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Melachim 1:1:

וְהַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים וַיְכַסֻּהוּ בַּבְּגָדִים וְלֹא יִחַם לוֹ׃
King David was now old, advanced in years; and though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm.

וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ עֲבָדָיו יְבַקְשׁוּ לַאדֹנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה וְעָמְדָה לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וּתְהִי־לוֹ סֹכֶנֶת וְשָׁכְבָה בְחֵיקֶךָ וְחַם לַאדֹנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ׃
His courtiers said to him, “Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, to wait upon Your Majesty and be his attendant; and let her lie in your bosom, and my lord the king will be warm.”

וַיְבַקְשׁוּ נַעֲרָה יָפָה בְּכֹל גְּבוּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּמְצְאוּ אֶת־אֲבִישַׁג הַשּׁוּנַמִּית וַיָּבִאוּ אֹתָהּ לַמֶּלֶךְ׃
So they looked for a beautiful girl throughout the territory of Israel. They found Abishag the Shunammite and brought her to the king.

וְהַנַּעֲרָה יָפָה עַד־מְאֹד וַתְּהִי לַמֶּלֶךְ סֹכֶנֶת וַתְּשָׁרְתֵהוּ וְהַמֶּלֶךְ לֹא יְדָעָהּ׃
The girl was exceedingly beautiful. She became the king’s attendant and waited upon him; but the king was not intimate with her.

  1. I assume the whole story is not about actually getting warm as the simple fire or a warm bath does it better.

  2. Why the story is important here and at all? I don't see a problem going from "וְהַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים וַיְכַסֻּהוּ בַּבְּגָדִים וְלֹא יִחַם לוֹ׃" to the story with his son. What do we learn from it?

  3. Did he marry her before laying with her, because it is not mentioned in the text? If no, I recall that King David's court ruled the prohibition of Yihud Pnuyah (following Amnon and Tamar's accident), so what court did allow that? If yes, how did he leave her virgin? (the Gemmorah in Sanhedrin 22a suggests that he didn't marry her, but the question stands).

  4. Many commentators mention that virgins are warmer than non-virgins. Is that a medical fact or a speculation? Is this such a difference, his existing wives could not do the job at all?

Can somebody please conciliate all this into one consistent story?

  • 2
    For your question 2, it’s important to understand the story starting here – Joel K Nov 3 '18 at 20:51
  • Sanhédrin perek 2 – kouty Nov 3 '18 at 21:41
  • Re #1, Ecclesiastes says the best way to keep warm is with another's body heat. – msh210 Nov 3 '18 at 22:26
  • the story might be said to start with "Va'Yakam David va'Yichros Es Kenaf ha'Me'il..." – rosends Nov 3 '18 at 22:46
  • @rosends this doesn't add much to the story of Avishag, if the clothes were cursed why not a hot tub? – Al Berko Nov 3 '18 at 23:13
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The fact that he could not be warmed by artificial means (specifically clothes) is explained in Rashi on I Melachim 1:1

But he was not warmed: Our Rabbis concluded and said: “He who disgraces clothing will ultimately be deprived of their pleasures. Because David tore the skirt of Saul’s robe (Samuel I 24:5) consequently, they did not warm him” (Berachoth 62b). As David saw the angel of death standing in Jerusalem and his sword in his hand, his blood became cold from fear of him.

Just as clothing would not help, a fire would not help either. A fire would have had to be kept going constantly and would just make the room hot without helping the king. A hot bath would be temporary even if it would work.

Rashi on I Melachim 1:2

A virgin: her virginity warms her flesh.

