Shemini – Knowing Yourself

Note to the reader: I didn't realize until after I made this dvar Torah that Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Iyar so there is a special Haftorah read for machar chodesh. You can click here for the dvar Torah on machar chodesh from the previous time this happened.

Otherwise please enjoy this food for thought:


“If one is involved in the kingdom or government the service of the King Of Kings comes first before the service of the king, and don’t feel haughty because of the power of the monarchy” (Sefer HaYashar by Rabbeinu Tam in the 13th gate).

The Haftorah for this week’s Torah portion of Shemini is normally read from Shmuel Beis, perekim 6 and 7, which talk about King Dovid bringing the Holy Ark from Baalei Yehuda, where it was temporarily stored after being taken by the Plishtim, up to Yerushalayim. King Dovid then requested to build the Beis HaMikdash, but was informed by the prophet Nosson that his request was rejected by Hashem; however, his son will build it in his place.

The original procession was marred by an incident. Uzzah was killed by Hashem for reaching out to save the Holy Ark from falling off the wagon, for no one is allowed to touch the Ark itself. It was supposed to be carried via poles on the shoulders of men, but it was instead put onto a wagon. Without realizing that the Holy Ark carries itself, Uzzah stretched out his arm to catch the ark when it looked like it was falling off the wagon, and he was immediately punished. This is similar to when Nadav and Avihu were punished for bringing a strange offering in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion.

King Dovid took this event as an omen that Hashem was unhappy with him and he left the Holy Ark by Oved-edom the Gittite, a Levi who was from Gat, for three month. Oved-edom was greatly blessed during those months, so King Dovid took that as a sign to continue the procession to Yerushalayim.

The next scene in the Navi describes a joyous parade escorting the Holy Ark: “Whenever the bearers of the Ark walked six paces, he slaughtered an ox and a fattened ox. Dovid danced with all his strength before Hashem; Dovid was girded in a linen tunic. Dovid and the entire House of Israel brought up the Ark of Hashem with loud, joyous sound, and the sound of the shofar” (Shmuel Beis 6:13-15).

Rabbeinu Yeshaya
paints a picture of the event. The Leviim were carrying the Holy Ark on their shoulders. King Dovid was singing all sorts of praises to Hashem with all his might, while dancing in front of the Holy Ark. He was not wearing his royal clothing; rather he was dressed up in a white tunic which looked like what a kohen would wear when he did the service in front of the Holy Ark.(Click here for Hebrew text.)

When he entered Yerushalayim one of his wives, Michal the daughter of King Shaul, looked out the window and saw him dancing and singing with all his might in front of men and women, and she felt that King Dovid was making a spectacle of himself which was belittling for a king. He finished the parade, gave out bread, a flask of wine, and meat to every Jew present. Rabbeinu Yeshaya points out that the sages said each piece of meat was the size of a sixth of a cow. King Dovid then blessed the nation. As he made his way into his house to bless his family Michal came out and reprimanded King Dovid for not acting kingly like her father would have. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Navi concludes the perek: “Dovid answered Michal, ‘In the presence of Hashem, Who chose me over your father and over his entire house to appoint me as ruler over the people of Hashem, over Israel - before Hashem I shall rejoice! And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes; and among the maidservants of whom you spoke – among them I will be honored!’ Michal, daughter of Shaul, had no child until the day of her death” (Shmuel Beis 6:21-23).

Rabbeinu Yeshaya explains King Dovid’s response that ‘more than I was actually lenient with myself I am lenient and lowly in my eyes before The Creator because I can’t stand before him with haughtiness and honor rather with humility and submissiveness.’ The Rabbeinu Yeshaya concludes the perek by saying that the last pasuk is informing you that because of the sin of how Michal spoke to her husband, she did not merit to have children. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It would seem from this episode that King Dovid was acting appropriately. Dressing up in a “costume” while dancing and singing passionately, almost wildly, for everyone to see, for the sake of Hashem’s honor, is in fact a sign of humility and utmost lowliness, when channeled for the right reasons. Even though he was the king and a king is supposed to be dressed and act with proper respect for the sake of royalty and the kingdom, King Dovid understood and felt with all his heart that before the King Of All Kings he must subjugate himself and pour out his heart, for His sake, even in public. He was right as we see that Michal was punished for reprimanding him.

If this is the case then why didn’t he do more? Didn’t he tell Michal: “And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes,” which Rabbeinu Yeshaya explains means that as much as King Dovid was lenient with himself the feelings towards Hashem that he had inside him was of even more humility and subjugation. If that was true, then why didn’t he show it?

The answer must be that King Dovid, the tzadik, who was in control of all his faculties, also knew and understood that there has to be a balance. He was still a person, and he felt a sense of self-respect (gadlus ha’adam) and also understood that he was the king of an entire nation. Therefore, using all his faculties, he made a judgement call that he could let loose and show his true colors and feelings towards Hashem when escorting the Holy Ark to its new resting place, just like a hachnasas sefer Torah. But he also knew his exact boundaries, and when to draw the line.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder