Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class

Tanach Class: Yishai, Part I


This week we began to learn about Yishai, father of King David. I apologize for the lateness of this email; Caren and I went to New York right after Shabbos, and we were there until yesterday afternoon.

Biography of Yishai: Appearances in Tanach
Yishai appears in two chapters of Tanach: Shemuel I 16 and 17. (He is mentioned in a few other places, as father of David and as ancestor of Mashiach. See, for example, Yeshayah 11). In Shemuel I 16, the prophet Shemuel is sent to annoint one of Yishai's sons to be the next king, and David is brought to play music for the King Saul as a cure for his depression. In Shemuel I 17, Yishai sends David to help his brothers at the battlefield against the Plishtim.

Biography of Yishai: Place of Origin
Yishai is identified (such as in Shemuel I 17:58) as "Beis haLachmi," which is usually rendered as "from Beis Lechem (Bethlehem)."

It is worth noting that Radak quotes a Midrashic interpretation of this term. After David killed Goliath, King Saul asked (Shemuel I 17:55) who David was. This question is puzzling, for King Saul knew who David was, already. Some read the question as, "Is he a scion of a powerful line?" Thus David identified himself, in response (Shemuel I 17:58), as a son of Yishai "Beis haLachmi," meaning a person of war ("Milchamah"=war).

Biography of Yishai: His Name
Yishai went by several names. In Shemuel II 17:25 he is identified as "Nachash (serpent)." Many people in Tanach have multiple names, but a couple of explanations are offered for this special name. The Gemara suggests that it is because Yishai never sinned. He only died because Adam/Eve's sin involving the fruit and the serpent introduced death to the world. Radak presents another explanation: Yishai's descendants, who would strike out against the enemies of Israel, were called "Tzifonim," "poisonous snakes."

Yishai is also referred to as "Ishai (Alef-Yud-Shin-Yud)" in Divrei haYamim I 2:13. Rashi (Michah 6:10) says that this is a standard alternative spelling of Yishai.

Biography of Yishai: His Age
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 96:4) points out that the 4 generations between Nachshon (who led the tribe of Yehudah in the Desert) and David lived between 400 and 500 years. See Ramban Bereishis 46:15 and Ibn Ezra Rus 4:17 for more on this.

Biography of Yishai: Family
Yishai had 8 sons and 2 daughters. The 2 daughters were Tzeruyah (who had a son, Yoav, who was a general for David and was killed at Shelomo's order as punishment for some of his actions) and Avigayil (who had a son, Amasa, who also became a military leader). See Rus Rabbah 4:1 for interesting information on Yisra haYishmaeli/Yisraeli, who married Avigayil.

In the time of the Midrash, there was a common blessing: "May you be a father to 8 and a brother to 7." This referred to Yishai, father of 8 sons, and to David, brother of 7. (Midrash Tehillim 5:5)

The Radak (Divrei haYamim I 2:15) points out that David is listed, at times, as Yishai's 7th son, not the 8th, even though he is referred to in Shemuel I 17 as the "Katan," the smallest of the brothers! He quotes a few explanations:

1. Rabbeinu Yonah suggests that "7th" actually means "after the 7th." Radak rejects this.
2. One of the 8 was from a different mother. When David is listed as "7th," that refers to sons of the same mother.
3. One of the sons died before the genealogy listing David as 7th was recorded.
4. David was not actually the youngest; he was the 7th of 8, and Elihu was younger than he. David was called "Katan" because he was humble, making himself small.

Yishai's Greatness
It is interesting that HaShem refers to King David by a nickname, "Ben Yishai (son of Yishai)," as a term of apparent endearment (such as Sanhedrin 102a), even as the Midrash says in several places (such as Pesikta deRav Kahana 18:1) that King David's enemies would use this as an insult (not because of Yishai, but because they refused to call David by his own name).

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5) points out that Yishai is introduced with the phrase, "Ushmo Yishai (and his name was Yishai)," which is an introduction reserved for the righteous, such as Boaz, Elkanah and Mordechai. The Midrash also identifies David as "Avginus ben Avginus," a scion of greatness and son of a scion of greatness. See also Succah 52b, were Yishai is listed as one of 8 "Princes of Mankind."
(See also Ibn Ezra Rus 2:17, which has a very interesting note linking Yishai's greatness and the reading of Megillas Rus on Shavuos.)

The Gemara (Shabbat 55b) says that Yishai was one of 4 people we know of who never sinned: Amram (Moshe's father), Yishai, Binyamin (Yosef's brother), Kilav (King David's son). See also Otzar Midrashim pg. 162, which lists righteous people who were never affected by an inclination to commit evil.

The Midrash (Kala Rabsi 3:22) goes even further, to say that Yishai was one of 7 righteous people whose bodies were not affected by decay after death.

Yishai was a great teacher. Shemuel I 17:12 says Yishai was "Ba baAnashim," which is usually understood to mean he was aged. The Gemara (Berachos 58a, Yevamos 76b) takes up the literal translation, though, which is, "travelled among men," meaning that he had an entourage. The Midrash explains that Yishai was a well-known teacher.

