NADAV, AVIHU, UZZAH AND DOVID
.Malbim, Shmuel II 6:8,9 defines Dovid’s reaction in a different manner than Rabbi Hertz. Malbim argues that the verse is informing us of Dovid’s anger with himself for not being sufficiently concerned with the honour of the aron. In other words, Dovid blamed himself for the death of Uzzah. Dovid, subsequently, did somewhat abandon his project of bringing the aron to Yerushalayim but not because, as Rabbi Hertz maintains, of a petulant spirit but rather because he furthermore now felt himself unworthy to continue the project. The words of Malbim are most revealing. Dovid, Malbim maintains, always served God m’ahava u’m’simcha, with love and from joy. Now that he was filled with fear of the punishment that befell Uzzah, Dovid felt overtaken by the motivation to serve God solely from fear of punishment, a standard of a much lower level than the desire to serve from love and joy. The result was that Dovid, feeling this slippage in his level of service of God, questioned his ability/right to escort the aron to his city. Dovid, according to this view, it would seem, lost his spirit, his religious fervour, and so, he felt unworthy to serve God. What is especially strange about this perspective is that there are many views that contend that Nadav and Avihu also met their fate because they acted out of religious fervour.3 The story of Nadav and Avihu can be understood as standing for order and restraint over fervour in the service of God. The story of Uzzah would now seem to stand for the opposite.
There is actually a major debate regarding the reason for the fate that met Nadav and Avihu. One view, which would seem to be the one adopted by Rabbi Hertz, is that they were punished for their carelessness in the service of God. This would also seem to be the basis for why Uzzah was punished.4 Within this context, the stories simply stand for the importance of care and structure in the service of God. There is another view, though, that adds another dimension to the story. Nadav and Avihu met their fate not because they carelessly ignored the structure of the Torah system but because they were overtaken by their religious fervour and, subsequently, did not abide by this structure. In a certain way, this perspective could also be applied to Uzzah. He acted instinctively to protect the aron, also without disciplined consideration of the greater system and the miraculous nature of the aron that actually carried itself and those who seemed to carry it. According to this view, the two stories are furthermore about the tension between passion and structure, with the lesson seeming to favour the latter. Malbim’s perspective, though, seems to present a counter-argument in that Dovid’s response to Uzzah’s death actually would seem to reflect a teaching of the superiority of passion over structure. The continuation of the story with Dovid’s unrestrained celebration when he escorted the aron in Yerushalayim clearly would further seem to support this view of the superiority of religious fervour.
critique of Dovid's behaviour cannot be seen as personal. Having been from the
House of Shaul Hamelech, she knew the
responsibilities that came with being a member of the royal family of
verses that describe Dovid’s response to Micha are, perhaps, cryptic. They
don’t really answer her charge that his behaviour was inappropriate for a king
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 Vayikra 10:1,2.
2 Shmuel II 6:6,7.
3 See, Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Vayikra, Shemini 2: The tragedy of Nadav and Abihu.
4 There is a general attitude amongst the commentators that Uzzah’s mistake, in attempting to respond to his perception that the aron could fall over, was a reflection of his lack of faith.
5 Shmuel II 6:20. 2.
6 See, further, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim, chapter 2:1,3.
(c) Nishma, 2009
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