Haftarah of Parshat
Shmini - 5761
The Return of the Aron
The Haftarah of Parshat Shmini is taken from the Book "Shmuel"/Samuel II; according to the Sephardim, from 6:1-6:19 and according to the Ashkenazim, the Haftarah is extended to the end of the Sixth Chapter, and through Chapter 7, Verse 17.
is composed of four sections, as follows:
(Shmuel II, 6:1-6:10)
The “Aron HaE-lohim,” the “Ark of the L-rd,” is being returned triumphantly from the Philistines who had captured it, and where it had wreaked havoc on them and on their god, Dagon, to the City of David. The Aron is placed on a new wagon, and is being led by two sons of Avinadav, Uzza and Achio, with Achio leading the oxen that are pulling the wagon, and Uzza standing closer to the Aron.
“David and the entire House of Israel were
rejoicing before HaShem with all manner of cypress wood instruments –
harps and lyres, drums, timbrels and cymbals” (Shmuel II, 6:5).
Then disaster strikes
– the oxen stumble, the Aron
appears to shift; Uzzah reaches out
and grasps it, HaShem becomes angry at Uzzah, and strikes him dead next to
David, who has
observed the entire scene, becomes angry because HaShem had broken forth
against Uzzah, and he calls that place by the name “Peretz Uzzah” (the
“Breaking Forth Against Uzzah”) to this day.
And David feared
HaShem with a new fear that day, and would not permit that the Aron
be brought to his house. It was left rather at the home of Oved-Edom the Gittite, that
was on the way.
Section Two (Shmuel II, 6:11-6:19)
Word comes to David that the House of Oved HaGitti has been wonderfully blessed by the presence of the Aron. The decision is made to resume the restoration of the Ark of HaShem to its rightful place, in Jerusalem.
The joyous parade resumes. Every six steps that the carriers of the Aron move, an ox and a fattened ox are slaughtered. David, in a linen tunic, is dancing with wild abandon before HaShem. The assembly is bringing the Aron back with joyous shouts and the Call of the Shofar.
Here the Haftarah
foreshadows trouble to come. There
is a reference to Michal, the wife of David, viewing her husband, the King,
leaping and dancing before HaShem, and we are informed that the Queen is
contemptuous of him in her heart.
The procession ends
with the placement of the Ark in the Tent that David has pitched for it, and
with David bringing up Burnt-Offerings and Peace-Offerings.
Afterwards, David blesses the People with the Name of HaShem, L-rd of
Hosts. Then each man, woman and
child receives a royal gift: a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a
container of wine; and the entire People goes home.
Section Three (Shmuel II, 6:20-6:23)
When David returned
to bless his household, he was confronted by Michal, the daughter of Shaul,
who said sarcastically to him, “How honored was the king of Israel today,
who revealed himself to the maidservants of his servants, as one of the
least distinguished people among us does.”
And David answered
her bitterly, “It was before
HaShem Who chose me over your
father that I revealed myself. Had I acted even more humbly than this and had I been more
lowly in my own eyes, then in the eyes of the maidservants of whom you
spoke, I would be honored.”
And our Haftarah
informs us that Michal was punished appropriately for her joyless words, by
never again experiencing the joy of giving birth (?) (perhaps it would be
more correct to say the joy of having additional children).
Section Four (Shmuel II, 7:1-7:17)
When David returned
to his house, and sat in safety and security, he remarked on the following
paradox to Natan, the Prophet, “Here you see me, a creature of flesh and
blood, living in the comfort of a house of cedar-wood, and the Ark of the
L-rd, Creator of the Universe, sits behind a simple curtain!”
Realizing the simple
truth of David’s words and insight, Natan immediately responded to David
that he should do what he had in mind.
However, HaShem gave
the following prophecy to Natan, “Did I ever complain to a Leader of My
People that I should have a House of Cedarwood?
Praise be to David that he realized that truth by himself!”
