Sunday, April 28, 2013

Deception and Glory

Three things troubled King David greatly, they were the location of the altar for the temple, the incident with Uriah and the taunts of the Israelite tribes over his marriage to Batsheva. In David's eagerness to decapitate Goliath the Philistine giant, his helper Uriah the Hittite diverted David's divine ‘destiny’ by requesting and receiving a right to marry from among any of the Jewish women of Israel. This misappropriation caused King David tremendous suffering through a series of tragic events that ultimately led to the division of the Israelite nation.
Uriah used his grant to marry Batsheva and became a high ranking officer. Whilst Uriah was fighting Israel’s war, King David and Batsheva had a public and immoral, some say illicit, affair from which she conceived. To deceive the public David recalled Uriah from the war, but when Uriah refused to visit Batsheva David sent him back to the battlefront with a sealed letter instructing David’s General, Yoav, to put Uriah in harms way. In protest, Yoav leaked the letter. Uriah was killed and national confidence in the King waned as some tribes were repulsed by David's indiscretion. Batsheva bore David’s child who died after 7 days. This child was not the immaculate conception. In a way David saw the child’s death as a blessing and behaved accordingly. David had usurped God's plan by giving his marital right to Uriah who used it to marry Batsheva the one destined for the King. Though tarnished by their actions, David married Batsheva who became the mother of Solomon, King David’s ultimate heir and constructor of the nation’s first permanent temple.
Then, toward the end of King David’s life he did something very strange. Against Jewish law and the wishes of Yoav, his most loyal and senior general, the King ordered the army to take a census of the tribes in Israel's North and Yehuda in the South. The commentaries consider this lapse, a transgression of The Kings supreme providential confidence, but this time, in his old age, King David doubted the nation would continue to support him. Perhaps his insecurity developed through punishing events for his impetuous acts. It is said to have caused him to order the census, usually reserved for a holy purpose, but here it may have been to satisfy his nagging desire and to remind his restless nation of his status.
About 35 years earlier King David located the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem's City of David. Fragmented political circumstances made him abundantly aware he would not be the one to build the temple, that honor would be left for his son Solomon. Always on his mind King David planned every last detail and gathered materials for the temple construction. He was determined to be associated with the Ark’s final place of rest. Before David was anointed King over all the tribes he studied with Prophet Shmuel (Samuel) to discover where the Ark should be permanently located. Together they learned the book of Yehoshua, particularly the territorial boundary of Binyamin and Yehuda, the critical point that identifies the prescribed location of the altar as required for building the temple and by which the Ark obtains its relative position. He also studied with Prophet Nathan as he continued to plan the temples intricate details and he argued vehemently about its proper place with Do'eg Israel's greatest scholar. Throughout his tenure King David had been unable to deduce the Altar's place and therefore the Ark's ultimate location according to Jewish law.
As a result of the ill fated census, a series of unfortunate events presented King David the political opportunity to finalize the temple location. The nation was punished with severe drought during which the King repented for his actions and those of the nation. In order to release the nation from its desperate state Gad, the prophet and seer, advised the King to make a national choice:- Three years of famine, three months fleeing invading enemies or three days of plague? King David chose the latter and the plague ravaged 70,000 Israelites, but before the allotted time was up God stopped His angel of death as it was about to reign pestilence on the people of Jerusalem (Mount Zion and Mount Moriah - The City of David). The angel challenged God over His broken deal, in response God offered Avishai, Yoav’s brother, the King’s most loyal follower lost his life. In the moment of this national pandemonium, David begged God’s forgiveness and Gad advised the King to make an altar at the site the King had seen the angel was standing poised to destroy[1] Jerusalem. The site belonged to the Jebusite King Ornan (Araunah) who lived in Jerusalem during David's entire reign, it was his threshing floor on the top of Mount Moriah.
Locating the altar for the temple was no simple matter. The laws are precisely established and every scholar of Israel’s tribes would have known and opined them. King David had struggled with many of the brightest scholars, including Do’eg his most vocal opponent, to determine its location. It is said David wanted to build in the middle[2] of the mountain, but Do’eg ridiculed him for such thought. Any move by him to ‘force’ this decision would have been pounced on by the most senior tribal scholars and leaders who opposed his leadership. The end of the plague presented the sometimes apparently, impetuous King the perfect national moment to purchase the site, build an altar and make a burnt offering as a sacrifice for himself and perhaps on behalf of his confounded nation. In doing so and against the law of the day, he enabled the status of his private altar (bamah) to become communal thus establishing its location on the top of Mount Moriah.
The law of the temple altar location stipulates it as the site where Isaac was offered by Abraham as a sacrifice. No other location could bestow permanence deserving of God’s Home and indeed the first and second temples at the site Prophet Gad enabled and King David prescribed were eventually destroyed. Maimonides suggested[3] that Moses wisely chose not to mention Jerusalem. Had he done so, the non-Jewish nations would have realized Jerusalem's singular importance to the Jewish people, and they would have fought fiercely to prevent it from falling into Israel's hands. Did King David know his alternative location would preserve the real site for the future?

