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Posts Tagged ‘King David’

I’m Not Voting for Obama, that’s for Sure

Monday, January 21st, 2013

People can stop reading my blog if they like. They can unfriend me on Facebook, and remove me from their groups, but I will continue to write the truth. Believe me, I don’t write to upset my fellow Jews. I write, bezrat Hashem, to help them to see through the darkness that surrounds us in foreign lands.

Once again, let me try to explain. The plague of darkness in Egypt is described as darkness “mamash,” meaning darkness so thick and tangible that you could literally reach out and physically feel it. Up until the plague, there was darkness in Egypt, the usual darkness of the galut, but the Jews had become so accustomed to it, they didn’t sense it anymore. So Hashem had to turn it into a physical darkness as thick as glue to remind them that they were in an impure place where they didn’t belong.

Why were they blind to the darkness? Because when people grow up in darkness, they don’t experience it as darkness at all. That’s what they’re used to. In fact, to them it seems like light. If you tell them they’re living in the dark, they are liable to get angry. “What do you mean?” they exclaim. “It isn’t dark here at all. You’re crazy. You don’t know what you are talking about. You’re an agitator, that’s all.”

How do I know that the exile is darkness? Because I lived there, and now that I’m in Israel, I can see the enormous difference. And should you ask, “Who is Tzvi Fishman that I should believe what he writes?” The answer is that it isn’t Tzvi Fishman at all.

In this week’s Torah portion, Rashi informs us that only 20% of the Jews left the Diaspora during the Exodus (Shemot, 13:18). 80% of them told Moshe to get lost! That’s right, 80% preferred to stay in America, I mean Egypt, not wanting to give up the delicious Egyptian bagels, the gala Federation dinners, their college studies at Cairo University, and their careers.

Our Sages also teach us about the darkness of chutz l’Aretz (outside of the Land of Israel), as it says in the tractate Sanhedrin, on the verse in the Book of Lamentations, “He has set me down in dark places, like those who are long ago dead” (Eichah, 3:6) – “Rabbi Yirmeya said: ‘This refers to the learning in Babylon,’” which doesn’t have the same illumination as the Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 24A).

Yes, my friends, there can be a Torah learning that is shrouded in darkness. For example, the spies in the wilderness were the leaders of their tribes, the most prominent Torah scholars of the nation, but they didn’t understand that Eretz Yisrael is the foundation upon which the entire Torah and nationhood of Israel stands, as the Gemara teaches: “There is no greater bittul Torah than when the People of Israel are removed from their place” (Chagigah 4B). Like the 80% who wanted to stay in Egypt, and who died in the plague of darkness, these scholars and leaders of the Jewish People wanted to stay in the wilderness and not make aliyah as Hashem had commanded again and again. The Gaon of Vilna teaches that this same myopic understanding of Torah, which denies the centrality of the Land of Israel to the life of the Jewish Nation, is a sin which reappears in every generation, and even Talmidei Chachamin are caught in its darkness (“Kol HaTor,” Ch.5).

In our time, there were three great visionaries who taught us to see the truth of the Torah in the events of our times. Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook; his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook; and Rabbi Meir Kahane, may their memories be for a blessing. Certainly, many other Rabbis shed light on our era, but along the path of my return to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael, these three Torah giants have been shining beacons of wisdom and truth, illuminating the world’s darkness. Each had his own style and individual stamp, with differences of emphasis and approach, but each one taught the Nation to see the Redemption that was taking place in our time, and to recognize the great light of Torah and tshuva contained in the ingathering of the exiles, the abandoning of galut, and the rebuilding of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael. It is a synthesis of their teachings that I am expounding, in my own inadequate way, and it is their genius in Torah, not mine.

Let me try to give you another simple example. Last night, I attended a wedding. There is nothing like a wedding in Israel, where there is concrete meaning to the saying that the holy union of the hatan and kallah (the groom and the bride), and the house they will inhabit, is an additional stone in the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. When the band plays the verse of the song, “There will yet be heard on the hills of Judea and in the courtyards of Jerusalem, the voice of gladness and the voice of joy, the voice of the hatan and the voice of the kallah,” these words of the Biblical prophecy are coming true in front of your eyes.

And when everyone sings out the Psalm, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, withered be my right hand! May my tongue cleave to my palate, if I ever not think of you, if ever I not set Jerusalem above my chiefest joy!” everyone present in that wedding hall in Israel means it. The words are not some abstract dream, spoken in some faraway land, but a living reality.

My friends, King David didn’t pen these words as just a pretty poem. On the wings of divine inspiration, he is teaching us that our love for Jerusalem is to be the guiding principle of our lives, even greater than the joy of our wedding, more cherished than our spouses, families, our villas, our Audis and Mercedes, more valued than our bank accounts, professions, and university degrees. We are to set Jerusalem above our chiefest joy, to struggle in its behalf, and to dedicate ourselves to its holy rebuilding.

