King David: Surrender or Song?
By Hyndi Mendelowitz
Overview: David Hamelech lived a life of unparalleled pain. At the same time, he reached exalted heights. In his Sefer Tehillim, he bequeathed to the Jewish people the Truths he discovered on the way. His Song is the story of his own approach to loss, and ultimately salvation. This becomes the Song of a nation, on a similar journey.

David, the unlikely hero, slayer of Goliath, seemed finally to have found his happy ending.  Fame and fortune were his.  He married the daughter of the king, and assumed an important role in the palace- and in the adulation of Klal Yisrael.  The idyll was quickly shattered.  King Shaul, plagued by a רוח רעה, perceived his own son-in-law as a threat and determined to have him killed. 

Narrowly escaping the soldiers of his father-in-law, David left his young wife, and fled for his life.  He ran straight to his mentor, Shmuel Hanavi.  This was the prophet who had found David as a shepherd, and anointed him to his future role as King.  At this point, all the promise of that holy oil seemed to fade away. 

The sefer does not record what words of wisdom Shmuel shared with his protege.  How to comfort or put this betrayal in context?

We are told:

ודוד ברח וימלט ויבא אל שמואל הרמתה ויגד לו את כל אשר עשה לו שאול וילך הוא ושמואל וישבו בניות (שמואל א, י”ט:י”ח)

David made good his escape, and he came to Shmuel at Ramah and told him all that Shaul had done to him. He and Shmuel went and stayed at Nayos

Chazal in זבחים נד:ב ask the question: Shmuel lived in Ramah.  Why were they in Nayos?

אלא שהיו יושבין ברמה ועוסקין בנויו של עולם. 

 באותה לילה שברח דוד מלפני שאול למד משמואל הנביא מה שאין תלמיד ותיק למד במאה שנה.  (ילקוט שמעוני, שמואל י”ט).

They were sitting in Ramah and were involved in discussing the beauty of the world, i.e., the Temple.

On the night David  ran away from Shaul, he learned from Shmuel Hanavi what a distinguished disciple would not learn in one hundred years.

 

There are no platitudes, no empathetic statements recorded here. What we do know about that night: Shmuel and David sat and learned.  They learned the details of the future location of the בית המקדש.  

Klal Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael with a promise: 

 

שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֗ים תָּחֹג֙ לַה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בַּמָּקֹ֖ום אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַ֣ר ה’ כִּ֣י יְבָרֶכְךָ֞ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכֹ֤ל תְּבוּאָֽתְךָ֙ וּבְכֹל֙ מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֶ֔יךָ וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ׃ (דברים ט”ז:ט”ו)

 

You shall hold a festival for your G-d in the place He will choose; for your G-d will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.

 

The details of where that Temple would be built was not known for four centuries.  The night his “normal” disintegrated, David and Shmuel labored to determine the location of the future בית המקדש.  There was no vocabulary to explain or justify the crisis David had been thrown into.  But as has been the case through centuries of challenge for the Jewish people: there is Torah.  The only response possible, as expressed through David himself was:

לוּלֵ֣י תֹ֭ורָתְךָ שַׁעֲשֻׁעָ֑י אָ֝֗ז אָבַ֥דְתִּי בְעׇנְיִֽי׃  (תהילים קי”ט:צ”ב)

Were not Your teaching my delight

I would have perished in my affliction.

 

Elsewhere in David’s book:

זְ֭מִרוֹת הָֽיוּ־לִ֥י חֻקֶּ֗יךָ בְּבֵ֣ית מְגוּרָֽי׃  (תהילים קי”ט:נ”ד) 

Your laws are a source of strength to me

wherever I may dwell.

 

David addresses his challenges as “חֻקֶּ֗יךָ”.  Just as there are חוקים, commandments whose rationale we do not understand, there is Hashem’s running of the world – which we often do not understand.  A reverence for Torah as Hashem’s Word fortifies us with this security: though we do not , cannot understand why Hashem does what He does, it all comes from Him.  There is a greater system known to Him.   The Torah assures us: the system is good.