King David knew of the prophecies that described and would cause the destruction of the first and second temples, did his deceptive actions follow those of Moses to defend the temples ultimate location? Perhaps they did and perhaps the altars true and permanent location will ultimately be revealed at this City of David site 

Immediately after the reign of King Solomon who completed the first temple, the nation was plunged into massive division by the southern tribes of Yehuda under Rehavam and northern tribes of Israel under Yerovam. Any view the nation held of the permanent status of that temple was challenged and eventually twice soundly defeated.
To this very day orthodox Jews around the world say the Nefilat Appayim or tahannun section of their daily prayer of repentance, which was written by King David and recorded as Psalm 25. Here Jews acknowledge their repentance for the tragedy of King David's fateful decision, some begin the prayer "and David said to Gad" from Samuel II 24:14.

[2] Samuel 2 22:17,18 Yalkut Me’am Leoz
[3] Guide to the Perplexed III:45

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Israel's Indigenous Independence and the Philistine Curse

After the post war miracles of 1948 and the establishment of the modern State of Israel, the remnant of three ancient deals continued to affect the nation. Today they are manifest in Gaza - the strip of land that accommodates a people who diminish Israel from its own territory and the capitulation to desire by Jewish people who succumb to other national identities. 

The indigenous rights of Israelis are established, recorded through Judaism and Jewish practices from the descendants of Abraham. No other nation possesses such a record or the rights that emanate from it, no other people can argue continuity or prove their lineage through it. The realization and recognition of Israel’s tribal heritage rights through pacts and deals that date back almost 4000 years must not be relegated by the symbolism of modern Zionism.

Three deals made by Avraham, Yitzchak and David delayed the realization of Zion as a permanent place of peace for Jewish people, of Jerusalem and the complete conquest of the land of Israel. During David’s conquest he shattered the long held inter-nation tribal deals that upheld the honor of Avraham and Yitzchak in the eyes of non Israelite tribes, but he was blinded in the process.

Avimelech - Father King of the Plishtim (Philistines), descendants of Noah's son Ham, realized his tribal future would eventually be lost to Israel, therefore he  requested a treaty that the sons of Yitzchak would not take away Plishtim land. Yitzchak cut an ammah, a strip of his donkey’s leather bridle and gave it over as his oath. The land represented by this ammah on Israel’s modern map approximates Gaza. 

In making this treaty Yitzchak reinforced an earlier pact his father Avraham entered with Avimelech who assisted Avraham to defeat the four mighty kings that conquered Sodom and Gemora. The pact was limited to 3 generations, but Yitzchak extended it.

Avraham had also made a second treaty referring specifically to Jerusalem with other Plishtim tribes. When he wanted to buy the cave of Machpela to bury his wife Sarah, the Jebusites (Yevusi) who were relatives of the Hittites objected. The Hittites demanded a condition that Avraham’s descendants would never conquer the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. 

