Avraham ben Yaakov



Unlike traditions whose saints are presented as totally flawless halo-wearing supermen, the Torah does not seek to hide the sins of even a Moses or a David. The Torah testifies that Moses sinned once - and once only - by striking the rock for water instead of speaking to it, for which he was strictly penalized by not being allowed to lead the Children of Israel into their land (Numbers 20:12; Deut. 32:51). Likewise the prophet does not spare even David, the Messianic king, who is not some kind of perfect angel having no connection with the material world but a real man of flesh and blood with very human desires and impulses. David is Messiah not because he never sinned but because having sinned, he acknowledged his wrong-doing and repented completely, and then went on to teach all mankind the path of true repentance.

If David sinned, it was not the kind of gross carnal sin that average people stumble into time and again. In the words of the rabbis, "Anyone who says that David sinned is simply mistaken" (Shabbos 56a). We cannot expect to understand the true nature of what for David on his level was a "sin", any more than we can clearly understand anything else about the fathomless depths of the soul of Messiah. It was in order for David to teach the world the path of repentance that there was some kind of heavenly necessity for David to sin. Before trying to get a glimpse of where his sin may have lain, let us first understand what it was NOT.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov remarked that someone who does not understand why the Land of Israel had to be in the hands of the Canaanite nations before it came into the hands of the Children of Israel will also not be able to understand why Batsheva had to be married to Uriah the Hittite before she was married to David (Sichos HaRaN). From these words, we may infer that Batsheva was intended for David - for it had been prophesied to him already that he was destined to have a son who would build the Temple (II Samuel 7:12-13), and only a unique woman could mother the wisest man that ever lived. (Batsheva proved her strength of character in various ways, see I Kings 1:15ff; moreover, the Midrash says she had no compunction about chastising Solomon even after he became king.)

The greatness of the TIKKUNIM ("repairs") that were destined to result from the union of Batsheva with David was such that the two could only come together in a manner overshadowed with darkness and mystery. David's sin was not the common man's sin of going into a woman who is NIDDAH ("menstruant"), because Batsheva was purifying herself in the Mikveh ("ritual pool") at the very moment when David saw her (v 2). Nor does the fact that the text makes it appear she was married to Uriah the Hittite mean that she was simply in the category of EISHES ISH ("a man's wife"). Although on the surface it looks as if David was guilty of adultery, this is not so. In David's time it was the practice of all men prior to going out to war to give their wives a GET ("bill of divorce"). The purpose was to ensure that if the husband went missing in the war, his wife would not become an AGUNAH ("anchored women", unable to marry anyone else) and that if he was killed and left no children, she would not be subjected to the humiliation of YIBUM or HALITZAH (levirate marriage). Soldiers could thus wholly throw themselves into fighting the war without having to worry what might happen to their wives if they lost their lives. The formula of the GET followed the standard formula of a GET AL TENAI ("conditional divorce") that made the divorce retroactive to the time of the giving of the GET in the event that the husband died in the war (Rashi on v 4; Talmud Kesuvos 9b; Rambam, Laws of Divorce ch 8).

When Batsheva informed David that she had conceived, he sent for Uriah and ordered him to go into Batsheva (v 8) so that when the child was born Uriah would think it was his own, which would help cover up the scandal. It was only when Uriah refused to go into Batsheva while his brother Israelites were fighting a war that David contrived to have him killed. The death of Uriah in the war would cause his GET to Batsheva come into effect retroactively, as explained above, meaning that at the time of David's relations with her she was technically NOT a married woman.

If the sin was NOT that Batsheva was a Niddah or a married woman at the time of the relations, what was it??? Did David sin in ordering Joab to send Uriah to a battle-position in the continuing Ammonite war in which he would certainly be killed? Our rabbis teach that Uriah was indeed guilty of a capital offense in refusing to carry out David's order to go into Batsheva. This made him MOREID BE-MALCHUS ("a traitor to the kingship") the penalty for which is death.

Where David sinned was in contriving for Uriah to be killed in such a way as to make it seem that he was merely a war casualty, whereas in fact David should have taken Uriah before the Sanhedrin and had him publicly condemned to death (Shabbos 56a). However David did not want to do this as it would have drawn public attention to the questionable circumstances of his relations with Batsheva.

