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In 1 Samuel 24 Saul enters a cave to relieve himself and David cuts off part of Saul's cloak rather than kill him. During this time Saul had been pursuing David with the explicit intent to kill him. The talmud (Sanhedrin 72a) records a principle that if someone is being pursued with murderous intent his is obligated to arise early and kill the potential assailant. אם בא להורגך השכם להורגו

Based on this principle, did David have a halachic obligation to kill Saul rather than just cut his cloak, or at the very least injure him to prevent future pursuit?

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  • Why kill him if he had another way to save himself?
    – shmosel
    Commented May 12 at 20:37
  • He didn't have to kill him, but at least to incapacitate him. The gemarah doesn't say if someone comes to kill you run away or try to talk the killer out of it Commented May 12 at 20:47
  • Seems self-evident that's as a last resort. If someone threatens you in a road rage incident and you're able to drive away, is it a mitzvah to incapacitate him first?
    – shmosel
    Commented May 12 at 22:32
  • if your life is threatened, 100% Commented May 13 at 0:52
  • If you have another way out, your life is not threatened.
    – shmosel
    Commented May 13 at 0:59

1 Answer 1

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It would seem that it was pre-meditated act by Dovid.

Yerushalmi Sukkah 5:4 writes that Dovid had the inner turmoil of striking down a tzaddik.

וַיָּבֹ֥א שָׁא֖וּל לְהָסֵ֣ךְ אֶת־רַגְלָי֑ו. וַהֲוָה חֲמִי לֵיהּ מְשׁוּלְשָׁל צִיבְחַד וּמְסַלֵּיק צִיבְחַד. מְשׁוּלְשָׁל צִיבְחַד וּמְסַלֵּיק צִיבְחַד. אֲמַר [דָּוִד]. הֵיאַךְ מִינְגַּע בְּהָדֵין גּוּפָא צַדִּיקָא. הָדָא הִיא דוּ אָמַר לֵיהּ. הִנֵּה֩ הַיּ֨וֹם הַזֶּ֜ה רָא֣וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־נְתָֽנְךָ֩ הַיּ֤וֹם ׀ בְּיָדִי֙ בַּמְּעָרָ֔ה וְאָמַ֥ר לַֽהֲרָגְךָ֖. וָאָחוּס עָלֶיךָ אֵין כָּתוּב כָּאן אֶלָּא וַתָּ֣חָס עָלֶי֑ךָ. צְנִיעוּתָךְ חָסָת עָלֶיךָ.

Shaul came to spread his feet (I Shmuel 24:3) He saw him how he lifted a little and covered a little. [David] said, how could one touch such a righteous body. That is what he told him, behold, what your eyes saw today which today gave me in your hand in the cave and I could have killed you, etc. Is it not written “I had mercy on you” but it had mercy on you, your modesty had mercy on you.

It could also be that he knew that Shaul's death would be brought exclusively by Hashem and he was not worthy to bring it.

Indeed, it says later on I Shmuel 26:10:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר דָּוִד֙ חַי־ה' כִּ֥י אִם־ה' יִגֳּפֶ֑נּוּ אֽוֹ־יוֹמ֤וֹ יָבוֹא֙ וָמֵ֔ת א֧וֹ בַמִּלְחָמָ֛ה יֵרֵ֖ד וְנִסְפָּֽה

And David went on, “As the LORD lives, the LORD Himself will strike him down, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go down to battle and perish.

With this in mind, note the midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 15:16 which expressly answers your question.

וְכֵן אַתְּ מוֹצֵא בְּדָוִד שֶׁנָּפַל שָׁאוּל בְּיָדוֹ, מָה אָמַר דָּוִד (שמואל א כו, י): וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד חַי ה' כִּי אִם ה' יִגֳּפֶנּוּ אוֹ יוֹמוֹ יָבוֹא וגו', וְלָמָּה נִשְׁבַּע שְׁתֵּי פְּעָמִים, אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי הָיָה בָּא יִצְרוֹ וְאָמַר לוֹ אִלּוּ נָפַלְתָּ אַתָּה בְּיָדוֹ לֹא הָיָה מְרַחֵם עָלֶיךָ וְהֹרֶגְךָ, מִן הַתּוֹרָה מֻתָּר לְהָרְגוֹ, בָּא לְהָרְגְּךָ הַשְׁכֵּם לְהָרְגוֹ, שֶׁהֲרֵי רוֹדֵף הוּא. לְפִיכָךְ קָפַץ וְנִשְׁבַּע שְׁתֵּי פְּעָמִים חַי ה', שֶׁאֵינוֹ הוֹרְגוֹ.

Thus you find it so with David, for when Saul fell into his hands, what did David say (in I Sam. 26:10)? “And David said, ‘As the Lord lives, the Lord shall smite him; either he will die when his day comes [or he will go down and perish in battle; the Lord forbid that I lay my hand on the Lord's anointed].’” Why did he swear two times? R. Samuel bar Nahman said, “His [evil] drive came and said to him, ‘If you had fallen into his hand, he would have shown you no mercy and killed you. [Moreover] according to the Torah it is permissible to kill him – one who comes to kill you, rise up and kill him – since here he is pursuing [you].’ He therefore hastened to swear two times, ‘As the Lord lives, I will not kill him.’”

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