "Kaasher Yitav" says that Avigayil prophesied that her husband would die, and that she hinted this to David when she asked him to remember her.

We have a lot more to see regarding Avigayil herself, and regarding her involvement with King David.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


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Avigayil - Part II


This week we took a look at some Talmudic thoughts about Avigayil's beauty and her family, and the conversation she had with King David.

Avigayil's Beauty
The Gemara (Megilah 15a) lists Avigayil as one of the four prettiest women in the world. The other three are Sarah, Rachav and Esther. [According to the view that Esther was not naturally pretty, Vashti is substituted for her.]

The Gemara (Megilah 14b) also mentions that at one point during the meeting between David and Avigayil, her skirt shifted and some ordinarily-covered flesh was revealed. We are told that David's troops travelled 3 Mil (nearly two miles) with the energy galvanized in them from that moment (Penei Moshe Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 3:2).

Avigayil's Family: Naval
As we mentioned last week, Avigayil's husband, Naval, rejected David's request for assistance, even though David's men had helped guard his shepherds.

The Midrash Tehillim (53:1) points out Naval (Nun-Bet-Lamed) is an anagram for Lavan (Lamed-Bet-Nun), and that those two people shared traits. Naval was a trickster and a miser, like Lavan. Avigayil herself mentioned that Naval was "like his name," a reference to the literal meaning of "Naval:" disgusting.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 3:2) also mentions that Naval took great pride in his pure lineage. Chetzron, grandson of Yehudah, had three sons - Yerachmiel, Ram and Kalev. Yerachmiel intermarried. Ram's descendant, Boaz, married Ruth, who was a Moabitess by birth. Naval was a descendant of Kalev, and he claimed that his line was the only one which was "pure."

Of course, we know that the people with the purest Yichus (lineage) in Tanach also tend to be the worst people, not the best ones. We are taught (Yuma 22b) that the ideal Jewish leader has a skeleton in his closet, so that he won't become arrogant. Clearly, Naval became arrogant; his response to David was, "Who is this David, this son of Yishai, that I should help him?"

Avigayil's Family: Daniel
Avigayil bore a son to King David, named Daniel (Divrei haYamim I 3:1). The Midrash (Otzar Midrashim 156) suggests that "Daniel" may be broken down into two words, for "Gd has judged me," that David was saying Gd had judged him and found him innocent of wrongdoing with Naval.

Daniel is better known by another name used for him - Kilav (Shemuel II 3:3). The Gemara (Shabbos 55b) says that he was one of four people who never sinned.

We find two explanations for Daniel's pseudonym of "Kilav:"
a. Berachos 4a - Mefiboshes was a scholar who used to embarrass King David in learning, but Kilav would "avenge" King David's shame. The term, "to shame," is "leHachlim," and the Kaf-Lamed is borrowed in Kilav. He embarrased Mefiboshes for his father's honor.
b. Midrash Tanchuma Toldos 6 - David married Avigayil shortly after Naval died, and there was some concern that mocking people might suggest Daniel was actually from Naval. HaShem made Daniel look like David to avoid this scandal, and so he was called Kilav - "Kulo Av," "he is entirely of his father."

Avigayil's conversation with David: Strategy
As we mentioned last week, this story took place during the last two months of King Shaul's life, after Shemuel was dead. David came back from hiding among the Plishtim, and he sent messengers to ask Naval for help. David had helped Naval, by having his soldiers guard Naval's shepherds. Naval rebuffed the messengers rudely. David came to massacre Naval's camp, but Avigayil heard about it and headed him off.

Avigayil sent a caravan of food ahead of her, and she followed. She began the conversation with David by admitting that her husband was wrong.

Ralbag, in discussing the incident, says that we learn two major lessons here:
1. When facing an angry foe, send a big bribe.
2. When facing someone more powerful than you, admit your error right away.

Avigayil's conversation with David: David's intentions
As we said last week, David intended to massacre every last member of Naval's camp, down to the dogs. Ralbag (Shemuel I 25:22) points out that this is very strange; David was ready to kill out Naval's clan because Naval rebelled against his reign, but David spared the life of King Shaul himself, twice! Ralbag explains that this story with Naval occurred after it became known that David had been annointed to be the next king, and the encounters with King Shaul did not.

Avigayil's conversation with David: Avigayil's arguments
We have two explanations for how Avigayil convinced David not to kill Naval:
1. Megilah 14a-b - Avigayil reminded David that we don't judge capital cases at night. When David pointed out that Naval was a rebel against the king, and so there was no need for a full trial, she responded that David was not yet widely known to be king.
2. Midrash Tehillim 53:1 - Avigayil asked David how he would rule if a pauper came before him demanding that he be allowed to kill a wealthy person who had refused to give a handout.