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” King David asks.

The answer is that we can’t.

To sing the Lord’s song, you have to sing it in Israel.

My Hero, King David

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

The Bible introduces us to many fascinating and inspiring personalities, righteous men and women whose example of piety continue to guide and uplift us to this very day. There are some, however, to whom we can relate in an especially powerful way and whom we can truly strive to emulate.

One such righteous figure is David HaMelech, someone who has left a direct, profound impact on all of us.

One reason King David is a figure with whom we closely identify is his famous work – the Book of Tehillim. We all shed tears reciting the beautiful words of Tehillim, praying for ourselves and others and connecting to Hashem through the prayers of King David, in his merit.

The Book of Tehillim is so holy that, as our sages teach, when one reads the entire book he is considered as having read the entire Torah.

Throughout the generations, people have always turned to Tehillim to find the words with which to come before Hashem. And Hashem loves to hear these prayers. Our rabbis teach us that Hashem regarded one day of David HaMelech’s prayers as greater than all the sacrifices brought in the Bet HaMikdash.

King David excelled in many areas, surpassing even other righteous people. He suffered for much of his life, being forced to flee for several years from King Shaul, and even enduring a revolt against him by his own son Avshalom. But throughout all these ordeals, rather than question God’s justice, King David remained firm in his faith and devotion to God – and, as we see in Tehillim, constantly expressed his gratitude to Hashem for his blessings in life.

Through his constant praise of Hashem, David HaMelech reached lofty spiritual levels that no other righteous person achieved (Baba Batra 17a). When we read the beautiful praises of Tehillim, we can gain inspiration from David’s ability to feel grateful even during times of hardship. This should help us put our own problems in perspective and be appreciative of what we have even during the more difficult periods of our lives.

This message is reinforced by the Gemara’s famous account (Pesachim 119b) of the great “Feast of the Leviathan” that will take place in the messianic era. Our righteous forefathers will sit to enjoy the special meat of the Leviathan, and when the time comes to recite the blessing on the cup of wine they will initially hand it to Avraham to grant him the honor of reciting the berachah. Avraham will refuse, noting that he had fathered a sinful son (Yishmael) and thus does not deserve the honor. The cup will then be passed to Yitzchak, but he, too, will refuse, because he had a wicked son (Eisav). Next will be Yaakov, who will also decline, due to his marriage to two sisters, which the Torah forbade.

Moshe Rabbeinu will then be approached, and he will say, “I do not have the merit, since I was not worthy to enter into the Holy Land.” Finally, David HaMelech will take the cup and make the blessing.

The rabbis ask, what special merit does David possess that the others do not? After all, like Avraham and Yitzchak, he also had sinful children. So why will he be given the privilege of reciting the berachah?

The Midrash answers that, as mentioned, David HaMelech was always praising Hashem, even when confronting difficult situations. As expressed through the praises of Tehillim, David believed with complete faith and conviction that everything Hashem does is for the best, and he therefore responded to all events – good and “bad” – with songs of praise to Hashem. This special quality rendered him singularly worthy from among all the great tzaddikim to recite the blessing.

David HaMelech spent his days immersed in Torah study and prayer. The Gemara states that David would never sleep more than sixty “horse breaths,” preferring to devote all his time to the service of Hashem. And this passionate engagement in Torah continued even until his final day.

The Gemara relates that King David knew he would die on Shabbat, though he did not know on which Shabbat. He therefore made sure to spend every moment of Shabbat engrossed in learning, since the angel of death cannot seize a person’s soul as he studies Torah.

Yoram Ettinger: Shavuot Guide for the Perplexed

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Shavuot is the holiday of the Torah, which impacted the US Constitution in particular and the state of Western morality, liberty, and democracy in general. Shavuot is celebrated by decorating homes and houses of worship with Land of Israel-related fruit, vegetables, herb and flowers, demonstrating the indigenous connection between the Torah of Israel, the People of Israel, and the Land of Israel.

Shavuot – a spiritual holiday – follows Passover – a national liberation holiday: from physical liberation (the Exodus) to spiritual liberation/enhancement.

The two portions of the Torah, which are recited/studied around Shavuot, are נשא and בהעלותך, which mean – in Hebrew – spiritual enhancement and elevation. נשא is the longest portion of the Torah (176 verses), highlighting the inauguration of the ancient tabernacle and altar. בהעלותך highlights the Menorah (Candelabrum) of the ancient tabernacle, which had seven branches, similar to the seven day week and the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot.

