Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What You Say to the King

Is it okay to malign the leader(s) of the country? In the United States, the concept of freedom of speech allows for a great range of political commentary and criticism. Whether this is good or bad for American society is a question best left to private opinion, but the narrative in today’s Treat demonstrates that even the greatest leaders of Israel faced challenging criticism.

There is an interesting correlation to this issue in the Tanach. In the Second Book of Samuel, Chapter 16, the Torah describes a disturbing incident in which a man named Shimei ben Gera angrily maligned King David. Shimei was from the House of Saul, the king whom David succeeded. King David was traveling through the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin and “as he (David) came, he (Shimei) cursed him continually. And he cast stones at David and at all the servants of King David” (II Samuel 16:5-6). Shimei’s words were harsh and angry: “Come out, come out you bloody man, you wicked man. God has returned on you all the blood of the House of Saul in whose stead you have reigned. God has delivered the kingdom into the hands of Absalom your son, and, behold, you are taken in your mischief because you are a bloody man!” (ibid. 8).

David’s companion, Avishai, took great umbrage for him. He wished to punish Shimei immediately, but David stayed his hand, stating: “Let him curse, for God has bidden him to do so” (ibid. 16:11).

This incident occurred in the midst of the attempted coup of David’s son Absalom. When David was returned to his throne, Shimei came and begged forgiveness, and David let him live. According to tradition, Shimei went on to become a teacher of David’s son and heir, Solomon.

However, the fact is that Shimei’s cursing of God’s anointed king was a grave transgression, and before he died, David instructed Solomon to “hold him not guiltless; you are a wise man and you know what you ought to do” (II Kings 2:9). Solomon put Shimei under house arrest, which he violated. His disobedience of the king’s order lead to his death by execution.

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