Avigayil's conversation with David: David and Avigayil
The sages (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 3:2) read a bit more in the encounter between David and Avigayil. They understood that David had actually propositioned Avigayil.

Midrash Tehillim 53:1 suggests that Tehillim 53 begins "Laminatzeiach Al Machalas" as a tribute to Avigayil, who saved David from a sin for which he could not have achieved forgiveness (Mechilah).

The sages had three interpretations of how Avigayil dissuaded David from his proposition:
a. Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 3:2 - She told David she was a Niddah
b. Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 3:2 - She told David that if he did this, he would become known as an adulterer and a murderer (for killing Naval)
c. Midrash Shemuel 23:12 - She warned David that he was going to have a similar problem with Batsheva in the future, and that he should take care that he not have this problem twice by erring now.

Obviously, it is very difficult for us to handle such an allegation regarding King David, but this is the way our sages understood the passage in Shemuel I 25.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

Avigayil - Part III


This week we concluded our look at the story of Avigayil. We examined some of the language of her discussion with David, and the Midrashic understanding of that language.

To re-cap, David's men had protected Naval's shepherds. On David's return from the land of the Philistines, he had sought help from Naval. Naval had rebuffed him, insulting David and calling him an upstart slave. David came to kill Naval, and Avigayil, Naval's wife, met him en route.

Avigayil said to David (Shemuel I 25:31), "Lo Tihyeh Zos Lecha LeFukah." The word "Pukah" is commonly [Radak] translated as a "stumbling block," meaning, "Don't err in this." The Midrash picks up on a redundancy in the language (Avigayil also uses the word "Michshol," which is also "stumbling block"), and reads more into the conversation:

1. Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 3:2 - Don't give people a chance for Pikpuk. "Pikpuk" is a claim; Avigayil said to David that if he would kill Naval, people would label him a murderer.
2. Midrash Tehillim 53:1 - Don't give in to your heart's Pikpuk (claim). Your heart is telling you to take revenge against Naval, but your brain should tell you that this is wrong.

The Midrash on Shemuel (23:12) picks up on another idiosyncrasy in Avigayil's language. Avigayil says, "Don't let this be a Pukah for you." Why does she specify "this?" Because she prophesied that David would stumble with Batsheva, and so she said, "Don't let yourself have two crimes on your record, by stumbling here."

veHaysah Nefesh Adoni Tzerurah beTzror haChaim
In Shemuel I 25:29, Avigayil says to David, "the soul of my master will be bound in the bond of life with HaShem your Gd, and the soul of your enemies will be slingshot from the palm of a catapult." This phrase has become commonplace in eulogies and the Kel Malei prayer, when we say regarding someone who has passed on, "Tihyeh Nishmaso Tzerurah beTzror haChaim," "May his soul be bound up in the bond of life." Tombstones frequently bear an acronym for this, "Tav Nun Tzadi Beis Hei."

The Midrash [Sifri Zuta 27:12] says this was a reference to David's fate; Gd would take David's soul gently, Himself.

The Midrash [Devarim Rabbah 10, various sources in Gemara and Midrash] also takes this as a statement regarding the ultimate fate of a human soul. The souls of the righteous are bound to Gd's throne, while those of the wicked are catapulted (whatever that means!).

veZacharta Es Amasecha
Avigayil closes her speech to David with the words, "And remember your maidservant." This has two potential meanings.

Midrash Tehillim (53:1) takes this at face value; remember me, and my gift, when you decide whether to kill Naval.

The Gemara, though, takes this as a hint that she was leaving a door open for David. Recall from last week that the Gemara says David propositioned Avigayil, asking her to leave Naval for himself, and Avigayil rebuffed the advance. Here, according to various Midrashic sources [Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 2:3, Midrash Shemuel 23:12, Megilah 14b, Bava Kamma 92b], Avigayil told David that the door was not closed; remember me, if things change.

The Gemara goes further this, in pointing to an odd spelling of Avigayil's name. Immediately after her "Remember me," David responds to her, and the spelling of her name there is "Avigal," dropping a Yud. The Gemara suggests that this Yud was dropped to note that she had a flaw, for being interested in David while she was married to Naval.

The Radak [Shemuel I 25:32] notes that it is possible she simply had two ways to spell her name; this was commonplace.

Baruch Taameich
David responds to Avigayil (Shemuel I 25:33), "Baruch Taameich," "Your advice is blessed." This wording is odd; how could advice be "blessed?" The Midrash on Shemuel (23:12) takes it as a straightforward compliment, but another Midrash (Seder Olam Rabbah 21) takes this as a reference to the Divine origin of her advice. Your advice is blessed, as it is prophetic, a result of direct communication with Gd.

This wraps up our study of Avigayil. Next week, Gd-willing, we will begin to study the life of Gechazi.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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