Shavuot is celebrated 50 days following Passover. The Jubilee – the cornerstone of liberty and the source of the inscription on the Liberty Bell (Leviticus 25:10) – is celebrated every 50 years. Judaism highlights the constant challenge facing human beings: the choice between the 50 gates of wisdom and the corresponding 50 gates of impurity. Egypt represented the gates of impurity and the receipt of the Torah represented the gates of wisdom. The 50th gate of wisdom is the gate of deliverance. The USA is composed of 50 states.

Shavuot highlights the eternity of the Jewish People. Thus, the first and the last Hebrew letters of Shavuot (שבועות) constitute the Hebrew name of the third son of Adam & Eve, Seth (שת), the righteous ancestor of Noah, hence of all mankind. The Hebrew meaning of Seth – שת – is “to institute” and “to bestow upon”, מתן in Hebrew – the Hebrew word for the bestowing of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (מתן תורה).

Shavuot (שבועות) is a derivative of the Hebrew word “Shvoua’” (שבועה) – vow, referring to the exchange of vows between God and the Jewish People. The origin of Shavuot occured 26 generations following Adam and Eve. The Hebrew word for Jehovah equals 26 in Gimatriya (assignment of numerical values to Hebrew letters). There are 26 Hebrew letters in the names of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs: Abraham (אברהם), Yitzhak (יצחק), Yaakov (יעקב) Sarah (שרה), Rivka (רבקה), Rachel (רחל) and Leah (לאה).

The Hebrew root of Shavuot is the word Seven – “Sheva” (שבע). Shavuot is celebrated 7 weeks following Passover; God employed 7 earthly attributes to create the universe (in addition to the 3 divine attributes); There are 7 basic human traits, which individuals are supposed to resurrect/adopt in preparation for Shavuot; 7 key Jewish/universal leaders – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aharon, Joseph and David – represent the seven qualities of the Torah and the wholesomeness of Judaism and the Land of Israel; 7 days of Creation and a 7 days in a week; The Sabbath is the 7th day; The first Hebrew verse in Genesis consists of 7 words; There are 7 species of the Land of Israel (barley, wheat, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date/honey); 7 represents multiplication – שבעתיים – “Sivatayim”; There are 7 directions (north, south, west, east, up, down, one’s own position); 7 gates to The Temple in Jerusalem; 7 Noahide Commandments; Moses’ birth/death was on the 7th day of Adar; Jethro had 7 names and 7 daughters; Passover and Sukkot (Tabernacles) last for 7 days each; each Plague lasted for 7 days; the Menorah has 7 branches; Jubilee follows seven 7-year cycles; according to Judaism, slaves are liberated, and the soil is not-cultivated, in the 7th year; there are 7 continents in the globe and 7 notes in a musical scale; there are 7 days of mourning over the deceased, 7 blessings in a Jewish wedding, 7 congregants read the Torah on each Sabbath and 7 Jewish Prophetesses (Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Choulda and Esther). Pentecost is celebrated, by Christians, on the 7th Sunday after Easter.

Shavuot is the second of the 3 Jewish Pilgrimages (Sukkot-Tabernacles, Passover and Shavuot), celebrated on the 6th day of the 3rd Jewish month, Sivan. It highlights Jewish Unity, compared by King Solomon to “a three folds cord, which is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The Torah – the first of the 3 parts of the Jewish Bible – was granted to the Jewish People (which consists of 3 components: Priests, Levites and Israel), by Moses (the youngest of 3 children, brother of Aharon and Miriam), a successor to the 3 Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and to Seth, the 3rd son of Adam and Eve. The Torah was forged in 3 manners: Fire (commitment to principles), Water (lucidity and purity) and Desert (humility and principle-driven tenacity). The Torah is one of the 3 global pillars, along with labor and gratitude/charity. The Torah is one of the 3 pillars of Judaism, along with the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.

King David Hotel Named One of World’s Top 100

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Jerusalem’s historic King David Hotel is being called one of the top 12 “iconic hotels” and one of the world’s best 100 by Fodor’s.

 

Fodor’s is one of the world’s foremost publishers of English-language tour and travel guide books.

 

This is Fodor’s first Top 100 Hotel Awards, which placed the hotels in one of eight categories: New and Noteworthy, Grande Dame, Casual Chic, Design, Local Flavor, Clubby Atmosphere, Luxurious Retreat, and Trusted Brand.

 

Israel was listed in the “Grande Dame” category, “legendary hotels with superlative history and service.”

 

“The grande dame of Israeli luxury hotels opened in 1931 and has successfully (and self-importantly) defended its title ever since,” Fodor’s said.  “There are other luxury hotels in Jerusalem, but none possess the historical significance and elegant surroundings of the landmarked King David. From the dignified lobby filled with travel guide-toting visitors and diplomats making notes for their next meeting, one can feel the energy of the momentous events that have taken place here. Sit on the flower-filled terrace overlooking the city’s loveliest pool and sip a glass of mint tea while gazing at the stately walls of Jerusalem’s Old City… And when you’re eating the famously excellent breakfast, don’t be surprised if you bump into royalty, world leaders, or rock stars.”

