Holy David

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Shoftim 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]


On a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City, the teacher told his students: “We are standing right where King David’s palace stood, and it was from here,” added the teacher, “that he saw Batsheva bathing.”

That teacher is crazy! Is this what he found to arouse the imagination of those students? Instead of stirring their imaginations about King David’s positive traits, his patience, his ability to remain silent in the face of insults, his thirst for G-d, his military valor, his fortitude as a national leader, his holiness and his purity, his self-sacrifice to build up the Kingdom of Israel…this is what he chose to arouse their imaginations?! As though our imaginations are not sufficiently provoked by all the evil winds blowing in from the West!

Yet that teacher’s remark was no slip of the tongue. Rather, it reflected a complex worldview, as that teacher made clear in his further remarks: “Let me emphasize that King David was just a man – a man with weaknesses, a great man with great weaknesses, a man composed of good and of evil, not an ideal man.”

Heaven help us! That’s what he saw fit to say? And, in fact, one student responded, “I can identify more with a figure like that than with a pure, holy person”. “Indeed!” responded the teacher.

Woe to the ears that hear such things! Unfortunately such talk is part of an entire methodology of taking the greatest and most holy figures and bringing them down to eye level. Sure life is hard, and the struggle against our passions is no picnic, and sometimes we fail, and sometimes we are frustrated and despondent because we don’t succeed in escaping our evil impulse.

But what is the solution? To be more courageous. To increase our longing for G-d, to gaze upon our great figures and to emulate them. Instead, they’re taking those illustrious figures and making them small. They’re transforming them into the everyman, with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness, light and darkness mixed together. And all so that we can identify with them!

Instead of drawing the student higher and higher, arousing his spiritual ambitions, understanding and awareness, instead of empowering him, they leave him below and lower, together with him, those who were high up. And then it’s easy to identify with them.

The student can learn Torah one moment and then read unclean material on the Internet.

Yet King David, himself, did not identify with his own sin. Our Sages point out that he wept over his sin for thirteen years. As it says, “I cause my couch to melt with my weeping” (Tehilim 6:7).

This has nothing to do with our Sages’ dictum that “whoever says David sinned is in error.” Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel says that he did sin, but even Abarbanel holds that David was a spiritual giant and he repented completely, escaped his sin and was purged of it. True, according to Abarbanel, King David committed a grievous sin once in his lifetime, but that does not make him a sinner. If someone lied once in his lifetime, that does not make him a liar, and if someone lost in battle one time that does not make him a loser. We don’t label people as a result of one-time deeds.

David was not a sinner, not even partially. He was a great man, righteous and holy.

Yet even such a person can occasionally stumble. Even Moshe became angry. Even he erred.

Yet that doesn’t make us say that he was errant or wrathful. We don’t judge a person based on exceptions to their norm.

Before we say anything new about King David that our Sages didn’t say, we have to learn the elementary truths. There is nothing against advancing new interpretations on the Tanach. There are hundreds and thousands of them. Yet they have to be motivated by faith and reverence for G-d. Towards that end we have to study the basic books such as Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Mesilat Yesharim.

Learn his section on saintliness [Chasidut] and you will see that David thirsted for G-d, and not, G-d forbid, for his sin. “Like a hind crying for water, my soul cries for You, O G-d. My soul thirsts for G-d, the living G-d” (Tehilim 42:2-3); “I long, I yearn, for the courts of Hashem” (84:3); “My soul thirsts for You. My body yearns for You” (63:2); “I will delight in Your commandments, which I love” (119:47).

The Ramchal instructs us: If you wish to achieve saintliness, learn the Psalms and emulate them! Surely every young yeshiva student has learned Mesilat Yesharim. Probably that same teacher learned it too. So, he should review it ten times, a hundred times, until it sinks in deep.

The figure of King David is not up for grabs. You cannot say about him whatever you want, or fashion a new personality for him that samples a taste of all worlds, and that accords legitimacy to dialectically strolling along a pathway of life that combines purity and impurity. Even if one takes the approach of Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, one should learn about King David’s remarkable repentance spurred by his fierce longing for the holy.