Naval and Avigail

Summary: Samuel died and was buried in Ramah. David travelled to the Desert of Paran and sent messengers to a wealthy man who lived in the city of Maon called Nahval to ask for provisions. He refused David’s request and disparaged David’s kingship, a crime punishable by death.

A deeper look: As the Jewish people gathered to eulogise Samuel (Samuel I 25:1), Nahval prepared a feast to celebrate the shearing of the sheep by making festive celebrations (Radak on Samuel I 25:8). David’s men had provided protection to Nahval and his shepherds (Samuel I 25:8) yet when David’s messengers asked for supplies Nahval not only refused but disparaged David by saying ‘who is David and who is the son of Yishai (Jesse)?’ (ibid. 10). David responded by preparing to kill Nahval (ibid. 13). Why did Nahval behave this way and did he really deserve to die for his insolence?

Nahval was a descendant of Kalev (Caleb) who had stood with Joshua when speaking positively about the Land of Israel (Numbers 13:30). After the sin of the spies, Kalev and Joshua were excluded from God’s punishment that the nation would die in the desert before reaching the Promised Land (ibid. 14:24).

The Jerusalem Talmud explains that as a descendant of Kalev, Nahval poured scorn on David’s kingship because he thought he was more qualified than David to be the king given his ancestor’s pious deeds (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 2:3). Rabbi Shimon Ashkenazi HaDarshan of Frankfurt (c. 1260) explains that Nahval thought that David was arrogant, assuming power over to some ‘drops of anointing oil’ (Yalkut Shimoni). This also explains why he ignored the national mourning for Samuel, the one who had anointed David.

Even though David hadn’t assumed power as Shaul was still alive, he still had the status of an anointed king. Nahval’s attitude was therefore a meridah b’malchut (treachery towards an anointed king) and punishable by death.

He was only saved when his wife Avigail sent provisions and pleaded to David for mercy. David granted clemency but when Nahval heard of what had happened he was stunned and died ten days later (Samuel I 25:37-38). The Talmudic sage, Rabbah ben Abbuha explained that the ten day period was between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. God allowed Nahval the opportunity to repent, but he failed (Rosh Hashanah 18a). Avigail however, was taken by David as a wife and is regarded as one of the most remarkable women in Jewish history (Megillah 14a-15a).