1) THE EFFECTS OF THE SIN OF "NOV IR HA'KOHANIM"
QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that on the day Sancheriv approached the cities surrounding Yerushalayim, his sorcerers told him that this day was the last day that he would be able to conquer Yerushalayim. They urged him to attack the city that day to take advantage of his last opportunity. Rav Huna explains that the day was the last day that Shaul ha'Melech's sin of killing the Kohanim of the city of Nov was still potent and could affect the outcome of the war.
Why was the sin able to affect them only until that day?
(a) The ARUCH LA'NER explains that the defeat of Sancheriv occurred on the night of Pesach (based on the Midrash in Shemos Rabah 18, and as mentioned in the Piyut in the Hagadah of Pesach). The TORAS CHAIM points out that the source for this might be the words "ba'Lailah ha'Hu" (Melachim II 19:35), which are used by the Navi with regard to the defeat of Sancheriv's army. This is consistent with the Gemara later (95b) that says that his army was defeated at the time that wheat becomes ripe, which occurs at the time of Pesach.
Nov was a city of Kohanim. The shortage of Kohanim caused by Shaul's destruction of Nov was felt most strongly on Erev Pesach, when all of the Jewish people brought their Korban Pesach to the Beis ha'Mikdash at the same time. That is why the sin of Nov would be a stronger condemnation against the Jewish people on Erev Pesach. If Sancheriv would have attacked the city on Erev Pesach, he would have succeeded in his conquest.
However, the wording of the Gemara implies that the sin of Nov was a sin that extended from the time of Shaul until this day and no further, and not that it was a sin that was revisited each year at this particular time.
(b) The Giv'onim sought vengeance against Shaul for killing the Kohanim of Nov. They wanted to hang seven of his descendants (Shmuel II 21). The reason they were affected by the death of Nov was that their sole source of income was through supplying water and wood to the Kohanim of Nov for use at the Bamah of Nov. Hash-m heard their complaint and told David ha'Melech to do whatever they demanded, despite the fact that a child normally is not punished for the sins of his father. The Gemara in Yevamos (79a) explains that the reason why Hash-m agreed to their demand was in order to make a Kidush Shem Shamayim so that other potential Gerim would see the concern that the Jews have for the well-being of Gerim.
The RADAK adds that it was particularly important to show sensitivity to the Giv'onim, because the Giv'onim originally converted through deceit. They made Yehoshua swear that he would accept them as Gerim and not kill them, before they told him that they were from the seven native nations of Kena'an. If the Giv'onim would die out because of their loss of livelihood (caused by Shaul's actions), it would look as though the Jews were not keeping their promise to the Giv'onim, and other potential Gerim would not want to join the Jewish people. Hence, the sin of Nov did not merely involve the death of Kohanim, but it distanced potential Gerim from joining the Jewish people.
This might explain why the child of Orpah was the one to avenge the death of Nov Ir ha'Kohanim from David ha'Melech. The Gemara later (99b) teaches that Timna, the sister of Lotan, came to the family of Avraham to convert and join his family. However, she felt that they would not accept her as a full-fledged member of their family (since she was born through adulterous relations; see Rashi to Bereishis 36:12). She decided that she would join the family in a different way -- by becoming a Pilegesh (concubine) of Elifaz, son of Esav.
The son of Timna was Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jewish people. This was not accidental. When a potential convert with genuine intentions is distanced from the Jewish people by being made to feel unfit, the consequences for the Jewish people can be disastrous. The same occurred to Orpah. When she was discouraged from joining the ranks of the Jews, her children were given vast powers over the Jewish people. One of those children was Goliath, another was Yishbi; both of them were massive warriors who focused their efforts on fighting against the Jewish people.
This might explain why Yishbi was the appropriate one to avenge from David the death of the Kohanim of Nov. Since the death of Nov's Kohanim caused potential converts to distance themselves from the Jewish nation, the son of the one who was discouraged from conversion (Orpah) was the one who tried to kill David.
The sin that distanced converts from the Jewish nation could affect the nation as long as there were potential converts whose decisions might still be affected by what happened to Nov. The number of potential converts fluctuates in accordance with the power and prestige of the Jewish nation among the other nations. For this reason, thousands flocked to convert in the days of Shlomo ha'Melech (see Yevamos 25b). When the prominence of the nation sank to its lowest point, there no longer were potential converts, and the sin of Nov no longer bore ill effects. This point was reached when Sancheriv conquered not only Ever ha'Yarden and the Galil, but even the large cities of Yehudah (except for Yerushalayim). No longer were foreigners attracted to join the Jewish nation.