It was not that Batsheva was not meant for David and that he took what was not his. The sin was that having caught a glimpse from his roof-top of the mother of Solomon, he took her by force and tried to hide what he was doing instead of waiting for God to bring her to him in the course of time. In this respect there is a certain parallel between David's sin and that of Moses' impatiently striking the rock for water instead of speaking to it.


The real meaning of Nathan's reproof for David personally is not even our business. The average individual cannot expect to grasp the exact nature of David's sin. The prophet's reproof to the saintly David is directed at US, the average readers, who are to learn from it how to recognize our own sins and how to repent in order to rectify them. From verse 4, which successively refers to the rich man's visitor as a HEILECH ("passer-by"), then an ORE'AH ("visitor") and finally an ISH ("man of stature"), the rabbis learned out that the nature of the evil inclination is first to drop in casually as a passer-by, then to install himself within us as a long-term guest, until he finally takes over the entire house and acts as the BAAL HABAYIS ("owner of the house"; Succah 52b).

Nathan the prophet used the parable of the rich man's taking the poor man's lamb in order to prompt David to see for himself where his sin lay and how he should be punished. Had Nathan simply asked David to consider his behavior and ask himself if he had done anything wrong, the king may have tried to rationalize away his actions. Instead, Nathan told David a graphic story about somebody else's gross behavior and asked him to give a quite impartial evaluation of this kind of behavior that would not be colored by the need to justify himself. Rabbi Nachman (Likutey Moharan I, 113) teaches that this is the method whereby God consults sinners about how they should be punished. If He were to ask them directly about their own behavior, they would never give an impartial reply and would always judge themselves too leniently. He therefore shows them someone else's behavior which is parallel to their own and then asks them how they judge it. According to their evaluation of the other person's deeds and how they should be penalized, so God judges and penalizes their own, and this is the meaning of the rabbinic statement that "a person is punished with his knowledge (MI-DAATO) yet without his knowledge" (SHELO MI-DAATO)" (Avos 3:16). We should be very careful when looking at and judging the behavior of others in case we are unknowingly being invited to decide our own fate.

In angrily demanding that the rich man pay fourfold, David sealed his own fate: he suffered by losing four children - Batsheva's first baby, Amnon, Tamar and Absalom (Rashi on v 6).

"Why have you despised the word of God to do evil in His eye?" (v 9). As explained above, the evil was not that Batsheva was already married or that she was not intended for David. The evil was that while knowing Batsheva was intended for him, David still contrived to take her using subterfuge. If Batsheva had not been intended for David, why after punishing him with the death of the baby did God allow Batsheva to conceive and bear a child of whom our text states that "HaShem LOVED him" (v 24)? According to the Midrash based on the KSIV "HE called" and the KRI of "SHE called" in v 24, it was not Batsheva but God Himself who called the child's name SHLOMO, which is also the Name of God throughout Song of Songs. If David's relationship with Batsheva was inherently evil, how could it be that the one who built God's very Temple was born as a result?

David acknowledged that he sinned (v 13), and he fully repented: Psalm 51 is eloquent testimony to the depth and sincerity of David's repentance and his ability to turn the very sin into merit by using it to teach others the path of repentance. Whereas king Saul's sins led to his deposition from the kingship, David's kingship was not undermined by his sin, which indeed added a new dimension to David's Torah, showing that even a Tzaddik can sin and that even a Rasha (wicked person) can repent.

With the birth of Solomon (who does not enter the narrative again until the very end of David's life), the protracted war against the Ammonites came to an end with David's capture and destruction of the capital city and his cruel punishment of the Ammonites (v 31). This was particularly severe because the Ammonite god alluded to in verse 30 ("the crown of MALKOM") and in the KSIV of verse 31 (MALKON as opposed to the KRI of MALBEIN) is none other than MOLEKH, whose worship through passing children through the fire is strictly proscribed by the Torah (Leviticus 18:21, see RaDaK on II Samuel 12:1).

How David could have placed the crown of an idol on his own head when the appurtenances of idolatry are normally strictly forbidden is explained by the rabbis as having been made possible through the prior nullification of the Ammonite idol by a non-Israelite (Talmud Avodah Zarah 44a). How David could have balanced a such a heavy crown on his head (it weighed a talent of gold) is also discussed by the rabbis, some of whom say that it had a magnet in it that caused the crown to be self-suspended in the air! This is by no means the least of the weighty mysteries embedded within the fathomless allegory of these chapters.

ben Yaakov



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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