Rivkah (Rebecca) was repulsed by the prospect that Yaakov (Jacob) may marry from the Hittites. They sent him away to find a wife from her brother’s family. As a result, he did not enter a treaty with the Hittites partly because he left the land of Israel to establish his family and fortune and only returned toward the end of his father, Yitzchak’s life.

The Jebusites who entered the covenant eventually made two idols, one a blind man representing Yitzchak who went blind and the other a lame man representing Yaakov who limped. They placed these idols along with seven iron sheep at Jerusalem’s entrance as a reminder to Israel’s future leaders.

Following Israel's return from exile in Egypt, Yehoshua (Joshua) commenced a conquest of the land and attacked Jerusalem, also referred to as Beit El, but Yehoshua was reminded of the treaty once made by his descendants and he honored it allowing the inhabitants to continue their tenure. The same occurred, after Yehoshua’s death, by the army of the tribe of Yehuda. The Jebusite responses on each occasion was to further fortify the city against future attacks. 

Four hundred years later the tribes of Israel were bitterly divided. At the time of King Shaul (Saul - a Benjamite), the shepherd David (a Yehuda-ite) was anointed King by the popular prophet and judge Shmuel (Samuel). In response to a calling by King Shaul whilst fighting the army of the Plishtim, David rose and killed Goliath - the giant Philistine. David wanted to remove Goliath's massive armor to decapitate him, but could not find a way to do it. On the battlefield Uriah the Hittite approached David and offered to resolve the problem. Uriah, who thought David would one day be King over all Israel, requested a Jewish wife. Oblivious to the serious misappropriation, David entered a pact with the Hittite to give away any woman of Israel Uriah chose. The armies of Shaul were amazed at David’s tenacity and bravery and King Shaul’s jealousy was aroused. 

King Shaul’s armies pursued David like a dog for many years. In arguably the most tragic event, David went to Nov (the site of Shmuel and the Mishkan, north of Jerusalem) to seek refuge from the priests that lived there. Do’eg the Edomite, then loyal to Shaul, was studying at the nearby yeshiva and witnessed the high priest provide impoverished David with the Philistine sword of Goliath and 100 loaves of bread for David’s men. Do’eg reported this to Shaul as a brewing rebellion by the priests and Shaul gave permission to massacre the 85 priests killed as a result of Do’eg’s testimony.

David left the proximity of King Shaul’s army and sought refuge from a Philistine regional chief Achish who provided him immunity and land in Ziklag. When all the Philistine nations finally arose against Israel and King Shaul, Ziklag was destroyed and the families of David and his men were kidnapped. David pursued and rescued them, but Israel was defeated under King Shaul. His son Yonatan (Jonathan), David’s closest companion, and King Shaul were beheaded.

King Shaul’s descendant could not hold (Benjamite) power so the tribal elders came to King David of Yehuda in Hebron and appointed him the King and all the tribes of Israel accepted him. David immediately marched to Yevus, Jerusalem, built on the border of Yehuda and Binyamin (Benjamin) to bring the fortified city back under Israeli control. The inhabitants, living under Araunah (Ornan) the King of Yevus, taunted David’s men reminding them of the pact of the lame and the blind. David promised military leadership to the first man that conquered the city. Yoav, entered through a concealed water pipe and provided passage to the others in his party - he became David's general. They occupied the water tower and progressively took the rest of the city. They argued with the inhabitants that the ancient pact was obsolete because the Philistines had once attacked and filled in Yitzchak’s wells, but they allowed the King of Yevus to live among the new Jewish occupants including King David.

