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Shemini 5761

Parshat Shmini
(2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17)
April 21, 2001

Everything seemed perfectly innocent. King David desired to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem from its temporary abode in Baale-judah. The ark was placed upon a new wagon with Ahio and Uzzah, the sons of Aminadav, leading it up on its journey to Jerusalem. King David and the people danced, sang and rejoiced before the ark. When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah reached out his hand to take hold of the ark. Suddenly the anger of God flared up against Uzzah and struck him down for his error.

This tragedy is similar to that which happened to the sons of Aaron in the Parasha. Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, were struck down in the sanctuary while offering service to God. The Torah leaves us without an adequate explanation of what transgression on their part prompted their punishment. Similarly we are at a loss to explain what sin could possibly have caused the calamity which befell Uzzah.

One possible answer to this question can be found in David’s peculiar response: “David was distressed (angry) because the Lord had inflicted a breach upon Uzzah” (2 Samuel 6:8 – according to the New JPS translation). At whom was David angry? According to the Malbim, a 19th century Rumanian commentator, David was angry at himself for inadvertently causing the death of Uzzah for his own oversight.

What was David’s failure? A parallel account found in 1 Chronicles (15:15) is of some assistance. There we find that when David finally brings the ark to Jerusalem, it was not carried in a wagon but rather David had it brought up to Jerusalem on the shoulders of Levites according to the manner prescribed by the Torah (see Exodus 25:13). David should have been aware of the proper way of handling the ark. Uzzah paid dearly for David’s error.

Nevertheless, we cannot escape the sense that the punishment of Uzzah in this story is an anomaly. His role seems entirely innocent. Uzzah just wanted to keep the ark from falling to the ground. What grounds were there for punishing him for his doing something so innocent and pure? This passage offers a consummate lesson for leaders in all generations about the consequences of their decisions. The brunt of their actions will often be born by others, often blameless, but the responsibility is ultimately theirs to bear! David’s anger at the results of his own failure should serve as a model for us all.

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. The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .  Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

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