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Avigayil the Beautiful Prophetess: Rescuer and Wife of King David

Parsha Halacha - Parshat Re'eh

Avigayil the Beautiful Prophetess

Rescuer and Wife of King David 

Sponsored by Israel and Gaby Kopel and their children, Yosef Chaim, Yitzchak Yehoshua, Shmuel David, and Clara Shaindel, in loving memory of their grandmother and great-grandmother, Chana bat Tzvi Hersh z”l, whose Yahrtzeit is 24 Menachem Av

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner and Dr. Morton Berg in loving memory of Stephen's father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella's parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.


Click here for a print version of this article 


In the Torah portion of Re’eh, we read the section about false prophets.[1]

On the related topic of true prophets, this article will focus on one of the seven prophetesses, Avigayil, the beautiful wife of King David. 

Avigayil, who was first married to Naval, the Carmelite, and then to King David, was a unique woman in many ways. 

Our sages enumerate the following:

●      One of the Four Most Beautiful Women

The Talmud says[2] that Avigayil was one of the four most beautiful women in the world. The other three were Sarah, Rachav, and Esther (or Vashti). Although the Torah describes several other women as being very beautiful, these four were considered doubly beautiful (יְפֵיפִיּוֹת), both in their specific features and in their overall form.[3]

King Solomon wrote that beauty is considered vain.[4] As such, the point of describing their beauty is to teach us that, despite the fact that beauty is not conducive to wisdom,[5] these women achieved prophecy (for which wisdom is a prerequisite[6]) notwithstanding their extraordinary beauty.[7]

One of Seven Prophetesses

The Talmud[8] lists 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses who shared prophecies that were relevant for all generations.[9] As mentioned, one of the seven prophetesses was Avigayil. 

One of 23 Righteous Women

According to Midrash Tadshe,[10] Avigayil was one of 23 righteous women mentioned in the Tanach. The Talmud uses her as a paradigm of righteousness when it says that a king may not marry too many wives “even if they are [righteous] like Avigayil.”[11]

What’s in the Name?

According to Abarbanel;[12] Avigayil means “A master of joy.” Such a name is appropriate for Avigayil who possessed a good character and a pleasant personality.

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Sufrin of Komarna interprets it to mean[13] that G-d, our Father, was happy with Avigayil due to her righteousness. 

Her Story

Here is a brief outline of the story of Avigayil as told in the 25th chapter of I Samuel:

●      Avigayil’s Insolent First Husband

At first Avigayil was married to a wicked and stingy man – Naval, the Carmelite. When (King) David was in the Judean Desert trying to steer clear of King Saul who sought to kill him, he and his men protected Naval’s sheep and shepherds that were grazing in the area. (Although David had been anointed by Samuel as the next king, he was not acting as the king as long as King Saul was alive.) During Naval’s sheep-shearing celebration, King David sent him messengers, asking that he supply them with food in appreciation for their efforts as Rosh HaShana was upon them.[14] Naval responded brazenly. He said,[15] “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many slaves nowadays who run away from their masters. Should I then take my bread and my water, and the meat that I slaughtered for my own shearers, and give them to men who come from I don’t know where?” The commentaries say that Naval was jealous that David had been anointed to be the next king, a position which he felt should be his, as he, too, was a descendant of Peretz, son of Yehudah.[16] In addition, he feared King Saul’s reprisal should he assist David.[17]

●      David’s Response

King David did not take kindly to Naval’s brazen refusal. For one thing, this was no way to repay him for the favors David and his men had done for him. More importantly, since David had been anointed king of Israel, this was an act of rebellion. David ordered his group of 400 men to gird their swords. They rode towards Naval’s home where David intended to kill him that very night. According to the Talmud,[18]David convened a Sanhedrin who condemned Naval to death for rebelling against David, the anointed king of Israel.

