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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath

Folio 56a

that Samuel's sons sinned is merely erring. For it is said, And it came to pass when Samuel was old... that his sons walked not in his ways:1  thus, they [merely] walked not in his ways, yet they did not sin either. Then how do I fulfil, 'they turned aside for lucre'?2  That means that they did not act like their father. For Samuel the righteous used to travel to all the places of Israel and judge them in their towns, as it is said, And he went from year to year in circuit to Beth-el, and Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel.3  But they did not act thus, but sat in their own towns, in order to increase the fees of their beadles4  and scribes.5

This is a controversy of Tannaim: 'They turned aside for lucre': R. Meir said, [That means,] They openly demanded their portions.6  R. Judah said: They forced7  goods on private people. R. Akiba said: They took an extra basket of tithes by force. R. Jose said: They took the gifts by force.8

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: Whoever says that David sinned is merely erring, for it is said, And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways: and the Lord was with him.9  Is it possible that sin came to his hand, yet the Divine Presence was with him? Then how do I interpret, Wherefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do that which is evil in his sight?10  He wished to do [evil], but did not. Rab observed: Rabbi, who is descended from David, seeks to defend him, and expounds [the verse] in David's favour. [Thus:] The 'evil' [mentioned] here is unlike every other 'evil' [mentioned] elsewhere in the Torah. For of every other evil [mentioned] in the Torah it is written, 'and he did,' whereas here it is written, 'to do': [this means] that he desired to do, but did not. Thou hast smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword:11  thou shouldst have had him tried by the Sanhedrin,12  but didst not. And hast taken his wife to be thy wife: thou hast marriage rights in her.13  For R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: Every one who went out in the wars of the house of David wrote a bill of divorcement for his wife, for it is said, and bring these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge ['arubatham].14  What is meant by 'arubatham? R. Joseph learned: The things which pledge man and woman [to one another].15  And thou hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon:11  just as thou art not [to be] punished for the sword of the Ammonites, so art thou not [to be] punished for [the death of] Uriah the Hittite. What is the reason? He was rebellious against royal authority, saying to him, and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field [etc].16

Rab said: When you examine [the life of] David, you find nought but 'save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.'17  Abaye the Elder pointed out a contradiction in Rab['s dicta]: Did Rab say thus? Surely Rab said, David paid heed to slander? The difficulty remains.

[To revert to] the main text: 'Rab said, David paid heed to slander,' for it is written, And the king said unto him, where is he? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, belo da bar [in Lo-debar].18  And it is written, Then David sent, and fetched him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, millo dabar [from Lo-debar].19  Now consider: he [David] saw that he [Ziba] was a liar; then when he slandered him a second time, why did he pay heed thereto? For it is written, And the king said, And where is thy master's son? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem [: for he said, To-day shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father].20  And how do we know that he accepted it [the slander] from, him? Because it is written, Then said the king to Ziba, Behold, thine is all that pertaineth unto Mephibosheth. And Ziba said, I do obeisance; let me find favour in thy sight, my lord, O king.21

