Avimelech -

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Resource Type: Shiur in: English
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Estimated Time: 30 minutes

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Resource Goal

Goal: Chanichim should see why Avimelech is such a terrible leader and what negative leadership traits we learn from him, and what happens when no one appropriate steps up to fill a leadership role.


Resource Contents

Written by- Sarah Gordon

sygordon@gmail.com

Many of the ideas from these shiruim are adapted from the book "Shofet HaShoftim" by Yisroel Rozenson, published by Machon Herzog.

Machal Shiur 11: Perek 9

Goal: Chanichim should see why Avimelech is such a terrible leader and what negative leadership traits we learn from him, and what happens when no one appropriate steps up to fill a leadership role.

Avimelech The Opposite of Gidon:

Pesukim 1-9: The Perek starts off with Avimelechs drive for power, he recruits relatives of his Pilgesh mother in Shechem to fund a take over of the leadership. We already see that out of Gidons 70 sons, he is the odd man out a son of a Pilegesh definitely not a likely candidate to take over for his father. It seems that the other 70 sons were going to divide the leadership after Gidons death. (Metzudat David).

Avimelech wants total power, he tells the people of Shechem: Why serve 70 people like a fool, when you can serve 1 me, your brother! Charismatic, but evil. Interesting that he calls the non-Jews his brothers (from his mom the Pilegesh instead of his fraternal brothers who he will murder).

They give him 70 pieces of silver for the 70 brothers they will kill and not have to serve or pay taxes to.

We see Avimelech as the opposite of Gidon. Ask the chanichim to come up with differences:

  • Gidon is humble and does not want to be king, Avimelech wants to be king and chases after it has tremendous gaavah (even in death).

  • Gidons army sends away people who are not of good character (scared, bowed down to drink), Avimelech recruits evil men, davka doesnt screen his soldiers (9:4: anashim reikim vepochazim).

  • Gidon cares about the people and makes decisions based on his concern for others, Avimelech does everything based on whats good for him and his power.

  • Avimelech kills brothers on a rock, while Gidon sacrifices a korban on a rock as the first sign.

What makes Avimelech different then all other shofets?? Avimelech is the only self-appointed shofet!! Not appointed by G-d! And his melucha is self appointed over a non Jewish city Shechem, not the nation. Opposite of what is supposed to happen. Also Bnei Israel did not cry out to G-d nor was there a punishment. We know they sin after Gidon (and with the ephod), but maybe this whole incident with Avimelech is the punishment.

Avimelechs story is horrible and is the beginning of the downfall of Sefer Shoftim (it only gets worse from here). Bringing us back to the fact that had Gidon taken on the Kingship, this would not have happened as he and then one of the good 70 sons after him would have been king.

5- Kills 70 of brothers on a rock. Does this in Shechem which is the place of achdut and hatred where (Breishit 37:13) Yakov sends Yosef, and he gets sold by the brothers, symbolic here of the fratricide brother killing brother the ultimate sin (kayin and hevel).

Avimelech thinks he is a king but really he is a tyrant. Perhaps Avimelech is what Gidon called him, talking about how Gidon could have been king, or perhaps Avimelech is what he called himself since wanted to show from his father that he should be king! (Even though he is a Ben Pilegesh, and despite this, someone lacking good leadership traits).

Mashal Yaton: (Pesukim 6-21)

Themes:

  1. Avimelech is a horrible leader

  2. If Gidon had been a king or if good leaders had stepped up this wouldnt have happened.

All 70 of Gidons sons are killed except for the littlest one Yatom who hides. Yaton runs to Har Grizim, which was the mountain where the Brachot were said (Devarim 27, 12-13: Eleh yaamdu levarech at har grizim, veeleh yaamdu al hakelalal bhar eval), and gives his mashal, which is a curse about the lack of leadership.

He gives his mashal on Har Grizim specifically to show how backwards everything is, since the people are getting cursed on a Bracha mountain, and similarly, everything is backwards with Avimelech as leader.

The mashal is that trees are asked to be king but they dont want to and refuse. The trees that are listed are: Olive tree, Fig tree and a Grape Vine. All these trees are asked to be a leader and they all refuse. All these trees are strong trees, which give fruit and which are respected. The mashal is that these trees would be suitable leaders if they agreed. But they say no! So it goes to the thorn- an unsuitable leader who only causes destruction.

Radak 9:14: The thorn is symbolic of a bad leader since it doesnt protect, it causes destruction.

Yalkut Shimoni: Just as thorn has no fruit, Avimelech has no good deeds or leadership traits.

This shows that the generation wanted good leaders perhaps when they asked Gidon to rule. But appropriate leaders were not found, no one stepped up to the challenge. Now, an evil leader has taken over because the people were that desperate for leadership, but it will only end in disaster.

