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Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim Vayeilech 5783

Parashat Hashavua: The Various Meanings of Mereiim

Harav Yosef Carmel

In Tehillim 27 (L’David), which we recite throughout Elul and much of Tishrei, an elusive pasuk says (translated partially in the simplest way): “As merei’im approached (bikrov) me to eat my flesh, my oppressors and enemies were to me” (Tehillim 27:2).

Who were these merei’im, and why were they also oppressors and enemies? And what does this have to do with this time of the year? First, what does bikrov mean? Ibn Ezra explained that this is the term used for approaching battle. Ibn Ezra cites a related explanation that these people succeeded in coming close to David in battle. Radak says that it refers to the idea that David was close to death.

Let us give another suggestion. Krov refers to people who were close to him, either from his family or from his friends, and that it is these people who tried to harm him. In Tanach, we find people who were very close to David who did harsh things to him. His parents sent him away from the house and into the field to lead the flock, at a young age, and did not view him as a full member of the family. This is referred to elsewhere in the mizmor: “When my father and my mother left me” (we will discuss this at length in the soon-to-be published Tzofnat Shmuel). David was somewhat adopted by an alternate father figure, his father-in-law, Shaul. And this new “father” tried to kill him multiple times. Also, the people of his tribe, from Keila and the Zipim betrayed him. His very close friend, Achitofel, turned into a pursuer (see Shmuel II 17:1-4). Even his wife Michal, who at one point loved him very much (see Shmuel I, 18:20 and ibid. 28) reached a point of unresolvable enmity.

Now let us go back to the word merei’im. In the fifteen times in Tanach the word is found, it always refers to a particularly acute evil, including those who befriended and betrayed Shimshon. The word also appears in the rebuke of Yeshayahu (Yeshayahu 1:4; 14:20) and in the harsh prophecies of Yirmiyahu (Yirmiyahu 23:14), along with other places. Chazal say explicitly: “Merei’im always refer to the evil” (Avot D’Rabbi Natan I:21).

The root of merei’im is reish ayin ayin, which is like the words rei’ah (friend) ra (evil). The worst form of evil is when an apparent friend betrays the friendship and is actually evil toward his would-be friend. The pasuk describes how these people come to eat the flesh of their friend and turn into oppressors and enemies.

In contrast, the similar word ro’eh (shepherd) is a true friend of his flock. He acts with sensitivity and gentleness with the young sheep. Moshe and David are both leaders who proved their qualities in dealing with the sheep, as midrashim point out about each of them (see Shemot Rabba 2:2).

Many people claim to be fit to be proper leaders for our country, but they should also have to pass a test of true loyalty. We wish our readers, that in addition to all the other ways they should have a wonderful year, we should also enjoy leadership that toils to bring peace from within and without. May we never have to face friends who turn into enemies.

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