Sunday, June 13, 2004

David and Bassheva II


In the comments section, anon raised the point that David clearly violated the prohibition of lo sasur aharei... eineikhem by watching Bassheva bathe. However, it could be that he unintentionally saw her. A bigger question, though, is that according to the Rambam a man is biblically prohibited from sleeping with a woman who is not his wife with improper intentions (le-shem zenus). Even if Bassheva was not married to Uriah, she was not David's wife! Unless we suggest that the relations was intended as a form of marriage (kiddushin) which is now rabbinically prohibited but may not have been at that time. Or we can suggest that David's intentions were actually proper because he saw that the heir to the throne would be from Bassheva so his only intent was to conceive a righteous child. Neither suggestions are particularly compelling.


I saw that the Maharal, in Be'er Ha-Golah, ch. 5 (pp. 101b-102a), has a slightly different understanding of this episode. According to the Maharal, David had full intention to sin with Bassheva but God ordered events to happen so that David would not sin. God made sure that Bassheva would not be married at that time so David would not be commiting adultery.


Dopey asked how the Bible can record an event that portrays David in a worse light than the historical truth. Is that not slander (hotza'as shem ra)? Even if to teach a lesson, certainly I would not be allowed to publish a similar story about a contemporary rabbi, exaggerating his role to look as if he was an adulterer.

There are two ways to respond to this: the simple way and the complex overly-concerned-with-halakhic-minutia way. The simple way is that if God tells a prophet to write the story this way then that's what the prophet is going to do. Evidently, the omniscient and eternally just God determined that this is the most fitting and beneficial way to record the story.

The complex way is as follows: Even if this is a prohibited form of slander, there are times when the law is set aside by divine mandate. This is called a hora'as sha'ah - a temporary ruling. If a bona fide prophet (and there are rules to determine who is a real prophet - hey, that would make a good topic!) tells you that God has commanded you to temporary violate a prohibition, then you must do so. However, the violation must only be temporary and, according to some rishonim, must be for the sake of strengthening commitment to Torah (le-migdar mil'sa). Does this apply to the writing of a slanderously misleading story that has remained in writing for thousands of years? (Let me just be clear that I am working with the assumptions of the question without addressing whether one call this story, or anything in Tanakh, slanderous.)

It doesn't matter. The Gemara in Hullin 5a talks about how Eliyahu ate animals that were slaughtered by King Ahav. How could he do that?, the Gemara asks. Ahav was an idolater so his slaughtering is invalid. The Gemara answers that Eliyahu was told by God that he can eat it. But this was not le-migdar mil'sa, so how was this a valid hora'as sha'ah?

R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes answers in his Toras Nevi'im, hora'as sha'ah ch. 4 that there are two ways in which a divine commandment to violate a law can be transmitted. If a prophet is telling people to violate a law, then the above conditions must be fulfilled. However, if God is directly telling a prophet what to do then he does it. We leave it to God to worry about whether the conditions need to be fulfilled. A general word of advice is that if God communicates directly with you (and you have no mental problems) then you should take His word seriously. After all, He created and runs the world.

The same goes for a prophet writing a biblical book. If God tells the prophet that the story must be written this way, who in their right mind would not write it that way?

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