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April 5, 2013
II Samuel 6:1-7:17
When you receive bad news, what range of emotions do you experience? Is anger one of them? With whom, or what, are you angry? Are you ever angry with God?
In the haftarah for Parshat Shemini, King David’s big day goes horribly wrong. Jerusalem has been conquered, and David has decided that it’s time for a parade, for the Ark of God to be transferred to a new, sacred location. All is going great, until the oxen pulling the cart that carried the ark stumbled on the threshing floor of Nacon. “Uzzah reached out for the Ark of God and grasped it…The LORD was incensed with Uzzah. And God struck him down on the spot for his indiscretion, and he died there beside the Ark of God” (II Samuel 6:6-7).
What is David’s reaction to this tragedy, to the death of a man whose goal was to protect God’s ark? The phrase that follows is enigmatic, and has been translated several ways: “Vayihar leDavid because the LORD had inflicted a breach upon Uzzah” (6:8). What does vayihar mean? Consider these translations:
JPS: “David was distressed…”
Hertz: “David was displeased…”
Artscroll: “David was upset [with himself]…”
What makes these translations so interesting is that the word vayihar frequently means anger—and not anger at oneself. It meant just this exactly one verse earlier—God was “incensed.” Yet most traditional commentators on the Book of Samuel keep a healthy distance from this phrase. Only Rabbi David Altschuler (Galicia, 18th century) says in his commentary Metzudat David that the biblical David was angry with himself—angry in the manner of one who is distressed. We can see how his interpretation inspired our translators.
Further supporting these translators is a grammatical point: ordinarily, the word vayihar is followed by the noun af, which means “nose.” The biblical metaphor for anger is flaring nostrils—taken from the domesticated animals with which ancient Israel would have been so familiar in their agrarian society. In verse 7, God’s response to Uzzah’s touching the ark is “vayihar-af;” that, say the translators, is anger. On the other hand, the Bible says vayihar leDavid, leaving out the word af, so David wasn’t angry, he was distressed. At most, he was angry with himself.
Or are we simply hesitant to imagine that on one of the biggest days of his life, when he brought the Ark of God “home” to Jerusalem, tragedy ruined his day, and David was angry with God? Uzzah died in attempted service of God; for this, his life was snuffed out? On this, of all days?
And forget the grammar, by the way, because the phrase vayihar l’ can certainly mean unmitigated anger—see Genesis 18:30, when Abraham is negotiating with God on Sodom’s behalf, he isn’t saying, “God, don’t be distressed with me for nudging You about this.”
Let’s allow King David a moment of righteous anger with God, shall we?
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi David Wise, who has been Rabbi of the Hollis Hills Jewish Center in Hollis Hills, NY since August 2005. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, and is a native of Toronto, Ontario.
Recognizing our Maasim Tovim
Doer of Good Deeds Honorees
Northern New Jersey
There is a Hasidic saying, "When passion burns within you, remember that it was given to you for a good purpose."
Eric Weis quietly utilizes his passion to focus on the courage of his convictions and his passions, which makes us fortunate to have him as a member of Shomrei Torah and the Northern New Jersey Region of the FJMC.
In 1981, Eric and his wife Fern came to Wayne New Jersey from Clifton New Jersey. They joined Shomrei Torah, since the Rabbi, Jeffrey Segelman, was a personal friend. Following in the footsteps of his father and father-in-law, he immersed himself in our congregation. Eric began by joining its MenŐs Club, becoming its Treasurer, managing the building, re-engineering the basement, re-designing the sukkah, co-chairing the capital campaign and serving on the executive board as a Trustee and Vice President. In 2009, Eric created the ŇSushi and Sake in the Shomrei SukkahÓ program which is now in its third year; he lists Sukkot as the holiday he loves most. It pleases him that the event brings many of our members and families together.
Presently, Eric is a member of the Ritual Committee and chairman of the Israel Connection at Shomrei Torah. Often, he can be seen at Shabbat Services and at minyanim. In the Ritual Committee, he is working on a new program called Yahrzeit Buddies which will help to bolster minyan attendance in our synagogue. Eric has been president of Shomrei TorahŐs Men's Club multiple times and has served in multiple capacities in the Northern New Jersey Region (NNJR) of the Federation of Jewish MenŐs Clubs (FJMC). He was NNJRŐs Regional Man of the Year in 2003 and rose to become its President in 2009. In NNJR, he implemented a system of three sub-districts and oversaw the development of a strong Yom HaShoah Yellow Candle program. His last accomplishment was the establishment of a regional focus on Israel, linked to Mercaz and the Masorti Foundation.