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In I Shmuel 17 the Jews are camped opposite the Plishtim, preparing for battle. Goliat the giant offers an alternative to fighting, one warrior from each side will do battle, the winner 'wins' the war. At first the Jews can find no one to participate in this contest until Dovid volunteers, persuades Shaul to let him fight, and eventually wins.

  1. Why are the Jews letting the Plishtim dictate the terms of engagement? Why not simply attack if they believe it is the will of God?
  2. Would they have been halachically bound, had they lost? Could they have ignored the whole thing and still attacked? It would seem from the simple reading of the verses not, but why not?
  3. If they couldn't find anyone for several days, why didn't they either decline and propose and alternative or else why didn't the Plishtim count it as a forfeit?
  • I like how you're wearing my shirt so that the dots in the center of your gravatar show as eyes :) – MTL Dec 15 '14 at 20:36
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    @Shokhet identity theft is a serious crime – user6641 Dec 15 '14 at 20:44
  • "It would seem from the simple reading of the verses not": "not" "halachically bound", or "[c]ould" "not" "have ignored"? And how does it seem that way from the verses' simple reading? – msh210 Dec 16 '14 at 7:44
  • The Malbim has an interesting approach - but I don't have the time now to review and translate it. toratemetfreeware.com/online/f_01883.html#HtmpReportNum0016_L2 – Danny Schoemann Dec 16 '14 at 10:10
  • Your first premise is wrong: There was no de'oraysa obligation to attack the plishtim, so there was no guarantee of divine protection. Avoiding a potentially lethal battle and sparing Jewish lives would certainly be a priority for them. It seems both sides recognized a protracted battle as needlessly bloody, so the Plishtim offered the compromise. – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 17 '15 at 18:01
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1)Why are the Jews letting the Plishtim dictate the terms of engagement? Why not simply attack if they believe it is the will of God?

The Jews has been unable to defeat the Plishtim (besides for Shimshon -- albeit on a microscale) for around 400 years. They had better technology (i.e. iron armor and chariots as evidenced by the posukim), and the "covenants" with the forefathers (from the midrash). Moreover, it is not a given that G-d's "favor" would have been with them in a pre-emptive strike in general. Furthermore, from a position of logic, if they "believed" that G-d was "with them" would it not be even easier to simply defeat 1 man (even if he was big)? This is actually exactly the position King David took, by referencing the fact that battle was indeed HaShem's, and that Golyath's provocation may have actually been the reason G-d's favor switched to the Israelite camp.

Besides for the above, King David having previously been anointed King, need a way to become famous. This episode provided a way for him to upstage the current leader and begin that process. This is similar to how Hashem had elders forget (an) element(s) from their Torah knowledge in order for Hillel haZaken to become well-known in his time.

2)Would they have been halachically bound, had they lost? Could they have ignored the whole thing and still attacked? It would seem from the simple reading of the verses not, but why not?

It seems that the issue of desecrating G-d's name would have likely obligated them to fulfill their declarations in an open covenant especially if it was agreed upon by a halachic King.

3)If they couldn't find anyone for several days, why didn't they either decline and propose and alternative or else why didn't the Plishtim count it as a forfeit?

As stated above the episode serves as a way for King David to become famous and begin his fated ascension to the throne. For the sake of argument, it is likely the Plishtim did not want open war with Saul's newly formed empire, fresh off their defeat of Nachash, King of Ammon. By displaying their best warrior and having no one want to fight, it was a way to shame the entire nation and their new King, and additionaly through Golyath's actions, desecrate G-d's name. The Israelites never formally declined, thus the Plishtim were able to continue on with their shaming etc. possibly creating defavor in the eyes of the nation.

  • As a side note - I'm a bit worried whenever anyone says "This is similar to how Hashem had elders forget their Torah knowledge in order for Hillel haZaken to become well-known in his time.". If we apply the Kuzari argument to the oral Torah tradition, or just look at rabbis in the Talmud bringing their own text-based proofs and reasoning, it shakes one's faith because the Kuzari argument claims that any such "religious dogma" could have been just additions to the Torah started by a small group of people. – Gregory Magarshak Apr 13 '15 at 10:38
  • @GregoryMagarshak R. Yehuda HaLevi was a proponent of the Oral Law; there are good resources on the internet that should not be too hard to find regarding how the Oral Law works. In my answer I didn't mean EVERY elder forgot EVERYTHING he learned, in the midrash its a certain thing (or things I forget lol) that were forgotten and Hillel knew the answers, revealing that HaShem wanted him to be recognized, i.e. they knew they forgot something and when he said it they remembered he was right, or something along those lines. – warz3 Apr 13 '15 at 11:20
  • @GregoryMagarshak if you have any questions later on about the Oral Law or how it works we can have a chat on here or exchange emails and discuss, let me know – warz3 Apr 13 '15 at 11:30
  • You can find my email at qbix.com/about - would be happy to discuss – Gregory Magarshak Apr 14 '15 at 0:08
  • @GregoryMagarshak mailed you – warz3 Apr 14 '15 at 1:05

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