Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Shavuot- Naso 5769/ May 29- 30, 2009

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar- Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

King David, Sovereignty, and Torah

 

Dr. Itamar Wahrhaftig

 

Faculty of Law

 

King David is tied to the Feast of Weeks in two ways:

  1. According to tradition, King David was born and died on the Feast of Weeks. [1]
  2. David is mentioned in the Book of Ruth which is customarily read on the Feast of Weeks.     Many reasons have been given for this reading, [2] one of them being that Ruth ends with the birth of David, which took place, as we have said, on the Feast of Weeks. [3]

Is there any inner significance to the fact that David was born on the Feast of Weeks, and to his connection with Shavuot via the reading of Ruth?

David’s Learning

Below we shall attempt to associate David with the significance of the Feast of Weeks as the festival celebrating the giving of the Torah. [4]   In the tradition, as cited in Talmud and Midrash, among King David’s many virtues his study of Torah is prominent.   The gemara ( Berakhot 3b) compares two verses in Psalms.   In one David says, “I arise at midnight to praise You for Your just rules” (Ps. 119:62), and in the other, “I rise before dawn and cry for help” (Ps. 119:147). Sensing a contradiction, the gemara’s response is that David said, “I never passed midnight asleep.”  Some say that until midnight he used to doze off like a horse, [5] from midnight onwards he would gain strength like a lion; others say, “Until midnight he would study Torah, from midnight onwards he would sing praises.”  Yet another view is that from midnight onwards he would study Torah until dawn.

Eruvin 53a says:   “It is said of David, when he studied a tractate, ‘Those who fear You will see me and rejoice’ (Ps. 119:74),” on which Rashi comments:  “As it says in Berakhot (4a), for he would labor over the Torah and teach its laws, as it says, ‘my hands are dirtied with blood’ * … and it also says in Mo’ed Katan 16b, that David was [like] Adino the Eznite, Josheb-basshebeth Tahkhemonite.” **  Another source which expresses David’s involvement in Torah study is found in Shabbat 30a:  “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him:  ‘One day of your studying Torah is better than a thousand offerings that your son Solomon is destined to place before me.’”  Moreover, the Talmud there tells of his great devotion to Torah studies.   When he knew that he was doomed to die on the Sabbath, every Sabbath “his mouth did not cease reciting Torah,” so that the Angel of Death could not take him without resorting to trickery. [6]

David not only studied, but also saw to it that others studied.  The Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot 1.5, recounts that David used to play the harp and the lute, “So that others would hear Torah … and they would say:   If King David studies Torah, then so should we, all the more so.”  Midrash Ha- Gadol (Ex. 35:1) relates:

He used to assemble communities on the Sabbath and set up a podium in the Bet Midrash, and there he would teach Israel the secrets of the Torah and correct Israel in their errors, revealing hidden secrets to them, to the point that he drew their hearts near to Torah study.

David as Judge

David also ruled on questions of halakhah for others, as it says in Berakhot 4a:

David said to the Holy One, blessed be He:  Am I not a righteous man, for all the kings of East and West sit around [basking] in glory, while I dirty my hands with blood, amniotic fluid and placentas, in order to make a woman permissible to her husband.

He also served as a dayyan (judge) in the Sanhedrin. [7]   Tractate Sanhedrin 36a recounts that David and his men tried Nabal from Carmel for treason. [8]

His court also issued rulings for all Jews of later generations.   David decreed that Gibeonites not be allowed to marry into the Jewish people (Yevamot 78b), and that Jews should recite one hundred benedictions every day. [9]   Berakhot 48b tells of the evolution of grace after meals:   “once they [the Israelites] had entered the land, David and Solomon instituted the benediction, ‘who builds Jerusalem.’   David inserted the phrases, ‘on Israel Your people and on Jerusalem Your city’ [in the benediction, ‘Have mercy …’].”  In addition, David and his court issued a decree regarding being alone even with a maiden, after the affair of Amnon and Tamar. [10]   David also adjudicated cases for the common people (II Sam. 8:15):  “David executed true justice among all his people” (II Sam. 8:15). [11]

Having seen that David was learned in Torah, his figure shines in a new light, especially since we know that he was a judge sitting on the court of the Sanhedrin.  By fundamental principles of law the king need not serve as judge or a member of the Sanhedrin, and certainly should not preside over the Sanhedrin.   However, we note that Moses, Joshua, David did so, and in time to come so will the Messiah. [12]   Thus, David symbolizes Torah and sovereignty in a single person.  Now let us return to the question we posed at the outset—the relation between David and Shavuot.

