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Shemini 5769

Parshat Shemini
(2 Samuel 6:1-7:17)
April 18, 2009
24 Nisan 5769

Parshat Shmini (2 Samuel 6:1-7:17)

David had reached the pinnacle of his power. He had established himself as king in Jerusalem, his self-declared capital and had built for himself a palace in grand style. In his magnanimity, he thought it only proper that he should also build the Temple, a house for God\’s Holy Ark. He approached Nathan the prophet with this idea. Nathan\’s initial inclination was to approve David\’s request. However, Nathan learned in a prophecy that very night that God denied David\’s request. God proclaimed that it was not David who would build the Temple but his son. Instead, God made David a substantial promise which included, among other things, this promise: \”I will give you great renown (shem gadol) like that of the greatest men (k\’shem hagedolim) on earth.\” (7:9)

These words obviously were intended as a promise that David would be among the famed kings of the world. (See Radak, Ralbag among others) As you can imagine though, the rabbinic sages had a different idea of what constituted \”greatness\”. In the Talmud Bavli, greatness meant being compared to Abraham: \”\’And I will give you great renown\’ – Rabbi Yosef taught: This alludes to the fact that we say [refer to God as] \’Magen David – Shield of David\’ [in the blessing after reading the haftarah]. (Pesahim 118b) This is similar to the way we refer elsewhere in our prayers to \”Magen Avraham – Shield of Abraham\”.

Another rabbinic source sees in the promise to David found in this verse the source for the blessing for the House of David found in the Shemoneh Esreh prayer (the Amidah): \”\’And I will give you great renown like that of the greatest men\’ – from here the Sages ordained [in the Amidah] \’God of David and Builder of Jerusalem\’ as they ordained [at the beginning of the Amidah \’God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob\’ and on Shabbat, even though the shaliah tzibor (the prayer leader) does not mention David, still, in the blessing after the reading of the haftarah, he is mentioned…\” (adapted from Midrash Shmuel 26:3 Buber ed. p. 126)

The above blessing from the Amidah is probably not familiar to most people since it was the blessing used by the Jews in Eretz Yisrael in the rabbinic period. We, on the other hand, follow the Babylonian rite which split this blessing into two blessings: \”Builder of Jerusalem\” (Boneh Yerushalayim) and \”Who causes the pride of salvation to flourish\” (Matzmiah Keren Yishua). This explains why the Amida which is also called the Shemoneh Esreh (the Eighteen Blessings) has nineteen blessings.

What is evident from the above discussion is that there are different perceptions of what makes someone worthy of fame. Political or military leaders naturally make claim to posterity. The sages thought a little outside the box. They transformed David into something bigger. He or his offspring would become leaders not only on the battle field or in the planning room but more significantly they would become agents of God\’s power to transform the world – not just temporal builders, but builders for all of posterity in the image of Abraham.

About This Commentary

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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