Last time, we saw David retreating from Jerusalem. The כהנים brought the ארון out to him, and he has to make a decision. I want to look at David’s reaction:
This is important, and astonishing. The one thing David wants, more imporant that being king of Israel, is to build a בית לה׳. He brought the ארון to Jerusalem 25 years before with the intention of building the בית המקדש there, but the Torah doesn’t name המקום אשר יבחר ה׳. He might have taken the ארון to avail himself of building his בית המקדש somewhere else. In fact, he has been faced with this opportunity before, when the משכן in נב was destroyed by Saul and the remaining כהן escapes with the אפוד and אורים וטומים:
Rav Medan emphasizes what this must have meant to David:
In my reading of שמואל ב, this is the climax of the story of בת שבע. This, fundamentally, was an important part of David’s תשובה. There are classically three parts of תשובה: ודוי, חרטה על העבר and קבלה על העתיד.
I’ve previously looked at the story of David’s תשובה in those terms:
חרטה על העבר
חרטה is not just regretting the past, but making amends to the extent possible.
We have talked about the fact that this is the first time that בת שבע is אשתו of David, not אשת אוריה. We also talked about the fact that this child is described as ותלד בן, not (שמואל ב יא:כז) ותלד לו בן. Shlomo was a sort of child of יבום, to be אוריה's son, not David.
קבלה על העתיד
But I have been arguing that the affair of Bat Sheva was not a crime of passion, but an abuse of authority. David could take another man’s wife because he was the king. And he justified taking her because needed an heir who would build the בית המקדש. Bat Sheva appeared to him, like Tamar before Yehuda, and was cleary sent by G-d to allow him to fulfill his destiny. Here we have David faced with the same question: he has been deposed as king, but the ארון appears before him. He can take it and create his own בית המקדש. Or he can admit that it’s not about him, it’s about כנסת ישראל. And here he makes the right choice. This is דבר שעבר בו and now he has פירש ולא עשה מפני התשובה.
David’s תשובה is complete. He will still have to fight the battle with Avshalom, but he will return to Jerusalem and his designated heir, Shlomo, will build the בית המקדש.
This reading of our ספר helps explain some difficult statements from חז״ל.
And this teaches us an important lesson about the nature of תשובה.
And the undoing of the past happens in stages.
David achieves these three stages: סליחה: (שמואל ב יב:יג) וַיֹּאמֶר נָתָן אֶל דָּוִד גַּם ה׳ הֶעֱבִיר חַטָּאתְךָ לֹא תָמוּת. Then מחילה: (שמואל ב יב:כה) וַיִּשְׁלַח בְּיַד נָתָן הַנָּבִיא וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שְׁמוֹ יְדִידְיָהּ בַּעֲבוּר ה׳׃. We have not seen David’s כפרה yet, but it
will come: (שמואל ב יט:מא-מב) …וְכָל עַם יְהוּדָה הֶעֱבִרוּ אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ…וְהִנֵּה כָּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאִים אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ.
But there is more to this story. David teaches us specifically about תשובה מאהבה.
But I want to look at the idea of תשובה מאהבה from a different perspective.
Joey Rosenfeld lent me a little book and suggested that I read the last chapter. I know whenever I accept reading material from Joey I’m about to fall down the rabbit hole, but it’s always fascinating and worthwhile. This book is שובי נפשי: חסד או חירות by הרב שג״ר. Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, known by his acronym שג״ר, was rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat Siach Yitzchak, and brought Chassidut and post-modern philosophy into religious Zionist thinking.
Rav Shagar asks, what is teshuva, really? And focuses on the תקנת השבין of R׳ Zadok Hacohen of Lublin:
R׳ Zadok was a student of the Ishbitzer, the author of the מי השילוח, a Chasidic rebbe famous for his philosophy of determinism, that הכל בידי שמים אפילו יראת שמים. He preached acceptance of oneself and allowing ה׳ to determine our actions. R׳ Zadok looks at teshuva in that vein.
This is very similar to the twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, that overcoming addiction involves admitting that we can’t do it ourselves:
Rabbi Abraham Twerski famously uses these ideas in a Jewish, mussar-based manner.
Rav Shagar points out that there are two diametrically opposed approaches to teshuva: active, individual-centered, and passive, G-d-centered. Like most such dialectics, both are right and both are necessary, and both can end up in the same place, of being a new person whose past is changed:
As I understand Rav Shagar’s analysis, a person’s teshuva changes the future by making them a different person. The miracle of teshuva is that Hashem changes the past as well. It is this new person who had committed the sinful act. This is how Rav Shagar reconciles the two approaches to teshuva. תשובה מיראה is active; the Rambam’s approach is תשובה מיראה. ”The person I was did wrong. I reject that person as I become better“. The יראה is the fear, disgust with my own past.
תשובה מאהבה is passive, accepting. “I don’t reject the person I was. What happened, even though I shouldn’t have done it, was G-d’s will and it is part of what makes me a better person today”. The אהבה is the love of who I was.
That is why תשובה מיראה leads to זדונות נעשות לו כשגגות. The act happened, but “who I am today” would never have done such a thing. So the act is a שגגה, negligent, not intentional. But תשובה מאהבה leads to זדונות נעשות לו כזכיות. The act happened, but “who I am today” accepts it as an “act of G-d”, not under my control, but it made me who I am today, which is a good thing, a זכות.
[The problem with this approach is that it leads to antinomianism, that there are no laws and no right or wrong. Others have dealt with this in understanding the Ishbizter, and I won’t deal with that here. But this is not about our behavior now; that is certainly subject to the laws of the Torah and is under our free will. The question is how do we look at our acts in the past. תשובה requires חרטה על העבר before the כפרה of acceptance is possible. ]
ספר תהילים is David’s expression of אהבת ה׳, and part of that is תשובה מאהבה.
David’s return to מלכות, with Shlomo as his heir, is the result of תשובה מאהבה, growing from the past.
There is a פרק תהילים that deals with the nature of תשובה.
David in this משכיל (a didactic poem) seems to be saying that כסוי חטאה, one who covers up their sin, is happy, to be praised. That’s not the usual approach:
The gemara says our pasuk is talking about publicizing a sin. Confession is always necessary; the question is whether everyone has to hear that confession:
But Hirsh says that כסוי חטאה means one who has not sinned at all, and this pasuk is a contrast to the next:
That is just the introduction; the remainder of the perek is for those who are not נשוי פשע and כסוי חטאה.
The second pasuk is another אשרי:
This was David’s own experience. When he tried to cover up the sin, everything got worse.
We usually translate נשא עון as “tolerating sin”, not punishing. But I think here is is more literal: ה׳ “carries the sin”. In ר׳ צדוק's terms we used above, כל מה שחטא היה גם כן ברצון הש״י.
The past cannot literally be changed. The sin happened. But with תשובה, ה׳ offers to bear the responsibility. That is part of what זדונות נעשות לו כשגגות means.
When is עת מצא?
But here David is saying
עת מצא is always, as long as we are honest with ourselves, seeing ה׳'s hand in whatever happens. Then, even in the face of the floodwaters, אליו לא יגיעו, I am not washed away. Instead of being surrounded by danger, רני פלט תסובבני, I am surrounded by a song of salvation. My יודוי becomes a רני פלט.
And David concludes with the summary of his משכיל.
The theodicy of ספר תהילים is גם זו לטובה. Everything is for the best. Even our checkered past is לטובה; it is what made it possible to be a בעל תשובה, to grow into who we are now. And that is something to be celebrated.