“But he will not be allowed to build My House, because he has too much blood on his hands. His son, Shlomo, who will never fight in a war, and whose name means “Peace,” will be the one to have that honor. But I know full well that it was David’s idea.”
him in My Name that if his descendants obey the Torah, he will have en
eternal dynasty as King of Israel, and if they don’t, many generations of
Exile may have to pass, but ultimately, the “Mashiach,”
will descend from David. Tell
this to David at once.”
Connection to the Parshah
The most obvious link
between the Haftarah and Parshat Shmini is that both in the Haftarah and in
the Parshah, HaShem seems, on the surface, to lash out and strike down
victims, in the midst of a joyous celebration, for no apparent
In the Parshah, the
individuals struck down and killed are Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon
HaKohen, and the joyous celebration is the Inauguration of the “Kohanim,”
the Priests, and of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, or portable House of G-d.
In the Haftarah, the individual struck down and killed is Uzzah, the
son of Avinadav, and the joyous occasion is the triumphal parade that was
returning the captured Aron HaE-lohim
from the P’lishtim.
As the Holiday of Pesach begins to recede into the immediate past, one is reminded of the effect the events in Mitzrayim had on the rest of the world at that time by a verse in Shmuel I, 6:5-6. There, the “P’lishtim,” or Philistines, are deciding what to do with the Aron, the Ark of the L-rd that they had stolen from the Jewish People, and with the return of which our Haftarah is concerned.
Priests and their Diviners advise the return of the Aron, as follows:
“…and give glory to the G-d of Israel; perhaps He will
lighten His hand from you, and from your god, and from your land.
Why then do you harden your heart, as Egypt and their Pharaoh hardened
theirs? Were they not in
the end forced by G-d to send them away, and they left?”
Uzza, son of Avinadav,
slain by G-d in the Haftarah for an act that doesn’t seem, at first
glance, to warrant that penalty, was
a grandson of Shaul.
The grandfather was the first King of Israel from whom the dynasty of
rule was taken in favor of David, because Shaul had sinned by failing to
totally destroy the nation of Amalek, as G-d had commanded him to do.
It is possible that
the death of Uzza was a continuation
of the punishment of Shaul for
the above sin. Even as the
deaths of Yehonatan, Avinadav (father of Uzza)
and Malki-Shua, Shaul’s sons, at the hands of the Philistines, were
considered, according to a Midrash, part of Shaul’s “Yisurin,”
Suffering, that gained for him atonement, and entry into the World-to-Come.
(Ginzei Shechter I, Page 201)
“Mordechai HaYehudi,” Mordechai
the Jew, as well as “Esther HaMalkah,” Queen
Esther, were also direct descendants of Shaul.
Their opponent in the events of Purim,
the wicked Haman,
was a direct descendant of Amalek. Perhaps
at the end of the Megilah, when Haman and his ten sons are swinging from the
gallows that Haman had erected for Mordechai, this was the completion of the
task that was initially assigned to Shaul, and the completion of his “Kapparah,”
Sin of Nadav and Avihu
In the Parshah, Nadav
and Avihu are slain by a “fire from HaShem
(VaYikra 10:2),” abruptly bringing to an
end the joyous celebration of the inauguration of the “Mishkan.”
Again, the punishment does not seem on the surface to match the
attempt to find reasons that could have triggered the “anger” of HaShem.
Some say that Nadav and Avihu were intoxicated, others that they
weren’t married, others that they offered the regular incense upon the
Inner Altar, although they had not been commanded to do so.
Again, they may be
only searching for triggers that kindled the anger that was already set in
place. Because Moshe says to
the Jewish People, in his farewell address, in which he recalls the tragedy
of the Golden Calf, and the role of Aharon in that calamity,
“HaShem became very angry with Aharon to destroy him, so I prayed also for Aharon at that time.” (Devarim
quoting Midrash VaYikra Rabbah 7:1, comments that “to destroy
him” means the destruction
of his children.
By means of Moshe’s prayers, half of Aharon’s children (Elazar
and Itamar) were saved.
Sin of Uzza (Or of David?)
