Friday, October 12, 2012

From Adam To David

This Dvar Torah started formulating in my head a short while ago as I started getting ready for Shabbos, and I had to share it.

Here we are, fresh off of Teshuva Season 2012/5773. We made it through Elul with its selichos, crowned HaShem King on Rosh Hashana, endured the fast and fully repented on Yom Kippur, behaved as best as we could to ensure our inscription in the Book of Good Life was delivered on Hoshana Rabba, then celebrated with HaShem and His Torah over Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.

Now what?

Chazal, in their wisdom, developed our Torah reading practice to end on Simchas Torah (or Shemini Atzeres for those in the Holy Land), and right away we begin with the introductory portion of Bereishis, the very first Parsha of the Chumash.

While there is much substance to the notion of showing our collective love and dedication to G-d's Torah so soon after our Days of Awe, I think that there is a more nuanced, deeper lesson to be derived as well.

One of the most infamous incidents of the entire Tanach takes place in this week's Parsha. Shortly after being informed that they can eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden except for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, Chava and subsequently Adam violate that commandment after some insidious plotting by the snake.

When confronted with their transgression, Adam, then Chava play the blame game. He points to her, she points to the snake, and everyone receives their particular punishment.

So soon after our annual Teshuva Season, we read of the very first humans and their example of how NOT to do Teshuva.

Instead of owning up to his own poor choice, Adam deflects responsibility entirely:

And the man said: 'The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.' (Bereishis 3:12)

Upon hearing this accusation, G-d turns to Chava for her response,

And the L-RD G-d said unto the woman: 'What is this thou hast done?' And the woman said: 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.' (3:13)

G-d doesn't even give the snake a chance to defend itself, and starts off right away doling out punishment, beginning with the snake and moving onto Chava and then Adam.

On a literary side point - note the nifty repetition and reversal of the order of subjects: Adam is told the commandment and tells it to Chava who then repeats it to the snake, the snake convinces Chava who convinces Adam, G-d goes to Adam who blames Chava who blames the snake, and then G-d distributes punishment starting at the snake, then to Chava and back to Adam.

What should have happened?

Adam should have fessed up for his bad decision, not shifted the blame to his wife and partner. Chava in turn should have admitted to her own wrongdoing at choosing to follow the admittedly negative intentions of the snake.

Where do we see a model of this sort of proper teshuva, where the sinner admits to his transgression right away without batting an eye or rationalizing his behavior?

David Hamelech.

Centuries later, in the story told in Shmuel Bet chapters 11 and 12, David notices Batsheva, wife of Uria HaChiti and desires her. They sleep together, David subsequently has Uria sent off to die on the front lines of battle via his general Yoav, and he marries Batsheva. HaShem is not happy with this turn of events, for David has committed a most egregious sin.

HaShem sends the prophet Natan to rebuke David via a parable of a rich man stealing a poor man's lone lamb, which stirs up feelings of justice, leading him to say the rich man in the story should be put to death for his sin. Natan turns to David and says that he is the rich man of the story and he has sinned by having Uria killed and marrying Batsheva. He goes on to describe the forthcoming, very public and very damaging punishment that David has earned for his secretive sin.

Without any hesitation, and without batting an eye, King David immediately replies two words (12:13): "Chatasi LaShem" - "I have sinned against G-d."

Now THAT is teshuva.

The effectiveness of King David's teshuva is immediate:

And Nathan said unto David: 'The L-RD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. (12:13)

King David does not escape all punishment, and the child he has conceived with Batsheva will become sick and die. While he fasts and prays for mercy on behalf of his son while the child is ill, immediately after he dies, King David gets up from his fasting, washes, dresses, goes to the House of HaShem and bows, returns to his own home and eats, thus resuming his role of King of Israel.

His servants are baffled at the sudden diametrical shift in behavior. But King David replies to their questions by stating:

And he said: 'While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept; for I said: Who knoweth whether the L-RD will not be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.' (12:22-23).

Even after the tragic fulfillment of the punishment decreed by G-d, King David remains steadfast in his Teshuva. He knows there is the possibility that HaShem may show mercy, and still he accepts the judgement that has been passed on him because of his actions. He goes on to comfort his wife, Batsheva, and they later conceive Shlomo - his eventual successor to the throne.

We are human, and we will make mistakes and choose wrongly on occasion - just as we see with the very first humans beings created. It's part of our imperfect nature. HaShem knew this before we even existed, hence the Gemara in Pesachim 54A where Chazal tell us that Teshuva was one of the few things HaShem found important enough to create before our physical universe came into being.

Perhaps this connection further supports the Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni (Bereshis 41) that discusses how Adam was originally supposed to live for 1000 years, while King David was only supposed to live for 3 hours. Adam was told this information, and willingly "donated" 70 years of his life to David.

I don't know when this exchange took place, but based on what we've seen above, I would venture to say that it takes place after Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge and received his punishment. It could very well be that Adam's motivation in doing so was also prophetically motivated - just as he knew David was supposed to live for such a short time, he saw David's potential and how he could become a role model for Teshuva in a way that Adam himself could and did not.

Let us take to heart the model of Teshuva as embodied by David HaMelech and not fall to playing the blame game as Adam and Chava did. In doing so, we can maintain the momentum of the growth and inspiration that we achieved during Teshuva Season 5773 - and even when we take a misstep here and there, we can bounce back with full repentance and further develop our devotion and connection to G-d.

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