That is why the sin of Nov ceased to affect the nation exactly on the day that Sancheriv destroyed all but the last vestiges of the Kingdom of Judah, capturing the last large cities and surrounding the remaining Jews in Yerushalayim "like birds in a cage." (M. KORNFELD)
QUESTION: The Gemara says that David ha'Melech went to "Sechor Biza'ei." RASHI, in one explanation, according to the Girsa of the MAHARSHAL and EIN YAKOV, says that this refers to "Kanigya," which means a hunting expedition. The ARUCH (Erech Sechor Biza'ei) similarly translates this term as "falconing." (Perhaps the word "Parsi" in Rashi should say "Peres," which is a falcon.) A similar Gemara later (107a) describes how David ha'Melech shot arrows at birds.
It seems from the Gemara here that hunting is a legitimate activity. However, the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (18b) says that the verse in the beginning of Tehilim (1:1), which mentions the "ways of sinners," refers specifically to those who participate in hunting expeditions!
The NODA B'YEHUDAH (YD 2:10) points out that the only people in Tanach known to have been hunters were Nimrod and Esav, who were both Resha'im. Purposeless killing of animals for the sake of the hunter's enjoyment alone is not a Jewish activity. (See also TESHUVOS MAHARI BRUNA #71.)
Why, then, was David ha'Melech involved in hunting?
ANSWER: The verse refers to David as "Admoni" (Shmuel I 16:12). The Midrash explains that he was born under the same Mazal as Esav -- Ma'adim. The Gemara in Shabbos (156a) says that a person born in the Mazal of Ma'adim will be one "who spills blood." The Gemara explains that if he redirects his tendencies in the proper way, then he will use them to become a blood-letter, a Shochet, or a Mohel. David ha'Melech, as king, was not able to do any of those, and thus perhaps he redirected his tendency to spill blood towards hunting animals so that he should not kill people.
Regarding the waste and wanton destructiveness involved, perhaps David ha'Melech wanted to use the hide of the deer for use as parchment for writing a Sefer Torah (as the Gemara in Kesuvos 103b says about Rebbi Chiya). The birds at which he shot arrows (107a) and the flesh of the deer that he hunted might have been used to feed to his dogs (as mentioned in Shabbos 30b, which describes the large kennels that he had).
The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM (#15) suggests that David ha'Melech might have used a very sharp arrow and shot the animal in the neck, performing a proper Shechitah (as mentioned in Chulin 17b).
3) YISHBI'S ATTEMPTS TO KILL DAVID
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Yishbi captured David ha'Melech, he attempted to kill David by tying him up and folding him beneath the beam of an olive press and sitting on it so that David would be crushed. Hash-m saved him by causing the earth to soften beneath him. When Yishbi saw that Avishai was coming to save David, he attempted to kill David by throwing him high into the air and then planting his spear beneath David, so that David would land on the spear.
If Yishbi wanted to kill David ha'Melech, then why did he not simply kill him with his sword once he had captured him? Why did he perform these strange acts to try to kill him?
(a) The YAD RAMAH explains that even though Yishbi could have killed David directly, he tried to kill him in a manner that would demonstrate his own strength. He also wanted to play games with the body of David to disgrace him and to show his strength.
This explanation apparently is based on the verse that says that Yishbi was wearing a new set of armor (Shmuel II 21:16). Rashi there explains that this was Yishbi's first day as a warrior. Upon initiation, a new warrior would try to show off his strength and prowess on the first day of his involvement in battle.
(Alternatively, perhaps Yishbi attempted to kill David in these indirect manners because he did not want to soil his brand new armor, or because it is a sign of strength and courage to kill without drawing blood.)
(b) The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM (#23) writes in the name of TESHUVOS DIVREI RAV MESHULAM (#3), the son of the Chacham Tzvi, that when Yishbi saw that David ha'Melech escaped from being crushed beneath the beam, he was concerned that David saved himself through Kishuf, sorcery, and thus he would also be able to save himself from the sword through Kishuf. Therefore, Yishbi lifted David off of the ground, because a sorcerer is unable to use his powers of Kishuf when he is not touching the ground, as Rashi mentions earlier (44b; see also Sefer Chasidim #474), that a sorcerer can use his power of Kishuf only when his feet are on the ground. In this manner, Yishbi intended to kill David before his feet reached the ground.
(c) The Gemara says that Avishai became aware that David ha'Melech was in mortal danger when he saw a Yonah (a dove) in distress. The Jewish nation is compared to a Yonah, and since the nation at that moment was not in danger, he deduced that it must be the king who was in danger. It seems that David ha'Melech in this story is a parable for the experiences of the Jewish people in times of exile.
