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Posted on May 3, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they drew close before Hashem, and they died.[1]

Ramban, citing Ibn Ezra, writes that the penultimate phrase explains the final one. In other words, the reason that they died is that they “drew close” to Hashem, apparently inappropriately. Now, the gemara[2] citing a different pasuk,[3] places the blame on their failure to marry and father children. Which is it?

We can harmonize these two approaches with the assistance of another gemara,[4] which teaches that failure to procreate causes the Shechinah to depart from Israel. If a person does not leave

children behind who are loyal to Hashem, where else can the Shechinah dwell?

It is easy to reason – and so did Nadav and Avihu – that the departure of the Shechinah is only an issue for people who are great and exalted enough that they serve as a dwelling place for the Shechinah. When they do not continue their line, the Shechinah departs from where it once vested. A childless commoner doesn’t cause the departure of the Shechinah, because he never drew it upon himself in the first place!

We can judge Nadav and Avihu’s decision to lead a child-free life charitably. They simply didn’t see themselves as important enough to host the Shechinah. Therefore, they reasoned, there was no harm done by not raising a family. Yet, they still attempted to draw close before Hashem – with some success! They somehow saw this striving as appropriate for themselves, although not attempted by the common person. Perforce, they recognized their own greatness, which was incongruous with their humble discounting of their worth in regard to hosting the Shechinah.

This approach can help us understand a puzzling interaction between Dovid and his wife, who objected to his less-than-regal dancing in wild abandon when he brought the Aron into Yerushalayim. “Michal, Shaul’s daughter, went out to meet Dovid. She said, ‘How honored the king of Israel was today, who exposed himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maidservants, as one of the boors might expose himself.’ Dovid answered Michal, ‘Before Hashem who chose me…to appoint me over the people of Hashem – of Israel – before Hashem I rejoiced. Had I held myself even more lightly, and had I been lowly in my own eyes – with the maidservants…among them I will be honored.’”[5]

Michal’s point seems to be that the king that day was not honorable at all! Dovid had badly compromised his honor, by publicly making a spectacle of himself. Why did she speak of “how honored the king…was today?” I cannot accept that she was cynically mocking her husband the king!

I think that Michal was being serious, not ironic. Halacha has it that a king cannot excuse or dismiss the honor that is due him.[6] The reason for this is simple: the king’s honor is not his own. It belongs to the nation. It is therefore not his to decline.

The equation changes, however, when the king deserves honor of his own, apart from his sitting on the throne. In some cases, the honor due to him as a person can exceed the honor owed to the nation. In such cases, he is entitled to dismiss his honor, because it truly belongs to him for his own accomplishments, and not just as a surrogate for the nation’s honor.

This is what Michal meant. The only way that Dovid’s behavior could be justified is if he understood that his honor belonged to him because of his own achievements, and eclipsed that of the people. Because of that, he had the right to dismiss his honor. In doing so, he betrayed that he must think of himself in very exalted terms. She chided him, therefore, for his sense of self-importance.

Dovid’s response was that Michal completely misunderstood him. He was not showing off his importance. To the contrary, he was so full of gratitude to Hashem for appointing him king, that he danced out of pure love for Him. He danced together with a Jewish nation that is His people. All of them – the king no less than anyone else – were conscious of their need to honor Hashem. Dovid’s dancing did not come from a place of haughtiness, but from his awareness of his smallness before Hashem. He danced with his people, not aloof from them.

As for Michal’s complaint that he had squandered the honor that was due him strictly as the leader of the nation, Dovid replied that he had left room for that. The maidservants would look up to him as king. He would not excuse their obligation to revere him. The awe of temporal majesty would be preserved.

  1. Vayikra 16:1
  2. Yevamos 64a
  3. Bamidbar 3:4
  4. Yevamos 62a
  5. 2Shmuel 6:20-22
  6. Kesubos 17a