That sums up the material we learned we learned this past week. This Shabbs we will complete our look at Yishai, and perhaps begin a look at Yehosheva.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

Tanach Class: Yishai, Part II


Last week we learned about Yishai's life, and his character. This week we take a closer look at the two incidents in which he figures prominently in Tanach.

Selection of David as King (Shemuel I 16)
Yishai's first appearance in Tanach is in the selection of David to be the next king of Israel.

HaShem had rejected King Shaul, and now HaShem sent Shemuel to annoint a successor. Shemuel initially blanched, afraid that King Shaul would find out and punish him. HaShem told him to go in the context of making an offering with Yishai. (The Midrash [brought by Radak Shemuel I 27:2] reads this differently, saying that HaShem was actually rebuking Shemuel for an apparent lack of faith, telling him to do the annointing with a public offering, which would increase people's awareness of the event.)

When Shemuel came to Yishai and informed him of the mission, Yishai sent him his eldest son. HaShem told Shemuel that this was not the one, and Yishai sent out the rest of his sons, other than David, and each was rejected. It was only when Shemuel insisted that there must be another one, that Yishai sent forth David.

Ralbag (Shemuel II 1:17, Lesson 16) says that Yishai was fooled because he thought David was too young to reign.

Shemuel selected David, despite his youth, and the Gemara (Pesachim 119a) records the following dialogue, which was immortalized in Tehillim (118:21-28):

David : I will give thanks to You, for You answered me, and You saved me.
Yishai : The stone which the builders rejected has become the head cornerstone.
David's brothers : This was Gd's doing; it was amazing in our eyes.
Shemuel : This is the day which Gd has made; we will celebrate and be happy on it.
David's brothers : Please, Gd, save us!
David : Please, Gd, make us successful!
Yishai : Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Gd!
Shemuel : We have blessed you, from the house of Gd!
All : Gd is powerful, and He has given us light,
Shemuel : Bind the offering with ropes to the horns of the altar.
David : You are my Gd, and I will thank you,
All : You are my Gd, and I will exalt you.

As the Midrash (Midrash Tannaim Devarim 1:17) tells it, David is the "stone," the "builders" are Shemuel and Yishai, and the "head cornerstone" is David's role as the head of all of the kings (cornerstones).

Yishai sends David to his brothers (Shemuel I 17)
Yishai's second appearance is the scene in which Yishai sends David to his three brothers, who are at a battlefield. The Jews face Philistine forces, and Goliath is at the front of the Philistine camp, taunting the frightened Jews.

In Shemuel I 17:17-18, Yishai sends David to his brothers with the instruction, "Take your brothers a measure of dried corn and these ten loaves of bread; run to the camp, to your brothers. In addition, take these ten cheeses to the commander of their division. Ask how your brothers are doing, and take Arubasam."

This last word, "Arubasam," is a difficult word. The root is Ayin-Reish-Beis. What does the term mean here?

"Arubasam" = Responsibility
One approach is to interpret Ayin-Reish-Beis as a reference to Responsibility.

Within this explanation, there is a "Peshat" approach and a "Derash" approach.

The Peshat approach is that David was taking care of some practical function for his brothers.
There are two sub-explanations that come under this approach:
1. Arubasam = "Their collateral." Soldiers didn't have money at the battlefield, and so they gave collateral in exchange for food. David was supposed to bring money and redeem their collateral. (Radak Shemuel I 17:18)
2. Arubasam = "Their sign." In order to indicate that a message was accurate, they had a specific object which they would send with the messenger. This was the "sign." (Ralbag Shemuel I 17:18)

The Midrashic approach: Arubasam = "Their responsibility," but it refers to an ancient responsibility (Midrash Tanchuma Vayyigash 8). When Yaakov refused to send Binyamin down to Egypt, Yaakov promised, "Anochi E'ervenu," "I will be responsible for him." David now fulfilled this responsibility, as he was a descendant of Yehudah, and he saved King Shaul (a descendant of Binyamin) from Goliath.

"Arubasam" = Their mixture
A fourth approach (also brought in Radak Shemuel I 17:18), which relies on a mix of Peshat and Midrash, reads Arubasam as "Their Gittin [bills of divorce]." "Arubasam" is from the term "Me'urav," or "mixed in." The husbands and wives are mixed together, and the Get is something which separates them.

We know, based on Midrash (as mentioned by Rashi Kesuvos 9b "Dichsiv"), that the men of David's armies gave bills of divorce to their wives when going out to war, so that their wives wouldn't be stuck if the men disappeared in battle, and so that the wives wouldn't have to perform Yibbum [levirate marriage] if their husbands died and there were no children.

This explanation of "Arubasam" turns to the view that David learned the use of a "Soldier's Get" from his father, Yishai, and that Yishai had told David to take care of his brothers' Gittin.

That covers our material on Yishai. Next week we begin the Daughters of Tzelafchad.

Two other notes:
1. I am contemplating replacing the Tanach series with a different series. Any and all ideas for a series will be entertained; please feel free to submit them.
2. Two people have asked about the future of the email given my departure from Rhode Island. I plan to continue this email for the foreseeable future. I am staying until at least after Pesach, possibly through August, and so we have several months to go. What happens after that depends on where Caren and I end up.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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