●      Avigayil’s Quick Action

When one of the servants informed Avigayil of the exchange between her husband and David’s men, she realized that the entire family was in danger. Although it was nighttime, she immediately took a generous amount of provisions, loaded them up on donkeys, and set out to try and appease King David. While she was traveling down one mountain, David and his men were traveling down the opposite mountain and soon enough, they met in the valley between the two mountains. 

●      Uncovered her Thigh

The Talmud says[19] that Avigayil uncovered her thigh which shone so brightly that King David traveled three Parsah (approximately 3 kilometers) by that light. The commentaries explain[20] that the righteous Avigayil would never purposefully uncover her thigh in front of men. Rather, she was traveling in the dark while the only man (her servant) was in front of her. As such, she uncovered her thigh, which was luminescent,[21] to act as a flashlight for herself. Unbeknownst to her, King David, who was coming down the mountain opposite her, saw a shining light (not knowing exactly what was shining). As soon as Avigayil became aware of the presence of David and his men, she covered herself up.

●      An Impassioned Speech

When the two parties met, Avigayil dismounted from her donkey, bowed to the ground in front of (King) David,[22] and gave an inspired, impassioned, and prophetic speech which saved both her family from destruction and David from sin. (The Sanhedrin’s ruling that Naval deserved capital punishment was based on an error - that David had the status of an acting king. As such, killing Naval would have been a sinful act [although not premeditated murder].)

While she acknowledged her husband’s bad character and behavior, she made amends by presenting her gift to David and his men. She also insisted that it be G-d and not David who would punish his enemies, i.e., Naval. Her reasoning was that since David was not yet the recognized king of Israel, those who disrespected him should not be considered rebelling against the king. She then asked David to remember her in the future, an allusion to her interest in marrying him after the death of her husband. 

●      David’s Proposal

According to the Talmud,[23] David said, “Listen to me” (an allusion to intimacy). Avigayil refused his advances, informing him that she was a Niddah and that “this (act) not be a stumbling block for you.”[24] By using the word “this,” Avigayil was prophesying that there would be another act that would be a stumbling block for (King) David, that of Batsheva.

The Radvaz (Rabbi David ben Zimra of 16th-century Egypt) was asked to explain how King David could have entertained the idea of having a relationship with Avigayil. He offered several interpretations:[25]

1)     Naval Was a Dead Man

Since David and his Sanhedrin had ruled that Naval deserved to die, he could be considered a dead man and his wife could be considered a widow. (This is not the halacha, however.)

2)     Avigayil was a Concubine

It is possible that Avigayil was only Naval’s concubine and not a full wife.[26] David was following the opinion that the laws of adultery don’t apply to concubines. Despite this, Avigayil resisted his advances as this was not considered acceptable even if it wasn’t outright adultery.[27]

3)     It Was Just a Test

Alternatively, he suggests that David was only testing Avigayil to gauge her moral standing in light of the fact that she had uncovered her thigh and was perhaps a loose woman. When she refused his advances, he gave her credit as if it was her accomplishment even though it was just a test. Seeing how righteous she was, he indeed married her as soon as she became available.

4)     A Plan for the Future

According to the Ben Ish Chai,[28] David never meant to be intimate with Avigayil at that time. He was proposing that they get married after the imminent death of Naval. Avigayil felt that it was inappropriate to discuss this overtly, but she did hint to David that she was agreeable to the idea by saying, “And when the L-rd has prospered my lord, remember your maidservant.”[29]

●      Missing a Yud

The verse writes Avigayil’s name without one yud (אביגל) after this dialogue[30] to symbolize that it was inappropriate for her to propose a (future) marriage to David even in an indirect way.[31]

Better than all the Sacrifices

The Midrash says[32] that Avigayil did more for King David than all the sacrifices in the world, for she prevented him from an act that could be considered premeditated murder. And while sacrifices can atone for some sins, they cannot atone for purposeful ones. (See above that the Sanhedrin was mistaken in their ruling.) In appreciation for this, King David composed Psalm 53 which recounts this event.[33]

The End of Naval

Although David followed Avigayil’s advice and refrained from killing Avigayil’s husband, Naval did not live for much longer as the verse recounts that when Avigayil informed him of what had occurred and that she had to save him by giving away many provisions, “his heart melted and it became like stone.”[34] He was ill for 10 days and then he died.