David and Shavuot

Precisely on the day the Torah was given, as we read the book of Ruth which concludes with the birth of David, we wish to show that the Torah is not the heritage of select individuals, but of the entire nation.   The nation is represented by their king, as Maimonides wrote: The king’s heart is “the heart of the entire community of Israel, therefore he must hold fast by the Torah even more than the rest of the people,” [13] and therefore the law prescribes that he write for himself another Torah scroll to keep with him.

The extreme preoccupation of the tradition to relate David to Torah study and Torah teaching reminds us, on the day the Torah was given, that we should expect our leadership in Israel to exhibit the qualities of sovereignty and Torah, as David did. [14]   Perhaps, based on what we wrote, we could add another reason for the custom of staying up all night on the eve of the Feast of Weeks: in remembrance of David, who only dozed like a horse until midnight, and from midnight onwards arose and studied Torah.

                                                                                                                                         



[1] Jerusalem Talmud, Hagigah 2.3:   “David died on Atzeret [= Feast of Weeks].” See further note 3.

[2] On the origins of and reasons behind this custom, see Rabbi   S.Y. Zevin, Mo’adim ba-Halakhah, Shavuot, p. 347.

[3] Rabbi Zevin cites Tevu’ot Shor on Baba Batra 13b, where we read that the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and grants fullness of years to the righteous, which means that they are born and die on the same day. Tevu'ot Shor reasons that since David passed away on the Feast of Weeks (see note 1), that means that he was also born on that day.   “Therefore one reads the book of Ruth, in order to honor David on his birthday.”

[4] This is not the place to go into further depth on the correspondence between the Feast of Weeks, which falls on the fiftieth day of the omer, and the 6th of Sivan.  Be that as it may, we associate this day with the giving of the Torah, in our prayers and elsewhere.

[5] Rashi, loc. sit. Sukkah 27b explains that a horse sleeps “sixty breaths-worth.”   Cf. Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 4.16:  “David would take care not to sleep sixty (consecutive) breaths.”   The explanation of the halakhah there includes several opinions as to the length of this period of time, ranging from three hours, to half an hour, and even as little as three minutes.

* The context is a homily in which David explains that while other kings sit around enjoying the honor paid them, he is busying dirtying his hands with blood and amniotic fluid in order to insure that a woman who gave birth is pure for her husband; see further on in this article (Translator’s note).

** This is a reference to a homily which, in brief, runs as follows:   David was like Adino the Eznite, i.e., humble [Heb. adin] as a worm when he studied Torah, and firm as a tree [Heb. etz] when he went to war; like  Josheb-basshebeth, i.e., sitting on the hard ground, not lounging on cushions, when he studied Torah; Tahkhemonite, which is a play on words, G-d saying to David:  Since you have humbled yourself, be like Me [Heb. tehe camoni], for I make a decree and you cancel it  (Translator’s note)

[6] Compare this to the story of the death of Rav Hisda, Mo’ed Katan 28a.

[7] In his preface to Mishneh Torah, Maimonides lists David as one of the people in the line of transmission of the Torah who received the Law and passed it on to others.  In Hilkhot Sanhedrin (4.7), he says that David was also ordained and ordained others.

[8] See also Shabbat 56a, Megillah 14b and Tosefot there.

[9] Numbers Rabbah 18.17; Tur Orah Hayyim 46.3.

[10] Sanhedrin 21a; Avodah Zarah 36b.

[11] For a detailed description of his adjudication, see Sanhedrin 6a; Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 6.3.

[12] See my article, “Melekh mul Hakhamim,” Tehumin 15 (1995), p. 143.

[13]Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 3.6.

[14] Even if the leader is not at the head of the religious leadership, he should have the wisdom to respect and consult religious leaders, just as we found that David availed himself of them.  Cf. Berakhot 4a; Bava Kama 60b.