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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi | 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: Shimi ben Geira Guilty or Innocent?

Harav Yosef Carmel

In our haftara, King David leaves instructions to his son, Shlomo, before his death. Among them was that Shlomo should find a way to have Shimi ben Geira executed despite the fact that David had spared him for the sin of cursing the king as he fled Yerushalayim during Avshalom’s revolt. The question begs: was it right for Shimi to have been killed or not?
The first matter we should investigate is who Shimi was. Chazal tell us that he is the same Shimi, from the tribe of Binyamin, who is a forebear of another historical figure: Mordechai. Shimi was very important in his own right, as he was called “the first to the household of Yosef” (Shmuel II, 19:21). Was such an important person fitting of execution?
Chazal (Megilla 12b), in analyzing Mordechai’s lineage, are bothered by the following issue. He is referred to both as a Judean and as a Yemini (from Binyamin). Actually, says the gemara, the different tribes competed for credit about their responsibility for the miracle of Purim. The Judeans said that they were responsible, for had their tribesman, David, killed Shimi, Mordechai would not have been born. Binyamin simply stated that Mordechai was from their tribe. Another opinion (Rava) in the gemara is that Yehuda had done a disservice by not killing Shimi right away, for Mordechai, who resulted from the delay, incited Haman against the Jews. Binyamin also wronged the nation by not killing Agag, the forebear of Haman, promptly.
If David was praised for not killing Shimi, neither during his sad fleeing from Yerushalayim, nor during his triumphant return, then it would follow that he should not have instructed Shlomo to have him executed (albeit for a later crime he was enticed into violating). Another gemara (Berachot 8a) laments Shimi’s passing, saying that as long as Shimi was alive, Shlomo (Shimi’s student) did not marry Paroh’s daughter, which had far-reaching negative impact. On the other hand, Rava (above) seems to bemoan the delay in Shimi’s death, which allowed Mordechai to endanger the nation, and thus justify his execution.
The disagreement between the opinions and factions may depend on the following matter. What was David’s status when fleeing, when Shimi cursed him? David was anointed as king by Shmuel and was also accepted by the people, originally only by the tribe of Yehuda (Shmuel II, 2) and eventually by all of Israel (ibid. 5). Could the people rescind the mandate they gave David and choose someone else? According to the first opinion, they could do that, in which case David should be praised for holding back his emotions and not killing Shimi, for at the time the people did not support him, he lacked the halachic status of king, which justifies killing rebels. According to the second opinion, once the nation accepts the king, they cannot back out, in which case, David could have and perhaps should have executed Shimi.
From this episode, as from others, we can learn lessons about authority and democracy from the Rabbis’ perspective.
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim
is dedicated
 to the memory of
R' Meir
 ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
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