Shemini: Shouting and Singing

Copyright 2013 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Shemini

David whirled with all his might before the Lord; David was girt with a linen ephod. Thus David and all the House of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts and with blasts of the horn. (2 Samuel 6:14-15)

Good afternoon! It’s good to be back on this beautiful day after a Pesach break.

Our Torah reading this week, Shemini, deals with the laws of priestly offerings and the inauguration of Aharon and his sons into the priestly service. Two of his sons die while offering a “strange fire” upon the altar; this episode has elicited much commentary. This frightening intersection of holiness and mortal danger is echoed in the haftarah, which tells the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem: a man named Uzzah accidentally touches the Ark and is struck as were Aharon’s sons.

So that’s one connection between the Torah portion and the haftarah. Yet the haftarah goes on to tell not only of Uzzah’s death but also of the joyous parade into Jerusalem; as in the verse above and other verses, David and all the people were dancing, shouting, playing music and eating festive foods along the way. While this behavior seems to get David into a spot of trouble at home, the people rejoice with him.

Perhaps in choosing this text for the haftarah, the ancient rabbis meant us to see a balance between the detailed religious laws of our Torah portion- and the priestly rituals in general- and the spontaneous, emotional outpouring of David’s joy before the Ark. He was honoring God and symbol of the covenant, and danced and sang without regard to decorum or status or self-consciousness- this, too, has always been part of the spirituality of Judaism.

Sometimes we need a fixed practice to bring us into a contemplative or grateful or humble stance, but sometimes we need to shout and dance because that’s the only proper response to the gift of life itself. Sometimes we need a composed prayer because the words won’t otherwise come, but sometimes we need to express the content of our souls, whether it be joy or gratitude or lament or praise. If even a king can dance and shout before the Divine, how much more the rest of us!

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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1 Comment »

  1. Moshe Edelman said

    Shalom Neal
    Here’s a “shout out” from me to you on the nice subtle dvar Torah that brings home the value of keva and kavanah. I would like to share your thought with a Learning Service group that I lead regularly.

    Shabbat shalom
    Moshe Edelman

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