June 17, 2024
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At first glance, the connection between the haftarah and our parsha seems obvious: the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, the kohen gadol, in the midst of the nation joyously celebrating the inauguration of the Mishkan service is paralleled in our haftarah by the death of Uzzah, the son of Avinadav, one who guarded the Holy Ark during its years of “exile” from the Mishkan, a death that also occurred in the midst of a national festival, one celebrating the “aliya” of the Aron to the Holy City of Yerushalayim. But this story takes up only seven of the 40 pesukim in the haftarah! The bulk of this selection deals with the eventual success of bringing the Ark to Yerushalayim, and, following that, David Hamelech’s request to build a Beit Mikdash and Hashem’s promised reward to him for that request.

But there is one story that seems to have no connection to the parsha and which is, in itself, quite troubling.

When triumphantly entering the City of David with the Holy Ark, the king danced wildly, filled with joy and happiness. His “unroyal-like” behavior was seen by his wife Michal, the daughter of King Saul, who greeted her husband with the sarcastic comment, “How distinguished was the king of Israel today who acted (revealed himself) before his servants and maids as a boor would.” David responded that he had humbled himself before Hashem Who chose him to replace her father as king and that such behavior would gain him even more honor in the eyes of the common people. The story seems to be unnecessary. But it becomes troubling when the episode closes with the statement “And Michal bore no children until the day she died.” Childlessness is one of the most severe and painful punishments that can be meted out. What sin did Michal commit that would make her liable for such a punishment and how does that connect to our parsha?

Shaul Hamelech lost his throne because he refused to destroy all of Amalek’s cattle, allowing the people to take them instead, thereby ignoring the command he received from God (through the navi Shmuel). By doing so, Shaul showed more concern to what the people would think than to what Hashem desired. By fearing the people over fearing God, he forfeited his right to the throne.

Michal’s contempt of David’s behavior reflected the same attitude that her father displayed, as she too was concerned more with the people’s perception than with glorifying God. It was a mistake that David Hamelech refused to make.

God could not allow David’s dynasty to be connected to Shaul—even through his daughter, Michal. It had to be clear to all that the king of Israel must place God’s will above that of the people or of his own. And for this reason, the navi tells us that Michal bore no children for David.

This same message echoes in the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu in our parsha. Both prioritized their own desires and beliefs above those of Hashem. Even when meant for a positive purpose, we do not decide to act simply upon that which we regard as correct. Rabot machashavot b’lev ish, va’atzat Hashem hi takum—G-d’s will must always take priority.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

Parshat Shemini

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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