Ask the chanichim: What would be a modern Mashal Yotam? Can they think of situations, either in their own lives or in history where good leaders did not step up and an inappropriate one stepped in instead?

16-20- Yotam concludes: Now if you think you acted fine in what you did to Gidons family, then go rejoice with Avimelech (sarcasm), but if not, then a fire will come out of Avimelech and destroy shechem and his supporters.

The message could be that Avimelech being an evil king (and Gidon losing his sons) is a consequence of Gidon not taking the kingship. (Or his sons not being clear on who would step up and lead).

Abarbanel 9:9: Trees didnt want to give up their jobs to serve the nation. To be a leader you have to give up your personal interests and put the nation first. Gidon could have been king and this wouldnt have happened!! Now we have a terrible king. Shows the Shoftim theme of absence of good leadership, so now bad leaders are coming.

In the mashal it uses the word mashach, to anoint, which has religious meaning, implies a religious ruler. But with Avimelech in the text, it uses the word malach, ruled but not in a religious or ethical way. Avimelech is the opposite of malchut.

22-Says he rules, vayisar, not that he judges.

Rashi 9:22: He held his position forcefully and arrogantly.

Yotam disappears after this. He too is opposite of a shofet, since he gives a message and runs away, he doesnt try and solve problems or stage a coup or stay and be a leader and oppose Avimelech.

Things Go Bad For Avimelech:

23- Hashems revenge He causes the people of Shechem to reject Avimelech. Who do people of Shechem trust now? Gaal ben Eved. Think about his name what does it mean (remember the symbolism of Avimelechs name)? Literally, someone disgusting (gaal), who is the son of a slave. This generation does not know how to pick good leaders!!!

34-41: Zevul is the leader of Shechem and doesnt like Gaal, so he secretly sends message to Avimelech to come attack the city and get rid of him. Avimelech comes, and Gaal seems to be very slow thinks (pasuk 36-39) that he sees people attacking city, Zevul replies, No its not people.its.. mountains yesss mountains thatll do nicely (evil laugh), and Gaal believes him. When he finally realizes that Avimelech is about to attack him, Zevul replies; Hey, you said you wanted to fight him go fight him!! He attacks but Avimelech wins.

Avimelechs Rampage:

42-49: Now you think that would be the end, but Avimelech goes back (despite the fact that Zevul helped him) and wipes out the city, then chases down the survivors in Migdal Shechem and kills them all.

Sounds like Sefer Yehoshua, and sounds like what we are supposed to do, to wipe out the 7 nations! But now its the opposite, its Avimelech killing people not out of a command from G-d or because of their wickedness or Avodah Zara, but out of bitter revenge, killing innocent people. And its tyrannical revenge since Zevul helped him! It looks like Avimelech is just angry and needs a scapegoat to take on his anger.

45: Once Avimelech destroys the city he sows land with salt!! Why? So nothing will ever grow there again, what Romans did to Bet Hamikdash and Yerushalayim.

49: Avimelech chases down the survivors of Shechem who are hiding from him and burns a whole tower of men and women and kills 1000 ppl!!

Why is he doing this???? Wants bitter revenge on all people who turned on him, even if they returned to his side after. What leadership traits or lack there of does this show?? Avimelech is all about his personal kavod, going to war for kavod and revenge, not G-d or the people; hes the Anti-Shofet and Anti-Melech!!!

Avimelechs Death:

We see Avimelechs gaavah and obsession with kavod (both the antithesis to Gidon) in his death. Woman throws a millstone, a pelach rechev on his head mortally wounding him. Hes embarrassed to die in a weird way and not in battle, so he has a naar, a foot soldier, kill him so people wont say a woman killed him. But! Its in the pesukim so backfires and everyone knows he was killed by a woman! And hes killed by a young soldier, not a real soldier, or an enemy, so still an embarrassment (remember, hes not even fighting a real battle- there are no enemy soldiers to kill him, since he is massacring civilians!).

This sounds like what? Like Yael and Sisera; there too he was killed by a woman (seen as an embarrassment for a power hungry and probably sexist person), and with a weird object NOT a conventional weapon, but the woman using something she would use, not a mans weapon a rejection of his warfare like Yael using a tent-peg instead of a sword. Or here, the woman using a millstone.

Also middah knegged middah in two ways:

  1. Killed by a stone-like thing, when killed 70 people on a stone

  2. Always after power and kavod, so he was killed in a way that he finds embarrassing, by a woman and a young boy a naar, not a glorious death in battle but a weird death.

Recap: Avimelech is a terrible leader obsessed with power and honor and total opposite of Gidon, and the total opposite of what we should strive for as leaders. Additionally we see the chaos of what can happen when no good leaders step up, and bad and evil leaders step up to fill the gap the mussar of the Mashal of Yatom!


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Machal Shiur 11: Perek 9



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