We’ve spent the past month and a half on the background to the story of David and Bat Sheva. I’ve emphasized how a מלך ישראל has to put the needs of the nation ahead of his own needs, that he has to be able to give up his own personal life for the country. That was David’s mistake with עמון, and that is the lesson of the יבום stories that adumbrate our chapter. I emphasized this way of looking at the story because it reflects how the Maharal understood חז״ל's reading of David and Bat Sheva, which we will look at now. It’s time to look at the story itself.
וירא אשה רחצת מעל הגג of course means he saw her from his roof, not that she was bathing on the roof. We’ve talked about the implication of ודוד יושב בירושלם, and we will have to look at ויקם דוד מעל משכבו. But first, when did this incident happen? David became king in Jerusalem when he was 37, and lived 70 years. He’s spent at least some time moving the ארון to Jerusalem, then fighting all the wars in פרק ח. The only explicit chronology here is that it is one year after the start of the war with עמון. We know that Shlomo was born after the Bat Sheva affair, but of all the kings of Judah, we have no statement of how old he was when he ascended to the throne.
The Seder Olam assumes that all incidents in the rest of שמואל ב occur sequentially, and calculates that Shlomo was 12:
The Seder Olam also assumes that Shlomo was born shortly after the Bat Sheva affair, which means that David is 70-13 = 57 at that point. He has been king in Jerusalem for 20 years. Now, I assume that the final chapters of שמואל ב are appendices to the sefer as a whole, so I do not think that the Seder Olam’s chronology accurately reflects the text, but it seems clear that Shlomo is a young man when he becomes king, so 12 is a reasonable estimate of his age.
Nonetheless, we will discuss Rav Medan’s analysis that shows that Shlomo was born well after the Bat Sheva affair. The Yalkut says that David was in mourning for his role with Bat Sheva for 22 years:
I will assume that David’s רוח הקדש returns when he is reinstated as מלך ישראל, after Avshalom’s rebellion, which was about 3 years before David’s death. That would put the Bat Sheva affair when David is 70-3-22 = 45 years old, and has been king for 8 years. It is not clear where the midrash gets this number of 22; it may be an allusion to Yaakov, and his loss of the רוח הקדש for 22 years:
So again, I would take that number as an estimate. So we are left with David having been king in Jerusalem somewhere between 8 and 20 years when he finds himself walking on the roof of his palace, when the rest of Israel is at war. What is he thinking? Rabbi Fohrman makes the point that David has a prophecy about his legacy:
The son who will build the בית המקדש is one who יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ, in the future. He has children already, but they are not the chosen one.
It seems clear that the בַת שׁוּעַ of דברי הימים is our Bat Sheva (we will deal with the minor name change, along with her other 3 children). David’s first children after Chevron are Bat Sheva’s. That means he has no יוצאי חלציך at this point. For years after he comes to Jerusalem he knows that his son will fulfill his legacy, but he has no son. That night, when he is pacing on his roof, he is facing the complete failure of his mission. He will not build the בית המקדש, the wars that he undertook for the glory of G-d degenerated into violent massacres, his nation faced three years of famine because of its injustice to the disadvantaged (see שמואל ב פרק כא) and now the army is stuck in a quagmire besieging Amon.
And he looks down, and there is a beautiful woman exposed below him. This is a sign from G-d; this is his בּאַשערט. This is not a justification for David’s behavior; he is still wrong. But it allows us to understand him.
There isn’t much discussion of what exactly the gemara is referring to with אינהו מינסו לי; we know the test of Avraham but we have no explicit tests of Yitzchak or Yaakov. Rather than speculate, I want to focus on what the gemara means when it describes David as asking that people say אלקי דוד. That was actually part of the נבואה when Nathan told him he would not build the בית המקדש:
We need to take aggada seriously but not literally. I do not think that David was davening shacharis, looked in his Artscroll siddur:
Then said, “they should include me in there!”. Why do we say אלקי אברהם אלקי יצחק ואלקי יעקב? It’s from ה׳'s first appearance to Moshe:
Each of the אבות had a unique relationship with הקב״ה:
But we don’t add anyone else (not even אלקי משה) because of the specific necessity of mentioning מלכות ה׳:
ה׳ is מלך העולם. A מלך has to be acknowledged by his subjects:
While the world is not yet at the point of (זכריה יד:ט) וְהָיָה ה׳ לְמֶלֶךְ עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ, it is necessary at least for all of כנסת ישראל to acknowledge ה׳. And the אבות were כנסת ישראל; their relationship with ה׳ was the relationship of the nation as a whole:
In the eyes of חז״ל, David is telling ה׳: I can do this. I can be the one: המלך הוא העם והעם הוא המלך. My relationship with You is the relationship of the people as a whole with you. There is no “me”; I do not have my own needs. He was wrong. The high-minded, well-intentioned justifications were just that. The Bat Sheva affair, under it all, was his אבר קטן that משביעו רעב.
If this was a test that David failed, what was the correct answer? David in fact had a study guide: the story of Avigail and Naval:
If the exposure of Bat Sheva was a sign from ה׳ that she was his בּאַשערט, then we (as the readers, with the previous story in mind) and David (as the one living these stories) know what to expect: Uriah is one of David’s גבורים, off fighting an interminable war. David just has to wait, and he will get the news that Uriah has died in battle. He will then marry Bat Sheva as an act of יבום, an act of selfless חסד, demonstrating that he is fit to be מלך ישראל. But he fails.
Let’s look at the פרק תהילים that חז״ל connected to this story:
David is very sure of himself here; בתמי הלכתי. It is an explicit allusion to the אבות:
And he mentions the three מידות that exemplify the אבות, that are the foundation of the world:
And יצחק represents עבודה, both in the עקדה and (בראשית כה:כא) וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַה׳. David has all of these: חַסְדְּךָ, אֲמִתֶּךָ and מִזְבַּחֲךָ.
David describes how he does not associate with bad people. מתים is a synonym for people:
David is claiming to be among those he describes as אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ:
All David wants is to be there, in the בית המקדש, singing his תהילים to ה׳:
So David asks that he be tested, so that his voice will be heard in public:
And, the eyes of the gemara, ה׳ tells David: Let’s see if you are worthy of having My name attached to yours: אלקי דוד. Does your relationship to ה׳ really represent the relationship of all כנסת ישראל to ה׳? Can you get beyond your own personal needs and think only of the needs of the people? Or is your drive, ה׳ אהבתי מעון ביתך, all about you?
The gemara continues:
The way the Maharal understands the aggadah, the honeycomb is a metaphor for Torah (וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים), while the hunting is a metaphor for leisure activities. By strolling on the roof, David lost his focus on וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה, and that might have saved him. And the gemara says that after Bat Sheva returned home, David realizes that he has made a terrible mistake: בָּחַנְתָּ לִבִּי פָּקַדְתָּ לַּיְלָה צְרַפְתַּנִי בַל תִּמְצָא. You tested and inspected me at night, and found me wanting. זַמֹּתִי בַּל יַעֲבָר פִּי: I schemed; if only those words had not passed my lips.
But as far as David knows, this was a one-time error; serious but he could get past it. The פרק תהילים that חז״ל associate with his reaction implies that he expects to be punished, but he will continue to be משיח ה׳. It is only when he discovers that Bat Sheva is pregnant, that things go downhill and his crimes build on one another.
There are many ways to read תהילים פרק יז, which חז״ל understand as David’s initial response to his sin. The Radak’s father, יוסף קמחי, interprets it through the eyes of the gemara.
Artscroll translates לפעלות אדם בדבר שפתיך as describing “human deeds accord with the word of Your lips”, but David admits that he failed:
The contrast is with the previous perek, when David asserts רגלי עמדה במישור. Now it is a prayer for the future.
David’s approach to his enemies, in this reading, is unique. Since he is pleading nolo contendere, he does not ask that they be destroyed. They are the instrument of ה׳'s justice. Most commentators translate מתקוממים בימינך as “those who rise up against Your right hand”, but I would translate it as “those who rise up with Your right hand”, based on רשע חרבך in פסוק יג:
And the way David wishes to be saved in interesting:
I would translate מִמְתִים as “from people” (not necessarily “from those who die”), evoking the previous perek, מְתֵי שָׁוְא:
חלד is from חולדה, ”rust“, evoking decay but referring to all human beings:
And David hopes they will be fat and happy:
David ends the perek confident that he will survive, בצדק אחזה פניך. His constant dedication to the word of G-d will be rewarded:
But in the metaphor of סנהדרין קז,א, he has shot away the חלתא, the “honeycomb” of Torah that was protecting him. Things are going to get much worse.