The Gemara earlier teaches that Shaul ha'Melech's sin of killing the Kohanim of the city of Nov affected the people until many years later, until Sancheriv's assault on the Yerushalayim. As explained earlier (see Insight #1 above), the sin of Nov Ir ha'Kohanim involved a Chilul Hash-m which caused potential Gerim to distance themselves from the Jewish people. The Chachamim teach that one of the purposes for which the Jewish people are sent into exile is that potential Gerim should see them and be attracted to join the Jewish people (Pesachim 87b). When the Jewish people do not conduct themselves in a befitting manner and do not attract the Gerim, they are punished for the "sin of Nov." This might be what is alluded to by David ha'Melech's act of hunting (an activity not consistent with Jewish values) and eventually being ensnared by the enemy.
When the nations see that the Jewish people do not properly observe the Mitzvos, they use a number of tactics to attempt to defeat the Jewish people and take them away from the Torah permanently (see Rashi to Bereishis 27:40). The first tactic they use is direct pressure on the Jewish people by enacting decrees against them and persecuting them in order to make their lives as Jews difficult. If the Jews put their faith in Hash-m and accept the Gezeiros with humility, then Hash-m "softens the earth beneath them" so that they should be able to withstand the pressures of the nations and not be broken. (See Ta'anis 20b, where the Gemara says that a person should be soft like a reed so that he will not be broken by the strong winds.)
When the nations see that this tactic does not work, they try a different approach. Instead of pressing the Jewish people into the ground, so to speak, by trying to intimidate them, they throw the Jewish people "into the air," trying to cause the Jewish people to become arrogant by making them feel that they are like all other nations. The nations realize that such arrogance will cause the Jews to bring about their own demise. When Jews become assimilated with the nations, they eventually forget the ways of their fathers and they lose their connection to Torah. The way to halt this downfall is by using a Shem of Hash-m, as Avishai used, to keep them "in the air." The Gemara often refers to the word of the Torah as "Shem" (see Rashi to Makos 4a, DH ha'Shem). This means that through returning to Torah, the people can overcome the foreign influences and hold fast to the ways of the Torah. It is sometimes necessary for a Talmid Chacham, who has not been influenced by the assimilationist attitudes, to go and help his brethren by teaching them Torah. (These two tactics of the nations are hinted to in a deeper allusion in the Mishnah in Berachos (54a) that says that a person should not interrupt his Shemoneh Esreh (which alludes to interrupting one's concentration on Avodas Hash-m) even when there is a serpent wrapped around his ankle (referring to when the nations are trying to humble him with their evil decrees and plots), or when a king is greeting him (referring to when the nations treat the Jews royally, giving them honor and enticing them to join them).)
The Gemara says that David and Avishai fled, and Yishbi pursued them. The Gemara relates that they came to a place called, "Kubi," which they understood to mean, "Kum Bei" -- "stand up against him." However, they did not yet have the courage to stand up against Yishbi. They then came to a place called "Bitrei," which they understood to be hinting that "two (b'Trei) cubs can kill the lion." They mentioned to Yishbi that his mother, Orpah, was dead, and that weakened him and they were able to kill him.
The significance of the difference between "Kum Bei" and "b'Trei" is implicit in Rashi's words. "Kum Bei" means that each one should stand up and fight against Yishbi, individually. They realized that as individuals they would not be able to defeat him. "B'Trei" implies that they would defeat him when they join together and fight as a team. Similarly, the Talmidei Chachamim must help the weaker Jews and fight together as a team against the forces of assimilation. Only when the weaker members of the nation rally around the Talmidei Chachamim will they be able to conquer the forces of evil that oppose them. They will do this by pointing out the moral depravity of the nations and by showing that their ways of living will never lead to any lasting achievement. (M. KORNFELD)
4) THE ARMY OF 260 BILLION SOLDIERS
QUESTION: The Beraisa teaches that the camp of Sancheriv numbered "260 thousand myriads, minus one." The Gemara is inconclusive about the meaning of "minus one."
What is the significance of the number 260, and what is the Beraisa trying to teach with this number and by the one that is missing?
ANSWER: The verse in Yeshayah (10:15) relates Hash-m's rebuke to Sancheriv. After the prophet describes the arrogance of Sancheriv, he says, "Can the ax ('Garzen') pride himself over the one who wields it, or the saw over the one who waves it, or the stick over the one who lifts it?" The prophet's intention is to humble Sancheriv, saying that he is no more than an ax in the hands of Hash-m, which He is utilizing to punish His people. When it is Hash-m's will to spare His people, the ax has no power of its own.
The Gematriya of the word "Garzen" is 260. The Beraisa is emphasizing that the armies of Sancheriv were simply a "Garzen," an ax, in the hands of Hash-m, which He was using to punish the Jewish people when they were deserving of punishment. However, Sancheriv did not recognize this. He was "lacking One" -- he was lacking the awareness of Hash-m Who is One. He gave credit to himself for his power, unaware that he was merely a tool in the hands of Hash-m. Hash-m therefore displayed to Sancheriv the Hand that wielded the ax when He destroyed the armies of Sancheriv. (M. KORNFELD)