Avos d'R' Nasan, 33:1:

… Not only that, but our father Abraham did tz'daka (≈social justice) first and thereafter mishpat (≈justice), as is said [Gen. 18:19] "for I know him, for he will command his sons and family after him to do tz'daka and mishpat". When two litigants would come before our father Abraham in a matter of judgement, and one [of them] would say about his fellow "he owes me a mane", our father Abraham would take out a mane of his and give it to [the defendant] and tell them "arrange your case", and they arranged their cases. If [the] one was found liable to his fellow, [Abraham] would say to the one holding the mane [he had given him] "give the mane to your fellow"; if he was not [found liable], [Abraham] would tell them "split [the mane] and depart in peace".

But King David did not do thus; rather he would do mishpat first and thereafter would do tz'daka, as is said [Ⅱ Sam. 8:15] "David would do mishpat and tz'daka for all his nation". When litigants would come before King David for judgement, and one [of them] would say "he owes me a mane", [King David] would tell them "arrange your case" and they would arrange their case. If [the] one was found liable to his fellow for a mane, [King David] would take out a mane if his own and give it to him; if not, he would tell them "depart in peace".

It seems like anyone who knew about this policy of Abraham's or of David's could simply refuse to pay his debts, or could steal or damage property, or the like, and know that the damages will be paid for him. With that in mind, how do we explain these policies of theirs?

  • Presumably not all court cases would make their way to Dovid HaMelech, since generally we create an ad hoc Beis Din to handle them locally. If the argument escalated in such a fashion so as to reach the attention of the King, it seems likely it wouldn't be a matter of simple recalcitrance on one party to refuse the payment of a debt, since that wouldn't require mishpat of any kind. Mar 7, 2016 at 13:19
  • @IsaacKotlicky, I was thinking he served as the local bes din for cases that happened to be near him. And why wouldn't recalcitrance in payment require mishpat? The g'mara is replete with "mane li b'yad'cha" cases.
    – msh210
    Mar 7, 2016 at 13:28
  • Borerin lo echad to include the king? That's some chutzpah! I'd posit that he'd form a "Court of Last Resort," much like the SCOTUS, where a case too complicated for a common Beis Din was brought to the experts: אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה יְבִיאוּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפּוּטוּ הֵם Mar 7, 2016 at 13:31

1 Answer 1


A similar passage about David (but not the one about Abraham) appears in the Bavli (Sanhedrin 6 amud 2). On it, Maharsha comments:

They say about this that David said [Ps. 119:121] "I did mishpat and tz'daka; do not leave me to my oppressors": he prayed that that the pauper and his plaintiff not form a conspiracy against [David], [with the non-pauper] suing the pauper even if he owes nothing so that [David] might pay on his behalf, and then splitting between them what they got out of oppressing [David].

Perhaps Maharsha would say the same to the present question: that David prayed that he not be the victim of such a scheme.

After that passage, the Bavli offers an alternative explanation of what David did:

Although he did not pay from his own property, there was mishpat to [the plaintiff] and tz'daka to [the defendant]: mishpat to [the plaintiff], for he returned him his money, and tz'daka to [the defendant], for he took a stolen item from him.

On this, Margaliyos Hayam explains:

… How could they say here that his taking a stolen item from someone is tz'daka without giving him anything of [David's] own? However [one can answer as follows]: Lo, we are not dealing with wicked people, that [this defendant] knows that this is a stolen item and is keeping it in his possession. Rather, because a person doesn't see something negative about himself, he thinks that he has a right to this item. The judge who removes it from his possession — this is by learning this law with him and explaining it to him. And they said in [Bavli] K'subos 50, the end of amud 1, "'his tz'daka stands forever' [Ps 112:9]: this is someone who learns and teaches Torah", for this is the Torah of kindness. If so, someone who taught him practical law in removing the stolen item from his possession did a first-class tz'daka for him from his own property.

Perhaps Margaliyos Hayam would say the same to the present question: that this description of David's actions is a description of how he dealt not with wicked people but with misguided ones, and he would not offer his own money to wicked defendants.

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