But Samuel maintained: David did not pay heed to slander, [for] he saw self-evident things in him,22  For it is written, And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king; and he had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, etc.23  While it is written, And it came to pass, when he was come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said unto him, Wherefore wentest thou not with me, Mephibosheth? And he answered, My Lord, O king, my servant deceived me: for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go with the king, because thy servant is lame,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. I Sam. VIII, 1, 3.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid. VII, 16.
  4. Who are sent to summon the litigants. On hazzan v. p. 41, n. 7.
  5. Who record the pleas, arguments, verdicts, etc.
  6. They were Levites, and personally demanded the tithes. Owing to their exalted position their demands were acceded to, while the humbler Levites might starve. But they did not actually pervert judgment. — R. Meir's interpretation may have been called forth by the troublous times before the overthrow of the Jewish state, when many High Priests abused their positions by such extortion; v. Halevi, Doroth I, 5, pp. 4 seq.
  7. They compelled people to be their business agents.
  8. Either the priestly dues, viz., the shoulder, cheeks, and maw of animals, though they were not priests; or the Levitical dues, sc. the first tithes, their sin being that they used force.
  9. Ibid. XVIII, 14.
  10. II Sam. XII, 9.
  11. II Sam. Xli, 9.
  12. The great court; v. Sanh. 2a.
  13. Lakah, the verb employed here, denotes marriage; cf. Deut. XXIV, 1.
  14. I Sam. XVII, 18.
  15. Lit., 'him and her', sc. the marriage. I.e., take away their marriage — cancel it by means of a divorce. — The divorce was conditional, in the sense that it became retrospectively valid if the husband died. Thus, since Uriah died, she was a free woman from the time he went out, and was not married when David took her.
  16. II Sam. XI, 11. Thus he disobeyed David's order to go home.
  17. I Kings XV, 5. Rashi: his only sin lay in encompassing Uriah's death, but not in taking Bathsheba (as explained above). From the context, however, it appears that Rab does not exculpate him from adultery with Bathsheba, but means that David was guilty of no other sin save that in connection with Uriah, which naturally includes his behaviour with Bathsheba. On that view Rab rejects Rabbi's exegesis (That too appears from Rab's prefacing remark: 'Rabbi who is descended, etc.').
  18. II Sam. IX, 4.
  19. Ibid. 5. Maharsha: belo dabar is translated: He (Mephibosheth son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul) has words, i.e., makes unloyal accusations against you. But David found that he was millo dabar, i.e., he had not made such accusations. Thus Ziba's charges were unfounded. This explains the Gemara that follows.
  20. Ibid. XVI, 3.
  21. Ibid. 4.
  22. Which substantiated Ziba's charges. Thus it was not a mere acceptance of slander.
  23. Ibid. XIX, 24.

Shabbath 56b

And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes. For all my father's house were but dead men before my lord the king: yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table. What right therefore have I yet that I should cry and more unto the king? And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I say, Thou and Ziba divide the land. And Mephibosheth said unto the king, Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come in peace unto his own house.1  He said [thus] to him: I prayed,2  when wilt thou return In peace? Yet thou treatest me so. Not against thee have I resentment, but against Him who restored thee in peace!3  Hence it is written, And the son of Jonathan was Meribbaal:4  was then his name Merib-baal? Surely it was Mephibosheth? But because he raised a quarrel [meribah] with his Master,5  a Heavenly Echo went forth and rebuked him, Thou man of strife, [and] the son of a man of strife! Man of strife, as we have stated. Son of a man of strife, for it is written, And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and strove in the valley.6  R. Manni said: [That means,] concerning the matter of the valley.7

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: When David said to Mephibosheth, 'Thou and Ziba divide the land,' a Heavenly Echo came forth and declared to him, Rehoboam and Jeroboam shall divide the kingdom.8  Rab Judah said in Rab's name: Had not David paid heed to slander, the kingdom of the House of David would not have been divided, Israel had not engaged in idolatry,9  and we would not have been exiled from our country.10

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: Whoever maintains that Solomon sinned is merely making an error, for it is said, and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father:11  it was [merely] not as the heart of David his father, but neither did he sin. Then how do I interpret, For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart?12  That is [to be explained] as R. Nathan. For R. Nathan opposed [two verses]: It is written, For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart,' whereas it is [also] written, and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father, [implying that] it was [merely] not as the heart of David his father, but neither did he sin? This is its meaning: his wives turned away his heart to go after other gods, but he did not go.13  But it is written, Then would14  Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab?15  — That means, he desired to build, but did not.16  If so, Then Joshua built [yibneh] an altar unto the Lord,17  [does this too mean,] he desired to build but did not! Hence it [surely means] that he [actually] built; so here too it means that he built? — Rather it18  is as was taught: R. Jose said, and the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of Moab.19  Now, is it possible that Assa came and did not destroy them, then Jehoshaphat, and he did not destroy them, until Josiah came and destroyed them! But surely Assa and Jehoshaphat destroyed all the idolatrous cults in Palestine? Hence [the explanation is that] the earlier are assimilated to the later: just as the later did not do, yet it was ascribed to them, to their glory, so the earlier ones too did not do, yet it was ascribed to them, to their shame.20  But it is written, And Solomon did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord?21  — But because he should have restrained his wives, but did not, the Writ regards him as though he sinned.

Rab Judah said in Samuel's name: Better had it been for that righteous man to be an acolyte to the unmentionable,22  only that it should not be written of him, 'and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord'.

