When you were a camper at the JCC, did you sing this? “David, Melech Yisrael, chai, chai, vekayom…” Did you begin religious school around age 5 or 6 and almost immediately hear the Biblical story of David and Goliath? And when you learned, “Thus David bested the Philistine with sling and stone,” did your little brother beg for his own slingshot too? If the early years are the ones that form some of our most impactful theories and relationships, then King David was mine. Scrappy and brave, David, the boy shepherd, who belonged to all of us when we were kids.
My maternal family loves the name David. One great-uncle, one cousin, another uncle, and my son Jeremy David all enjoy the strength of Melech David’s name. Is it because of the way it rolls off the tongue, or is it in part due to our exposure from childhood, that we adorn our children with his name like a crown?
As a grown woman exploring Torah, I lingered over the words in 2 Samuel. From the moment “David sent messengers to fetch her,” I could feel the negative spiral being set in motion as my own adult mistakes and sins revisited my heart. Bathsheba and our king somehow endured, even after losing the child they conceived on that fateful day. Did I mention that David did away with her husband? And then, the real magic happens. David teaches us how to repent. The spiral, it turns out, is one that we human beings seem to enter into again and again. It causes us to cling and shudder at the thought of Yom Kippur, all at the same time, and grasp the sacred opportunity to start over.
If I had to choose just one aspect of King David that draws me in and deeply wants to be in relationship to him, it would be his passion. I know we overuse this word. It is trending, like the word “awesome.” But when you read his last words, I believe you can fully sense the man who became a king and knew the truth of his own frailty were it not for his devotion to the Almighty.
“The utterance of David son of Jesse,
The utterance of the man set on high,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
The favorite of the songs of Israel:
The spirit of the LORD has spoken through me.”
—2 Samuel 23:1-2
Embedded and connected within the tent of our Jewish community, each one of us nevertheless retains an individual Jewish uniqueness. Our worship and ritual styles, traditions, and congregational affiliations can strengthen and define us. Some volunteer on behalf of Jewish organizations, or find enjoyment savoring a lox and cream cheese bagel as a nod to our culture of nourishment. Still others trace sacred lineage for the next generation, or help and encourage those approaching Judaism as a path to God. Under the wedding canopy, the loud crush of the glass emits shouts of “Mazel Tov!” as joy erupts. I like to think that this kind of gusto in all things Jewish stems from King David. The boy with the slingshot who knew that with God in his heart, he was a giant. The boy who grew into his kingship with heartfelt praise of Adonai on his lips. Do you agree with me? I think I can almost see your hand motions as you hum…David, Melech Yisrael…