(1 Kings 2:1-12)
December 25, 2004
David’s final message to Solomon, his heir apparent, blended religious admonition with real politik. In the later part of his message, he asked his son to deal with those political enemies whom he had been prevented from punishing and to continue to reward his loyal allies. It is obvious why David wanted Solomon to deal harshly with Abner ben Ner, since he was responsible for the death of Absalom, David’s son, as well as David’s trusted general, Joab, and his nephew, Amasa. David’s desire to have Shimei ben Gera, the Benjaminite, killed is less easily understood.
Shimei ben Gera, a relative of King Saul, blamed David for Saul’s demise. During Absalom’s rebellion against David, Shimei boldly cursed David, calling him a “man of blood and a base fellow” (2 Samuel 16:7) David seemed to see Shimei’s response as expected, considering the circumstances. After Absalom’s rebellion was quelled, Shimei sought David’s pardon and it was granted. (see 2 Samuel 19:16-24) David, however, before his death, makes this request from Solomon: “And, behold, there is with you Shimei ben Gera, the Benjaminite, of Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse (k’lalah nemretzet) when I went to Mahanaim…but I swore to him that I would not put you [Shimei] to death with the sword. Now hold him [Shimei] not guiltless… you should bring his hoary head down to the grave with blood.” (1 Kings 2:8-9)
Commentators felt compelled to explain this radical turnabout in David’s behavior. The Talmud attributed David’s intense anger at Shimei to the offensive nature of his curse. They found an allusion in the word “nemretzet”: [This word is spelled: nun, mem, resh, tzadi, tav is a] notarikon (an acronym) [for the varied aspersions that Shimei cast at David]: He is an adulterer [with Bathsheva], he is a Moabite [David’s descent], he is a murderer [Bathsheva’s husband, Uriah], he is an enemy, he is an abomination.” (Shabbat 105a)
Rabbi David Kimche (Provance 12th century) sees David’s admonition not as a death sentence but as a warning to Solomon to be wary of Shimei’s loyalty. This is based on a Talmudic legend (Berachot 8a) that Solomon had a great affinity to Shimei because he was Solomon’s teacher. David was afraid of Shimei from his past experience and wanted his son to show sufficient care.
Professor Uriel Simon is less apologetic about David’s behavior. He asserts that the Bible tells us of the tragic details of David’s charge to illustrate the dangers of the improper use of power. David, in all of his greatness, was not immune to the improper use of power. His advice to Solomon to find a pretext to “judicially” kill Shimei illustrates this point. (Bakesh Shalom U’rdephuhu p.175) David’s behavior, according to this viewpoint, serves as a valuable lesson to all leaders to avoid the misappropriation of power.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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