Married King David

Shortly after Naval’s death, David sent his servants to ask Avigayil if she would marry him. She immediately agreed. (The Midrash says[35] that he waited three months before consummating the marriage to ascertain who would be the father of a baby she might have.)

Later Adventures

When David was living among the Philistines, an Amalekite army captured the wives and children of David and his men. Avigayil is mentioned as one of the women who was captured.[36] Soon thereafter, David and his men located them and liberated them.[37] When King David escaped from Jerusalem at the time of Avshalom’s rebellion however, he took all of his wives with him and only left his concubines behind.[38]

One Son

The verse says that, while they were living in Chevron, Avigayil bore a son to King David whose name was Kilav.[39] He was King David’s second son but was never considered for the throne even after the first born, Amnon, was killed by Avshalom.[40]

Elsewhere, he is called Daniel.[41] The commentaries explain[42] that his real name was Daniel but that he was called Kilav which means “completely, the father” to indicate that he looked exactly like King David. G-d did this because the “scoffers of the generation” claimed that his real father was Naval given that David married his mother just after Naval passed away and he was born within nine months of that time. (Although King David waited to consummate the marriage as explained above [and Kilav was simply born prematurely], this was not common knowledge.)

Mentioned by Yakov

According to the Midrash,[43] when Yakov told Eisav that he had a שִׁפְחָה (“maidservant),”[44] he was referring to [the soul of] his descendant Avigayil who referred to herself as David’s שִׁפְחָה (maidservant).[45]

Gilgul of Lavan, Yakov and Leah

According to the Arizal,[46] Naval was a reincarnation (gilgul) of Lavan (both are spelled with the same Hebrew letters- נבל/לבן) while David was a reincarnation of Yaakov. David guarded Naval’s sheep and Yaakov shepherded Lavan’s flocks. Avigayil, daughter of Naval was a reincarnation of Leah, daughter of Lavan, which is why (as mentioned above) her name is also spelled as אביגל which can interpreted to mean; My father made a pile (גַל means pile). This refers to the pile of stones that Yaakov and Lavan (Avigayil’s father in her previous reincarnation) made to symbolize their pact.[47] Thus, the marriage of David and Avigayil is reminiscent of the marriage of Yaakov and Leah.[48]

Passing

Although we don’t know when Avigayil passed away, we know that she outlived King David, as she was one of the 18 wives that he still had before he passed away.[49]

Burial Site

Some say that Avigayil is buried in the Tomb of the Matriarchs in Tiberius. It is not clear why she would be buried so far from King David’s capital, Jerusalem.


May we Merit to Receive and Accept Timely Advice and Rebuke!


[1] Deuteronomy 13:2-6

[2] Megillah 15a

[3] Rosh David (by the ChidaParshat Miketz 21

Although our matriarch Rachel was also beautiful in both form and features (see Gen. 29:17), she is not listed as her beauty paled in comparison to Yaakov’s handsomeness ( Chida in Rosh David, ibid).  

[4] See Proverbs 31:30.

[5] See Nedarim 50b.

[6] Shabbat 92a

[7] Rosh David, ibid.

Although Rachav wasn’t a prophetess, she had ru’ach hakodesh (the Divine spirit) which is akin to prophecy. See Joshuah 2:1 and Ruth Rabbah 2:1.

The wicked Vashti is also listed to emphasize the great Divine miracle that Achashverosh had her killed despite her great beauty. 