Rab Judah said in Samuel's name: When Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, she brought him a thousand musical instruments and said to him, Thus we play23  in honour of that idol, thus in honour of that idol, yet he did not forbid her.

Rab Judah said in Samuel's name: When Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, Gabriel descended and planted a reed in the sea, and it gathered a bank around it, on which the great city of Rome was built.24  In a Baraitha it was taught: On the day that Jeroboam brought the two golden calves, one into Bethel and the other into Dan, a hut was built,25  and this developed into Greek Italy.26

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: Whoever maintains that Josiah sinned is merely making an error, for it is said, And he did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of David his father.27  Then how do I interpret, and like unto him there was no king before him, that returned [shab] to the Lord with all his heart etc.?28  [This teaches] that he revised every judgment which he had pronounced between the ages of eight and eighteen.29  You might say that he took from one and gave to another:30  therefore it is taught, 'with all me'odo [his might]', [teaching] that he gave of his own.31  Now, he disagrees with Rab. For Rab said: There was no greater penitent than Josiah in his generation and a certain person in ours; and who is that? Abba the father of R. Jeremiah b. Abba, and some say Aha the brother of Abba the father of Jeremiah b. Abba. (For a Master said: R. Abba and Aha were brothers). R. Joseph said: And there is yet another in our generation. And who is he? 'Ukban b. Nehemiah the Resh Galutha.32  And he is 'Nathan with the ray of light.'33  R. Joseph said: I was sitting at the session and dozing, and saw in a dream how one [an angel] stretched out his hand and received him.

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. II Sam. XIX, 25-30.
  2. Lit., 'said'.
  3. Thus he confirmed Ziba's accusation. For David regarded Mephibosheth's unkempt appearance too as a sign that he grieved over his return.
  4. I Chron. VIII, 34; IX, 40.
  5. Be'alaw fr. ba'al.
  6. I Sam. XV, 5.
  7. Saul argued: If the Torah decreed that a heifer should have its neck broken in the valley on account of a single murdered man (Deut. XXI, 1-9), how much greater is the sin of slaying all these Amalekites! (v. Yoma 22b). Thus he strove against God's command.
  8. This agrees with Rab's view (supra a) that David paid heed to slander and acted unjustly. Hence this punishment.
  9. The first step to idolatry was Jeroboam's setting up of the golden calves in order to maintain the independence of his kingdom (v. I Kings XII, 26 seq.).
  10. As a punishment for idolatry.
  11. I Kings XI, 4.
  12. Ibid.
  13. His wives attempted to seduce him, but failed.
  14. E.V. 'did'.
  15. I Kings XI, 7.
  16. Yibneh is imperfect, denoting uncompleted action; v. Driver's Hebrew Tenses, ch. III, 21 seq.
  17. Josh. VIII, 30.
  18. The statement that Solomon did not sin.
  19. II Kings XXIII, 13. This refers to the religious reformations of Josiah.
  20. Josiah merely removed the idols that were reintroduced after the deaths of the former two kings, but not all idols, since they had already been destroyed, yet it is all attributed to him. So Solomon too was not responsible for the building of the idolatrous high places; nevertheless, since he did not veto them, they are ascribed to him.
  21. I Kings XI, 6.
  22. Lit., 'something else' — i.e., to an idol, receiving pay for drawing water and hewing wood in its service, etc., though not believing in it.
  23. Lit., 'do'.
  24. This, of course, is an allegory. Solomon's unfaithfulness laid the seeds for the dissolution of the Jewish State.
  25. On the site of Rome.
  26. This term was particularly applied to the southern portion of Italy, called Magna Graecia, Cf. Meg. 6b in the ed. Ven. (omitted in later ed.): Greek Italy, that means the great city of Rome, v. Meg., Sonc. ed., p. 31, nn. 5-6.
  27. II Kings XXII. 2.
  28. Ibid. XXIII, 25. Shab really means that he repented, and thus implies that he first sinned.
  29. I.e., from his accession until the finding of the Book of the Law, i.e., the Torah (v. XXII, 1-8). He revised his judgments in the light of the Torah, and shab is translated accordingly.
  30. In the course of this revision.
  31. Me'odo V. p. 217, n. 7.
  32. Jast.: a repentant sinner with a halo; others: whom an angel seized by his forelock (accepting his repentance and bringing him to God).