A warmer: Heb. סכנת a warmer, and similarly “and he who chops wood is warmed (יסכן) by them” (Eccl. 10:9).

explains that his wives could not help because they were no longer virgins. This means that the medical advice of that time was that he required the extra warmth provided by her virginity. It does not matter as to whether or not we treat it as medical fact or speculation. The JPS translation of I Melachim uses Rashi to say

  1. A virgin - Since his own body was not capable of producing its own warmth in sufficient amounts, an alternative was sought to aid him in this capacity. His medical advisers felt a woman could accomplish this best. Although he had eighteen wives for this purpose, yet none had the advantages of a virgin, since her virginity warms her flesh. Her vibrant youth and virgin blood increased the warmth of her flesh. [Rashi]

The significance of this story is that Adoniyahu was actually setting up a revolt against Shlomo Hamelech. as we see in I Melachim 2:17 in the JPS commentary

17 ... that he give me Abishag the Shunamite as a wife - Herein Adoniahu discloses the true purpose for the lengthy introduction. His motive in seeking to marry Abishag was not an expression of his love, but rather a means of justifying his claims to the throne. Since all of a king's possessions are prohibited for use by a commoner, after the king's death, then certainly Abishag, who was in the same category as a wife, his most personal possession, should not be available to Adoniahu, a commoner. The only exception to this prohibition would be the next king. If Solomon would grant him permission to marry Abishag, his claim to the throne would be greatly enhanced. Adoniahu, therefore, sought to conceal his true intentions by renouncing his own claims to the throne and acceding to and granting Solomon's [Abarbanel]

Shlomo Hamelech understood what was going on and as we see in I Melachim 2:22

  1. And king Solomon answered and said to his mother, "And why do you ask Abishag the Shunemitess for Adoniahu? Ask for him the kingdom (also), for he is my elder brother, and to him, and Abiathar the priest, and Joab the son of Zeruiah."

Rashi

ask for him the kingdom also: From the moment a commoner uses the scepter of the king, that is the beginning of authority.

As the JPS explains

… ask for him the kingdom also: Solomon grasped immediatel the implications of this request. Adoniahu had no more desire to marry Abishag than he had. Solomon understood his intentions to use Abishag as a stepping stone to the throne. Solomon knew from the moment a commoner uses the scepter, or any personal property, of the king, that is the beginning of authority and sovereignty [Rashi]

This cause Shlomo Hamelech to order Adoniahu's death as a mored bemalchus

Malbim explains on I Melachim 2:23

וישבע המלך וכו׳ כי בנפשו דבר – רצה לומר הלא דבר זה דבר במסירת נפשו, כי בודאי הבין שיש לו סכנה בשאלה זאת, ובשביל נשואי אבישג לא היה מוסר נפשו אם לא בשחושב תחבולות שבזה שישתמש בשרביטו של מלך יוכל למרוד.

As the JPS explains Malbim

This request is going to cost him his life. Solomon was convinced that Adoniahu would never endanger his life just to marry Abishag. Most likely he had other designs in mind, such as making use of the king's scepter as a beginning of sovereignty*. [Malbim]

JPS cites Abarbanel on I Melachim 2:25 that

Solomon forgave Adoniahu only on the condition that he would not return to his quarrelsome and rebellious ways. Even the slightest suggestion of rebellion would rescind the previously granted pardon. His request for Abishag therefore revived again his earlier offense in David's lifetime. [Abarbanel]

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R. Saadia Gaon offers an interesting explanation for the source of David’s inability to be warm. In Emunot V’Deiot 6:7 he writes:

Thou knowest, too, that when the master, David, peace be upon him, beheld that angel, even though the latter had no evil intentions so far as he himself was concerned, he was afraid and frightened and made to tremble by him, as Scripture says: For he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of the Lord (I Chron. 21:30). Nor did he cease shivering from that day on until he died, as is attested by Scripture: And they covered him with clothes, but he could get no heat (I Kings 1:1). All the more would this apply to a person for whom [the vision of the angel of death] is intended.

(Rosenblatt translation)

According to this, David did not have a physical problem getting warm; he was instead trembling in fear from seeing the angel. This would explain why clothing couldn’t help him. We might also speculate that the plan was more to distract him with a pretty girl to get his mind off of the terrifying vision which was causing his shivering than to actually physically warm him.

  • You continue you [rather strange] approach of finding a single commentator that offers a somewhat weird and unconnected explanation and offer it as an exquisite answer without any thought of your own. I don't buy it - where does it say ולא יחם לו? Distract him with a pretty girl? Would you distract Chazon Ish or R' Elyashiv Z"l with a pretty girl? Do Rabbis actually get punished in Heaven for such irresponsible interpretations? – Al Berko Jul 24 at 19:07

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