Uriah the Hittite was granted the right to marry Batsheva considered to be the most beautiful woman in the land. Uriah was dispatched along with Yoav and his army to fight against the Ammonites. All soldiers provided their wives a conditional bill of divorce in the event of their death. One afternoon David caught a glimpse of Batsheva and sent for her. David lay with her and she conceived. On receiving the news of her conception, David requested Uriah’s return from battle and encouraged him to go home to his wife, hoping he would lie with her and confuse any public identification of the morally illicit conception. Uriah refused to go to his wife and responded to the King - the Ark of the covenant lives in a tent (in the city of David); my Master Yoav and my Masters servants are encamped in open fields. Will I then come to my house and lay with my wife? In response David sent Uriah to the front lines with a sealed letter ordering Yoav to place Uriah in harms way. Yoav did not retain the confidentiality of Davids sealed letter, but carried out his orders. Yoav blamed David for the loss of lives of some of his commanding officers. Against the backdrop of David’s splendid reign, news of his indiscretion spread fast and festered among the tribes, it catalyzed a terrible decay in the kingdom.

Batsheva’s birth was cursed, David did not repent until the prophet Natan highlighted his indiscretion which caused The King to enter a state of great repentance. The baby died, David’s behavior turned (II Shmuel12:21) and he began to lose control over his fragmented nation. Batsheva’s second son was Shlomo (Solomon) who, despite great inter-family upheaval, violence and death among David’s children ultimately became the King of Israel.

The effect of David’s reign was to provide the platform for Shlomo to build the first temple and unify the fragile tribes. It was a wonderful period in the nations history fondly remembered to this day. Each time Jews close the Ark containing the Torah in temples around the world we repeat the words - “Renew us as in times of old”. But Shlomo’s reign, in context of Israel’s history was short and soon after he died the divided nation expressed itself, in all its glory, through the upheaval that resulted from the unpopular anointment of Shlomo’s son Rehavam. Yerovam the leader of the tribe of Efrayim (from Yosef) rebelled using Egypt as his base. He was appointed King over ten of Israel's twelve tribes that split from Yehuda and with it he plunged Israel into the most devastating self imposed period of enduring exile that ultimately led to their near complete banishment from the land.

2744 years passed before the nation Israel returned to their land to establish the modern state of Israel in 1948. Today 65 years on, Israel continues to struggle with its early legacy, but the indigenous rights of its Jewish people are impossible to dispute.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Land for Peace!

Consider the problem the modern segmentation of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel posed for the historical inhabitants of the land. The map below highlights this, by overlaying onto the modern map, Israel’s ancient tribal land map. The ancient map is known because the boundary markers are recorded in the 3400 year old Hebrew bible, which precedes the record of any other identifiable continuing tribal rights in the region.

In the years preceding and following Israel’s war of independence in 1948 hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from land on either side of the Jordan river. Ancient rights of Jews who lived on the east bank of the Jordan river (Jordan) were presumed exchanged for the rights of Muslims living on the west bank of the Jordan river (Israel). Each of these communities were severely disrupted during the mass migration that took place as a result of war. Land rights and registration, followed from the Ottoman and British land registries, were handed to the new Jordanian and Israeli governments for management.

From the 1948 war, Jordan became the occupier of adjacent portions of land west of the Jordan river (in Israel) including a significant section of Jerusalem - commonly referred to as the West Bank. Prior to and in response to this state of war, laws were passed in Israel and Jordan in respect of future land rights. Israel offered a right of return to Jewish property owners displaced by acts of war. Jordan confiscated and cancelled rights to possess land by anyone it declared an enemy of their state - including all Jews.

In 1967 Israel, in response to an attack by Jordan and Egypt, conquered back the territory Jordan had occupied since 1948 and soon after began returning properties to Jewish families that could prove ownership prior to 1948. Jordan never returned or recognized the rights of owners of the hundreds of thousands of acres registered to Jews that were confiscated and Israel never recognized the rights of displaced Muslim landowners.

There is little point in dwelling on this much longer, but any so called land for peace arrangement must first reconcile these rights, including recognition of Israel’s ancient tribal land owners in the region. Apparently the truth is inconvenient, but it cannot be ignored by Israel or its proxies when negotiating to reduce further displacement and suffering by the people who have been most affected through violent conflict. Any ambit claims by parties with a vested interest must first be filtered by the backdrop of the ancient map of the indigenous rights of Israeli's.