(2 Samuel 22:1-51)
October 11, 2008
12 Tishre 5769
David\’s paean to God touches upon many subjects, among them, thanksgiving over being saved by God from death and David\’s victory over his enemies. In the midst of these themes, the song takes on some bold theologically subjects, like David\’s redemption being compensation for his righteousness, the nature of reward and punishment in general and statements about the nature of God. In one verse, this song describes God\’s interaction with the world in these words: \”the way of God is perfect; the word of God is pure\” (Verse 31)
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) sees in this verse a description of the workings of Divine justice in the world: \”God compensates each person according to his deeds, He compensates me according to my righteousness and my enemy according to his wickedness; \’His words\’ – all of His judgments are flawless, all are clear and clean, exacted with integrity and faithfulness, purified without dross.\” Similarly, Rabbi Joseph Kara (12th century France) explains: \”All that God promised me, He guards His promises and carries out His word in truth. God for these commentators governs the world with absolute justice meting out what is proper to each person.
Unlike the above commentators, the following midrash reads this verse as a statement – not as a comment on Divine justice but rather as a statement about the purpose of God\’s commandments: \”\’The way of God is perfect; the word of God is pure (tzerufa)\’ (2 Samuel 22, 31) Rav said: The precepts were given only in order that man might be refined by them, as it says: \’the word of God is purifying\’ For what does the Holy One, blessed be He, care whether a man kills an animal by the throat or by esophagus? Hence its purpose is to refine man.\” (adapted from Midrash Tehillim 18:25 Buber ed. p. 152)
There are many different theories about the purpose of the commandments. Some assert that their purpose is to build God\’s ideal society. Others assert that their purpose is to shape the ideal individual. Still others conclude that their purpose is exclusively to serve God. This particular midrash seems to combine the first two ideas. Rav, here, asserts that the reason for the commandments is not that they have an effect on God but rather that they have an impact on the individual or community that observes them. To paraphrase a statement from another version of this midrash: \”If God is perfect, how much more so should we try to heed His ways.\” (See Genesis Rabbah 44:1)
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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