Saturday, 5 August 2017
Sanhedrin 20: More Rules for the King: War
The Gemara continues to explore circumstances where a person’s role and actions define their name instead of their parent’s name. At the end of this commentary, we read that people were described as honourable not for their status but for their Torah study. Each generation is said to be more “deceitful” or “vain” compared with the generation before them.
A new Mishna teaches that the King does not leave from the entrance of his palace if he dies. Instead he follows the bier if he chooses, like King David followed the bier of Avner (II Samuel 3:31). When he is comforted, he is greeted on a dargash, a type of bed.
The Gemara notes that the community follows the minhag, custom, of their place when women or men follow the bier. To ensure that the people did not rise up against him while thinking he killed Avner, King David walked among the women and among the men to show that he was also mourning. They comforted him instead of seeking to destroy him. The Gemara then discusses possible reasons for Avner’s death.
Following that conversation, the rabbis discuss the logistics of greeting people on a dargash. We learn that a dargash has its weaving on the inside, tied to holes in a bed post, while a bed has its weaving on the outside, where the straps are tied around the bed post. The rabbis attempt to clarify further details relating to the dargash, including its susceptibility to ritual impurity (after they are rubbed with fish kiln to smooth the wood).
A new Mishna states that the king conscribes people for optional wars (those not commanded by G-d nor for defence) using a court of 71 elders. Further, he breaches fences over peoples’ properties to make paths for himself and his needs without protest. That pathway can be of any size. Finally, all people give their spoils of war to the king and he takes the first portion.
The Gemara reasons that this requirement regarding going to war is repeated to ensure that people understand that a king cannot be appointed so that they can go to war without the prescribed reasons. Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei are quoted in different baraitot saying that the mitzvot were commanded to the Jewish people for three reasons:
· To establish a king for themselves
· To cut off the seed of Amalek in war
· To build the Temple
The rabbis debate the meanings of these words. Are we establishing a king so that we can be “like other nations” (Deuteronomy 17:15; I Samuel 8:19-20)? Which of these things should be done first? The rabbis also consider the breadth of Solomon’s reign. How mighty was his reign – from where to where, exactly?
We end with the beginning of a discourse about the pathway of a king and the distribution of his spoils. We are about to learn a proof text behind the assertion that the king gets half of the spoils and the people get the other half.