The particular subject studied by Shmuel and David contributes to the power it lent them.  David and his Rebbe delved into details of the future בית המקדש.  This would be David’s greatest legacy to the Jewish people, through his son Shlomo.  This end-goal gave context to all the pain that had plagued David thus far.   Finally discovered and lifted up, he came crashing back down to face danger, betrayal, loss, pain.  But all of it led to one glowing destination: to sit on the throne, and contribute to creating a resting-place for the Shechina in this world.  We as humans tolerate pain, when we understand it to lead to a worthwhile goal.  We diet and deny ourselves – to be fit or look trim.  We uproot ourselves from comfort zones – to strive for greater goals.  We endure painful procedures – to acquire greater health.  David could leave Shmuel’s house strengthened: by the promise of meaning to his pain, and a goal towards which to channel it.

דִּשַּׁ֖נְתָּ בַשֶּׁ֥מֶן רֹ֝אשִׁ֗י כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה׃ (תהילים כ”ג:ה)

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

 

This statement of David is puzzling.  From the moment the anointing oil rolled down his head, David faced stunning pain and betrayal.  Why then כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה, my cup overflows?  R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch explains: from the moment David was anointed, he understood that all he would endure was meaningful in preparing him for his ultimate role as king.  With that understanding “The ordinary concept of ‘good fortune’ or ‘calamity’ no longer has any meaning for me.”  Circumstances are classified not as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but in terms of value in bringing David to the throne.  Thus, even in the throes of pain, “כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה” David can feel a satisfaction, in that this pain has purpose.

None of us have been greeted by a Navi who poured oil on our heads and plucked us out of our ‘normal’ to face greatness.  But each of us has a guarantee from the Torah: we are here for a purpose.  Each experience we endure – of pain or pleasure – can be meaningful in bringing us closer to our ultimate greatness.  On that: כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה.

Meaning allows for tolerance – even strength – in the face of pain.  But it can be a lonely place.  What more can we offer?

The Sefer Hatodaah records a מדרש נעלם which fills in details of David’s early life.  

The story begins generations earlier, with the conversion of Rus to Judaism.  The legitimacy of such a conversion was questionable, as Rus came from Moav.  The בית דין of that generation, led by Boaz, determined that a female from Moav could convert.  The פסק was absolute enough, that Boaz married Rus based upon it.  The next morning, Boaz died.  We can imagine the gossip, the conjecture: was this Divine retribution for a mis-guided פסק דין?  People began to doubt the legitimacy of Rus’s conversion.  Succeeding generations of Oved, Yishai were such pure tzadikim, that people again began to respect their lineage.  As Yishai aged, in his great piety, he began to fear that perhaps, indeed, the conversion of his grandmother Rus was not fully legitimate.  If so, how could he continue to live with his wife, a pure בת ישראל?  He separated from his wife and took a שפחה כנענית in her stead, with a condition: if I am a legitimate Jew, I free you and marry you according to halacha.  If I am not, you remain a שפחה כנענית, in which case it is legal for you to marry a מואבי.

Yishai’s wife, herself deeply righteous, knew this to be mis-guided.  She secretly switched places with the שפחה כנענית .  Three  months later, she was found to be expecting.  The child was thought to be illegitimate. He was banished and rejected, sent away from his sterling brothers to tend the sheep.  That child was David.  In his cradle, his mother would sing to him: “You are pure, like your mother.  Do not despair in this suffering.  Accept with love and trust in Hashem.  You will not be humiliated eternally”. 

This early rejection is painfully voiced in תהילים ס”ט:ט:

מ֭וּזָר הָיִ֣יתִי לְאֶחָ֑י וְ֝נׇכְרִ֗י לִבְנֵ֥י אִמִּֽי׃

I am a stranger to my brothers,

an alien to my kin.

 

Cushioned by his mother’s early love, David grew up rejected by his family, alone with the sheep. In that alone-ness, he found G-d.  Without another human around, he sang to his Creator, intimately. Deep loneliness became a catalyst, when it led him to discover his beloved G-d.  And he was never alone.

טוב לי כי עניתי למען אלמד חקיך (תהילים קי”ט:י”א) 

It was good for me that I was humbled

so that I might learn Your commandments 

 

כִּֽי־אָבִ֣י וְאִמִּ֣י עֲזָב֑וּנִי וַֽה’ יַאַסְפֵֽנִי׃ (תהילים כ”ז:י)

Though my father and mother abandon me,

the LORD will take me in.