What may have made
King David particularly upset at the fate of Uzza was that the sin, or
the mistake, may have been more
on David’s shoulders than on Uzza’s. As RASHI comments on the words that
tell us that the Aron was placed on a “new wagon” (Shmuel II, 6:3),
“(David) erred in a matter that even beginning Torah students should know;
that is, that a holy article (used in the Tabernacle) should be carried on
Therefore, Uzza died
on account of him. And
therefore as well, when they would later bring the Aron
from the house of Oved (after it was demonstrated that it was a source of
blessing, not curse), the “carriers,” whom the Talmud says even that they
were carried by the Aron, “carried
it on their shoulders.”
Anger Against G-d!?
In the Haftarah, we
find, in (Shmuel II, 6:8), “And David became angry, because the
L-rd had broken forth upon Uzzah…”
With Whom was David angry? It
may have been that he was angry with himself, as explained above.
But the context, that parallels the Anger of G-d with the anger of
David, seems to suggest that he was, in fact, angry with G-d!
But King David was one of our very greatest and most righteous
The verse seems to
suggest that it is not
by definition wrong to be
momentarily angry with G-d. On
“Yom HaShoah V’HaGevurah,” the Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust
and the Bravery of the Jewish People – “celebrated” Thursday night
throughout the Jewish world, we try to identify with Holocaust survivors,
whose entire families may have been destroyed by the Nazis, May their memory
be erased. And we understand
that they may be permitted, not only to question G-d on the righteousness of
His Judgment (but not to demand
answers, as we are taught in the Book of “Iyov”/Job), but even
to be angry, out of non-comprehension, with Him.
And we admire the tremendous courage of those who were able to start
over and rebuild their lives.
As students of the
Prophets, we realize that HaShem, the Supremely Righteous Judge of the
World, always has His reasons, obscure though they may be to us.
That He has never, and never will in the future abandon the People of
Israel - that He has all of Eternity, that “no eye has seen, O
L-rd, but yours,” at His disposal, to
right “wrongs,” plus the era of “Techiyat HaMetim,” the
“Resurrection of the Dead.”
Jumping now from “Afelah,”
thick darkness to “Ohr Gadol,” bright light, we conclude our discussion
of this week’s magnificent Haftarah.
”Simchah,” Happiness, of the Jewish Community
We see in Parshat
Shmini as well as in its Haftarah, that there are occasions of great joy for
the Jewish Community as a whole, and in each case, the joy revolves around
the Presence of the “Shechina,” the Divine Presence, amongst us.
In Vayikra 9:24, we
see that when HaShem responded to the efforts of “Klal Yisrael,” the
Community of Israel, in building the Mishkan, and accepted their sacrifice, “…the
People saw and sang glad song and fell (in awe) upon their faces.”
And similarly, in
Shmuel II, 6:5, we find, “David and the entire House of Israel were
rejoicing before HaShem with all manner of cypress wood instruments –
harps and lyres, drums, timbrels and cymbals.”
And in the Oral
Tradition, in the Talmud, we are informed that there occurred in
Yerushalayim during Sukkot, an event called “The Days of the Drawing of
Water,” that if one had never witnessed it, then they had never seen true
“simchah.” Illuminated by
tremendous bonfires, the Scholars of Israel danced, juggled torches and
performed feats of physical strength that again, the only description is
that one “had to see it,” and maybe soon we will.
We see in the
Haftarah from the verse quoted above, and from verses that show David
playing on his lyre to soothe Shaul’s depression,(for example, Shmuel
I,18:10) and all the Book of “Tehilim,” the Psalms, that the true
“father of Jewish Music” was not Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Z”L, great
though he was, but rather King David. Who
was called “ne’im z’mirot Yisrael,” the
“sweet singer of Israel,” and about whom we sing “David Melech
Yisrael Chai V’Kayam,” “David, King of Israel, is alive and well.”
…and Jewish Dance
We see in the Haftarah that Jewish Dance is one of the best expressions of joy, and is not separated from holiness. We see this in Shmuel II, 6:14, “And David danced before the L-rd with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.”
As well as from the Torah where we find, after the Splitting of the Sea (Shemot 15:20), “Miriam the Prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances.”
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU