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David answered Michal: "I rejoice before G-d who chose me over your father and over his entire household … as a rule of the people of G-d, over Israel…"
But Michal the daughter of Saul had no child until the day of her death. (Samuel II 6:21,23)
The Parasha tells of the service that was required to turn the Tabernacle into a sacred place suited for housing the Holy Ark containing the two tablets of stone, and also it would also serve as the place on Earth where G-d's Divine Presence would be most intense. The Haftara recounts the events concerning the same ark at a much later stage of its history: when it finally reached Jerusalem - later on to be incorporated in the First Temple (Kings I 8:9).
The text records that the Holy Ark had moved several times between its entry into the Holy Land and its arrival at the city of Jerusalem. Under Joshua, the Israelites brought the Tabernacle to Shiloh (Josh. 18:1), where it remained until the end of the period of the Judges. At that time - when Eli the Priest was the main judge, and Samuel was still a young man, the Israelites had to face far more formidable enemies than the Canaanites. These were new settlers along the coast from what today is the Greek mainland and islands - namely the Philistines. During the period of Samson they were just beginning to make themselves felt as a new force within the region, but their first full confrontation with the Israelites took place in the early days of Samuel. Thus when the Israelites suffered an initial defeat in battle near Afek, they decided to take the Ark into battle. They lost the Ark: the Philistines captured it, but the Divine Presence within the Ark wrought diseases and destruction wherever the Philistines took it - in Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. Today, thanks to various recent excavations in the region (some of which may be viewed at the newly opened Ashdod Museum) we have strong archaeological evidence testifying to their presence and superior technology. The Philistines, realizing that even they could not fight against the G-d of the Israelites, allowed the Ark to find its own way back to its people, via Beth Shemesh, and found its resting place at Kiryath Jearim (Sam. I 7:1-2), where it stayed for some twenty years under the care of Eleazar, the son of Abinadab. It was only transferred when David was ready to bring it to Jerusalem, to set it up in the Temple that he wished to build there.
By then, David was already seven years into his reign, but during those first seven years he did not rule over the whole Israelite nation. The northern part of the country was, until very recently, loyal to the dynasty of the late King Saul. Only at the end of that period, following various intrigues and skirmishes, did their transfer their allegiance from the House of Saul to the House of David. Thus David only just became king over the united Israelite kingdom, instead of the southern kingdom only. His first was the conquest of Jerusalem from the Jebusite tribe, which was followed up by defeating the Philistines who had penetrated the region (Sam. II 5:25). The coinciding of those events meant that David was only just then in a position to establish Jerusalem as a capital for the whole country. From a geographical, if no other reason, it was a much more suitable base from which to rule the united country than his former capital of Hebron.
The Haftara itself relates events of the actual transfer of the Ark from the house of Abinadab to Jerusalem. What should have been a happy occasion was marred by tragedy. Uzzah and Ahio, his two younger sons, drove the cart on which the Ark was placed, whilst David and the people followed with music and dancing. When the oxen leading the cart stumbled, Uzzah actually touched the Ark to steady it, and he died instantly, at the Hand of G-d. One possible reason for this was that it appears that it was transferred in the manner not prescribed by the Torah. The Ark was to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites (Num. 7:9), not on a wagon. It took only the further tiny acts of not preventing the oxen stumbling and touching the Holy Ark to bring the tragedy. Fearing that the Ark presented a danger to its environs or that he was not worthy to be its host, David stopped the procession, and had the Ark placed with Levite named Obed-Edom. Far from being a danger, however, the Ark proved to be a blessing to its new host, so David allowed its transfer to Jerusalem to be completed, with the appropriate sanctity, devotion, and joy. The King himself celebrated the occasion in full - publicly dancing with the deep joy that the Ark was finally at its true spiritual home. His wife, Michal the daughter of Saul, was most displeased. It was unbecoming of his royal dignity, so she believed, that the King himself should have been seen by common people in such a state of ecstatic joy of devotion. She voiced her disapproval, rejecting David's answer that it was a privilege and not a disgrace to show his respect for G-d by public joyful ecstatic celebration. The text relates that as a result Michal did not live to raise a child (according to the Talmud she died in childbirth - Sanhedrin 21a) until the day of her death.
After the joyous feasting and festivities were over, David was troubled when he compared his own luxurious home with that for the Divine Presence of G-d - currently behind a mere curtain. Thus he expressed his desire to build a permanent Temple. Commendable though this was, G-d told Nathan the Prophet that this privilege would only go to his successor. Elsewhere the reason is given: his hand had shed blood - although in good cause, such a hand would not suit the building of the Temple. Nevertheless, he brought the word of G-d to David assuring him that his royal line would endure forever. And his efforts in promoting the Temple are reflected in the Temple being called after his own name in Psalms 30:1.
The text records the details of how King David celebrated the bringing of the Ark to Jerusalem in full measure - publicly dancing with deep joy that the Ark was finally at its home. Yet his wife, Michal the daughter of Saul, was most displeased. As mentioned earlier, she claimed that it was unbecoming of his royal dignity that the King himself should have been seen by common people in such a state of ecstatic joy of devotion. She voiced her disapproval, rejecting David's answer that it was a privilege and not a disgrace to show his respect for G-d by public joyful ecstatic celebration. The text relates that as a result Michal did not live to raise a child (according to the Talmud she died in childbirth - Sanhedrin 21a) until the day of her death.
Why was Michal punished? What was her real offence?
A study of the middle part of the Parasha would suggest the following answer.
The Talmud (Ethics of the Fathers 1:18) records the following: 'The world stands on three things: justice, truth, and peace - as it states 'Truth and the verdict of peace are for you to adjudicate in your gates.' (Isaiah 60:21)
The Parasha records Moses' anger with Aaron's surviving sons - Eleazar and Ithamar. The exact story is obscure in the text, but Sifra to the Parasha (2-12) and the Talmud (Zebachim 101) explain that the dispute was over the way the inaugural Tabernacle offerings were conducted. The problem arose over the eligibility of Aaron and his sons to conduct the ceremony in the required way. The sudden death of Nadav and Avihu - Aaron's oldest sons, meant that the urgent requirement for Aaron and the surviving sons to attend to their burial would have normally disqualified them from performing those offerings. However Moses received the word of G-d that they were to continue with the offerings, but the only offerings actually named were the two inaugural ones. No instruction was given over the third offering that was the Rosh Chodesh sin offering. Aaron and his sons reasoned as following. Because they were not given special permission to bring the Rosh Chodesh offering, and it was a regular one, they decided the animal brought was legally ineligible for that purpose and it was burnt. Moses, with anger, argued that the Rosh Chodesh offering was to be brought notwithstanding the circumstances. However, after Aaron gave his explanation, Moses listened and accepted it. The Torah records: 'Moses heard, and it was good in his eyes.' And as the Sifra comments (2:12), he was not ashamed to say that he had been mistaken and he accepted correction. Moses recognized that the truth was the only foundation on which society could operate.
In contrast, Michal did not change her mind. Her husband, King David, had explained the reason for his seemingly over-exuberant conduct. He explained that how great a privilege it was to show his respect for G-d in those circumstances by public joyful ecstatic celebration. And the text supports David, as nowhere is he criticized for compromising the status of the monarchy as he danced and celebrated in public as the Ark was brought into Jerusalem.
Thus David had spoken the 'truth' to Michal. Like Moses, she heard the argument for the truth. But unlike Moses she refused to recognize the truth even when it was laid out before her. Michal did not change her mind. She had already made up her mind to hold on to her first impressions, even when the truth was otherwise…
This is the lesson we can learn from that principle. The Torah requires us to search for the truth and not blindly hold on to pre-conceived notions or have one's intellect dictated to by party lines. No person and certainly no party today can have a monopoly on the truth. Our sources bring the implied contrast between the respective attitudes of Moses and Michal, to drive home to us the importance of being able to use our intelligence and honesty in search of the truth, even when it can mean having to jettison long held biases, prejudices, and opinions. And possibly lose friends in the process…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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