 

Far from distractions, noise, confusion…. Alone under the broad sky, David found Hashem.  He then sang of what he gained from his afflictions: knowledge of Hashem’s embrace. 

This security in Hashem’s embrace is a throbbing, warm theme throughout Sefer Tehillim. 

שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד כִּ֥י מִֽ֝ימִינִ֗י בַּל־אֶמּֽוֹט (תהילים ט”ז:ח)

 

I am ever mindful of the LORD’s presence

He is at my right hand; I shall never be shaken.

 

In the explanation of the בעל שם טוב:  

שויתי -from the root שוה, equal.  In life, says David, all is equal.  No good, no bad – as long as
ה’ לנגדי תמיד- Hashem is with me all the time.  Often, it is not the circumstance which lays us low.  It is the vulnerability or the barren hole that the circumstance plunges us into.  Our tragedy isolates us.  David’s ability to continue  singing was his security that Hashem heard his song.  Heard his song, and held his hand to spur him further.  David was never alone.

גם כי אלך בגיא צלמות לא אירא רע כי אתה עמדי (תהילים כ”ג:ד)

Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness

I fear no harm, for You are with me

 

This closeness is not a commodity that can be ripped from us.  

אַחַ֤ת שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־ה’ אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵית־ה’ כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־ה’ וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ׃ (תהילים כ”ז:ד)

One thing I ask of the LORD,

only that do I seek:

to live in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD,

to frequent His temple.

 

R’ S.R. Hirsch asks a question on this verse: There was no Jew who could ever sit in the Beit Hamikdash every day of his life.  Even the כהן גדול went home on off hours.  Was David requesting the impossible?  R’ Hirsch explains: When a Jew lives his life according to the dictates and Will of Hashem, he creates an environment whereby wherever he is, he is בְּבֵית־ה .His immediate surroundings become an aura of closeness with Hashem, whereby שִׁבְתִּ֣י  – he can be calm, serene.  Hashem is with him always.

In 2013, my father passed away suddenly of a heart attack.  I soldiered on for the first few months of אבילות, filling my mental corners and emotional dark spaces with teaching, mothering, and feeling meaningful in my tasks.  Then came summer vacation, and I decided to allow myself to actively Mourn.  It was a luxury for the first two weeks.  But two months of un-distilled wallowing was not a healthy condition for me.  We returned to learning in early Elul, and I was greeted the first day back by my dear friend Gail,ע’ה.  With true feeling, she welcomed me: “Hyndi!  Welcome back!  How was your summer?”  Gail was the most alone person I knew.  She was a child of Holocaust survivors, each of whom was the sole survivor of his/ her family.  No grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  She had no siblings, and never married.  Yet she was the most positive, loving person I knew.  She knitted through each class, creating baby booties for friends’ newborns, and blankets for IDF soldiers.  She inserted a note into each blanket with the Torah thought she learned while knitting and a blessing that the Torah would protect this soldier.  Thinking she, of anyone, would understand, I opened up.  “I’ll tell you the truth, Gail.  It was a hard summer.  I felt very alone.”  Gails’ eyes opened wide in authentic disbelief.  “Alone?  You live in Eretz Yisrael, surrounded by Klal Yisrael!  Hashem is with you.  How could you ever feel alone?”  Shamed by her pure faith, I committed: “Gail.  I will never use those words again.”

The name David is spelled identically to the word “דוד”, beloved.  Tehillim is the record of our relationship with Hashem.  David could step through hardship and glory, pain and exultation, always singing to Hashem.  Because in life, the greatest comfort is Hashem’s embrace.

Which is not to say the song is automatic.  We find numerous instances in Tehillim of David’s tears expressing his feeling of fear or abandonment.  The raw pain is usually followed by David’s re-calibrating his own perception:

וַאֲנִ֤י ׀ אָ֘מַ֤רְתִּי בְחָפְזִ֗י נִגְרַזְתִּי֮ מִנֶּ֪גֶד עֵ֫ינֶ֥יךָ (תהילים ל”א:כ”ג)

Alarmed, I had thought,

“I am thrust out of Your sight”;

 

This is immediately followed by David’s reassuring himself: 

 

אָכֵ֗ן שָׁ֭מַעְתָּ ק֥וֹל תַּחֲנוּנַ֗י בְּשַׁוְּעִ֥י אֵלֶֽיךָ׃

Yet You listened to my plea for mercy

when I cried out to You.