[8] Megillah 14a

[9] For a list of the prophets, see here. In most cases it is easy to understand how their prophecies are relevant for future generations. In the case of Neiriyah, father of Baruch, however, this is difficult to figure out as we don’t even know what he prophesied (see Megillah 14b and 15a).

[10] Chapter 21

[11] Sanhedrin 21a and Bava Metziah 115a. See also Tosefta Sanhedrin 4:3.

[12] On I Samuel 25:3

[13] Derech Emunah, Ikar HaShmini, page 68. See Proverbs 23:24.

[14] See Rashi on I Samuel 25:8

Similarly, the Jerusalem Talmud (Bikkurim 2:1) says that the ten days of Naval’s illness were the Ten Days of Repentance. Since this story is also connected to the passing of the prophet Shmuel (see I Samuel 25:1), this seems to indicate that Shmuel passed away on or near Rosh Hashanah. This differs from the tradition of our sages (see O.C. 580:2) that Shmuel’s yohrtzeit is on the 28th of Iyar. See Tzitz Eliezer 15:4 who discusses the matter.

[15] I Samuel 25:10 and 11

[16] Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 2:3Midrash Shmuel 23:9 based on Ibid verse 3. See Rashi there. 

Naval’s noble lineage might also explain how he was married to the righteous Avigayil despite his low moral character.

[17] See I Samuel chapter 22 as to the fate of the Kohanim of Nov who assisted David.

[18] Sanhedrin 36a see Rashi D.H Vayachgor

[19] Megillah 14b (see Tosfot D.H. Melamed) and Jerusalem Talmud ibid

[20] Maharsha and Radvaz vol. 7 Siman 29

[21] See Brachot 5b that Rabbi Yochanan’s arm was luminescent (Maharsha).

[22] Avigayil’s bowing to the floor in front of David who had four hundred men with him, is reminiscent of Yaakov’s bowing to Eisav who also had 400 men with him. See Gen Chapter 31

[23] Megillah, ibid

[24] I Samuel 25:31

[25] Responsa vol. 7, Siman 29

[26] This is (somewhat) difficult to understand as why would a women of the stature of Avigayil agree to be a mere concubine?

[27] See Judges 19:2 with Radak

[28] In Ben Yehoyadah on Megillah ibid

[29] I Samuel 25, verse 31

[30] I Samuel 25:32

[31] Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin ibid.

[32] Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 53:1

[33] See ibid

[34] I Samuel 25:37 with Rashi

[35] Midrash Tanchumah Toldot 6:1

[36] I Samuel 30:5

[37] Ibid., verse 18

[38] See II Samuel 15:16

[39] Ibid 3:3

[40] Since Kilav was a very righteous man (see Bava Batra 17a), it is possible that he didn’t want to go against his father’s wishes that Solomon would be the next king (see I Kings 1:17).

[41] I Chronichles 3:1

[42] Rashi and Radak based on Midrash Tanchumah Parshat Toldot

[43] Bereishit Rabbah 75:12

[44] Gen. 32:6

[45] See Samuel 25:41. See also ibid ibid 24252831 and 41 where she refers to herself as a handmaiden.

The Shela explains this enigmatic Midrash based on the teaching of the Arizal (quoted below) that Avigayil was a reincarnation of Leah (Torah Shebichtav pg. 243 in the Oz Vehadar print, cited in Ohr HaTorah, Bereishit pg. 760).

[46] Sefer Kavanot Ha’Arizal on the verse Vaya’avod Yisrael Be’Isha (Hoshe’a 12:13)

[47] See Gen. 31:48.

[48] Following this perspective, King David’s main wife (in terms of continuing the dynasty) was Batsheva who was considered a reincarnation of Rachel, the main wife of Yaakov (Be’er Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Yechiel Epstein on I Samuel, Chapter 25). 

[49] See the commentaries on I Kings 1:4 as to why King David could not marry Avishag.


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMvorach, a Chodesh Tov and a Ktiva VaChatima Tovah!

Wed, April 24 2024 16 Nisan 5784