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Mistakes: Kishinu Oref

Studies have shown that if you and another person are debating the merits of a particular idea and the other person suddenly insults you, you will instantly retreat further into your own position, and your conviction that the other person is wrong will intensify.


I admit that it is far easier to “win” an argument with an obnoxious person then it is to win in a debate with an irritatingly reasonable person. My tongue sharpens when I am on the receiving end of a series of insults. Biting sarcasm cuts off the feet of my interlocutor, and then I can zoom in for the kill. It’s quite easy to reflect on such occasions as an appropriate use of anger. However, the Vidui wants us to consider not only the appropriateness of the anger but also the element of stubbornness.

In a powerful series of events, King David is held responsible for his stubborn response to Mephibosheth. The story opens with a beautiful scene in which David searches for a descendent of the House of Saul so that he may deal kindly with him for the sake of his dear friend, Jonathan. This is one of my favorite scenes in the life of King David as he demonstrates his loyalty, generosity and kindness:

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”

“Where is he?” the king asked.

Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“At your service,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s[a] table like one of the king’s sons.

Mephibosheth had a young son named Mika, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet. (II Samuel, Chapter 9)

However, at a difficult juncture in David’s life he fails the crippled Mephibosheth:

When David had gone (as he was running for his life before the armies of his rebellious son, Absalom,) a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine.

The king asked Ziba, “Why have you brought these?”

Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”

The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”

Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” (II Samuel 16:1-4)

When Ziba lies about his master Mephibosheth, the desperate David unquestionably accepts the false report. He confiscates everything Mephibosheth owns and grants it all to Ziba.

The story continues after David’s victory:

Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, also went down to meet the king. He had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left until the day he returned safely.

When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king asked him, “Why didn’t you go with me, Mephibosheth?”

He said, “My lord the king, since I your servant am lame, I said, ‘I will have my donkey saddled and will ride on it, so I can go with the king.’ But Ziba my servant betrayed me. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever you wish. All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?”

The king said to him, “Why say more? I order you and Ziba to divide the land.”

Mephibosheth said to the king, “Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has returned home safely.” (19:25-31)

Mephibosheth had not bathed his feet, or trend his mustache, or even laundered his clothing from the day that King David had to run from Jerusalem. It was clear to David that Ziba had lied. And yet, King David did not restore all of his property; only half. It was as if Ziba’s false report had planted itself in David’s heart, and the kingdom was unable to let go of his suspicions of Mephibosheth.

The Sages teach that King David was punished for splitting Mephibosheth’s property by planting the seed that would lead to the split of his kingdom after the death of Solomon. A King cannot afford to be stubborn. A King cannot afford to look at a situation only in the way he has in the past. He must be willing to shed any previous convictions and take an entirely new view of all that is before him.

This is not the typical example of stubbornness. This is not a person who is unwilling to consider the other side. This is not someone who is unwilling to change his mind. This is the stubbornness of holding on even to just a smidgen of something he previously believed, without shedding all previous misconceptions.

This is the stubbornness of being unable to let go of resentments. This is the stubbornness that makes it difficult to forgive people who ask our forgiveness with a whole heart after hurting us. There is that seed of doubt that remains in the back of our mind that makes it difficult for us to relate to the person as if the bad had never occurred.

This is the stubbornness that makes it difficult for us to consider a new approach to prayer. This is the stubbornness that makes it difficult for us to plan a different sort of Yom Kippur. So many of us want the same tunes, the same feelings, the same experiences of previous Yom Kippurs, that we cannot adjust to a new way to pray on this most important day.

Did David know how to learn from this mistake? For this we turn to the story of Shimei who verbally attacked King David as he was running from Jerusalem:

As King David approached Bahurim (as he was running for his life before the armies of his rebellious son, Absalom), a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”

But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”

David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt.(II Samuel 16:5-13)

David did not respond to the insults by becoming more stubborn, but by looking deeper into himself. He was able to let go of the insult and view the situation with clarity. King David definitely knew how to avoid the type of stubbornness described above.

He succeeds again after his victory over Absalom:

When Shimei son of Gera crossed the Jordan, he fell prostrate before the king, and said to him, “May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. 20 For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king.”

Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed God’s anointed.”

David replied, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? What right do you have to interfere? Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” So the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king promised him on oath. (19:19-24)

And yet…

The story of Shimei always precedes the story of Mephiboshet! King David knew how to rid himself of this type of stubbornness before he made his terrible error! He had all the necessary skills to avoid falling into the trap he did, and yet, he failed.

I suspect that the reason King David failed was because he was desperate to avoid being stubborn: when Ziba appeared without his master, King David recalled that it was Ziba who had initiated contact between David and Mephiboshet. It was Ziba who made the connection, and yet, David turned to Ziba and said to him, “You shall work the land for him, you and your sons and your servants.” David had not awarded Ziba; he made him a permanent slave.

When Ziba appeared to support David during the king’s desperate moments, demonstrating his loyalty despite the fact that he had never been rewarded for helping David, the king, refusing to be stubborn, looked back into the past and decided to repair his previous lack of gratitude to Ziba.

King David was convinced that his decision to reward Ziba was the opposite of stubbornness. For all intents and purposes, it was. However, the Sages understand that when King David does not apologize to Mephibosheth, or explain the reason for his decision, David is being stubborn.

Once King David understood how he had hurt Ziba so long ago, he should have applied the lesson to his dealings with Mephibosheth. His refusal to do so was an expression of Kishinu Oref.

This part of the Vidui address is every single situation in which we do not consider all the lessons we have learned in the past and applies them before acting or speaking. Kishinu Oref describes the subtle the burn determination to hold on to old patterns of behavior.

How can we repair it?

Review one conflict after reviewing all the lessons we have learned about listening, being sensitive, caring, and open-minded. Pinpoint how we could have managed the conflict without that “stubbornness,” and then make a serious effort to repair that one conflict.

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