 

Feelings of bewilderment, abandonment, rejection, or despair are not un-kosher.  David voiced many of these.  What makes David our voice is his repeated ability, in the second sentence, to speak אמונה to his own void. 

הֶ֭אֱמַנְתִּי כִּ֣י אֲדַבֵּ֑ר (תהילים קט”ז:י)

Explains R’ Pincus: I believe, because I speak.  The more we review, speak words of אמונה, reassure our sacred selves of the truth of Hashem’s presence and care – the more we believe. The first panic is absolutely kosher, valid.  The next sentence, of reassurance and  אמונה- how we answer our first – is what builds us.  

David Hamelech’s spiritual legacy is not an essay; it is a song.  These messages of security, of Divine intimacy, of purpose and meaning could only be transmitted with the power of שירה.

We are told that the descendant of David, Chizkiahu Hamelech could have been the משיח – but he did not sing at the miraculous downfall of Sancheriv, and thus he missed that chance. What is the nature of Song that made it so critical to the mission of Mashiach?  

Yeshaya Hanavi urged Chizkiahu to sing.  Chizkiahu felt that was not necessary, as the glory of Hashem had already been publicized.  There was no need to extol Hashem’s miracles in song.  The miracles had buzz.  Chizkiahu missed the further power of song, beyond that of publicizing Hashem’s might.  In the words of the  “נחלת דוד “:   Inspiration sweeps us up – then fades.  Song brands inspiration into the fiber of our נשמה, where it remains forever.  שירה lends the power of eternity to a message.  In place of dissipating, the impression is stamped into our נשמה – to be passed on to future generations.  When we sing the “אני מאמין” composed by a chassid in the cattle cars to Auschwitz, we do not just remember a song.  We access the אמונה of those holy Jews, singing faith to their deaths. In the words of the Modzhitzer Rebbe when he heard this tune: “With this song these Jews went to their deaths.  With this song we will greet the Mashiach.”  The song transcends all circumstances and dead ends.  It is sung until the end of time.  The role of Mashiach will be to make Hashem’s Name known throughout the world, and reveal his מלכות forever. That role must be fulfilled through שירה, which lasts for eternity.  Chizkiahu missed that chance, and could not be Mashiach.

Through pain, tears, glory and tragedy, David’s נשמה achieved intimacy with the reality of Hashem’s closeness, and his own mission.  These messages have been eternalized as a gift to every Jew in every generation with the power of song.  Many פרקים of תהילים  begin with “למנצח”.  The basic meaning is: To the conductor.  It is understood there were musical notes delivered with the words of the songs of Tehillim. The tunes have been lost.  But because they were couched in song, the messages of hope, closeness, security and faith are yet with us.  According to R’ Tzadok, “למנצח” means “לנצח” – for eternity.  This message – in song – is one that is for eternity. 

The concept of eternity itself is deeply precious in putting our pain in context. In the very dark summer of 2014 ,three young Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and then murdered by Arab terrorists.  I attended a memorial event where the mother of one of the boys, Mrs. Rachelle Fraenkel spoke.  Her very face was a glowing kiddush Hashem.  I remember she said: “In the face of eternity, what really is the difference between a life of sixteen years and a life of sixty?”  

In the model of King David, we Jews step through life with an eye on eternity.  The pain we suffer will pass.  But the spiritual truths we forge through the pain is ours for eternity.  And for this we sing.

לעילוי נשמת:

אליעזר בן אברהם יהושע העשיל

שאשא גיטל בת גור אריה

מחלה בת יחזקאל דוד

חנה זכריה  בן דוד

אברהם יהושע העשיל בן אליעזר 

Hyndi Mendelowitz
Hyndi Mendelowitz has been sharing her passion for תנ'ך with women in Jerusalem for over twenty years. She currently lectures on נ"ך in the Chochmat Nashim program in Beit Knesset Yeshurun, and in various seminaries in Jerusalem.