 

The King David hotel was built with the funding of Egyptian Jews in 1931, and was famously attacked by the Jewish liberation fighters of the Irgun in the summer of 1946, when the King David was used by the occupying British as an administrative and military headquarters.  Famous guests at the King David include King George V, former US Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon, British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, and celebrities Richard Gere, Elizabeth Taylor, and Madonna, as well as then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.   It features 233 rooms, 42 luxury suites, a presidential suite and a royal suite.

 

Other “Grande Dame” hotels awarded by Fodor’s are  Baur au Lac Zurich, Switzerland; Breakers Palm Beach, Florida; Carlyle, New York City; Hotel de Russie, Rome; Hay-Adams Washington, DC; Villa D’Este, Lake Como; La Mamounia, Marrakesh; and The Savoy London, England.

Caring For Bubbie – A Privilege

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

My mother lives with me and needs a great deal of attention, as do my four children. It seems as if everyone is pulling at me at once, and I don’t know in which direction to turn first. All this stress has definitely affected my mental and physical health. I suffer from backaches and stomach trouble and lack the patience necessary to be a good wife and mother.

My husband feels the best solution might be to place my mother in a retirement home, but I find the prospect very painful. I don’t think I could live with myself if I did that.

My friends tell me I am a fool and should learn to think of myself rather than allow others to take advantage of me. There are times I am tempted to follow their advice and run off someplace by myself and forget everything.

My Dear Friend:

Many of us, when confronted by difficulties, daydream of flying to some distant land where we can forget all our problems. However, reality dictates there is no escape – for no matter how high or far the plane flies, eventually it must land with the same cargo that was loaded aboard. Therefore, rather than indulging in fantasy, let us try to resolve your problem in a constructive manner.

The greatest joy one can experience comes from being part of a loving family. But as with all gifts, this happiness comes at a price. For example, if you love someone and that person is hurting, you will feel his or her pain, and if you are unable to alleviate the suffering, your anguish will be even more intense. Therefore, I understand your agony over your mother’s infirmity and her inability to care for herself, but I cannot see why you should feel a conflict between caring for her and your children.

To honor and revere your mother is not your responsibility alone, but must be shared by your husband and children as well – and children are never too young to learn that responsibility. To revere, love and care for Bubbie is their privilege and should never be regarded as a burden. Not only should you enlist their aid in being attentive to your mother’s needs, you should make them understand how blessed they are to have a Bubbie living with them. It is a zechus, a great merit, to ease the pain of a grandparent, to divert her with a story or a song and to bring a smile to her face.

One of the outstanding women in Jewish history was Serach, the daughter of Asher. She lived for many centuries, and in the days of King David was renowned as Isha Chachama – the Wise Woman. Why was she granted this awesome honor? What was unique about her? Why was she so special?

She would comfort her Zeyda, the patriarch Jacob, by singing to him and offering words of consolation and hope. “Od Yosef chai” — “Joseph still lives” – she would sing again and again after Jacob was shown Joseph’s bloody coat. It was for having performed this great mitzvah of honoring and comforting her grandfather that she was granted her incredible longevity and wisdom.

Not every family has the merit of caring for elderly grandparents, so instead of resenting the mitzvah, teach your children to embrace it with love.

Long after your mother is called by G-d, your children will remember those special years when Grandma was part of their lives, and that is a treasure no one will ever be able to take from them. The best way to train children is through example. If you wish your children to feel the joy of the presence of their grandmother, then you and your husband will have to show them the way. Through your attitude you will have to demonstrate that to care for your mother is a privilege you wouldn’t barter for anything in the world.

Once you make your children active participants in this family responsibility, their resentment will disappear. Instead of feeling put upon, they will feel honored and want to give of themselves, and through that giving they will become better people. And one day, when old age catches up with you and your husband, your children will remember the love you showered on their Bubbie and, with G-d’s help, will impart the same to you.

As far as your friends are concerned, don’t let their opinions bother you. They are just parroting the meaningless words in vogue nowadays: “Think of your own happiness; don’t let anyone take advantage of you.” Can honoring one’s parents be regarded as being taken advantage of? What happiness can you have if your mother is hurting? Do your friends imagine you are a machine without a conscience who can simply block your mother out of your heart and mind?

Now, I do not minimize the sacrifice that is demanded of you, but we are a nation that has lived by these sacrifices – parents living for their children, and children, in turn, living for their parents. That’s what life is all about. Giving. The bottom line remains: if you inspire your family to join you in honoring Bubbie, that which at first glance seemed to cause a conflict will act as a catalyst to unite your household.

I can assure you that Bubbie will forever be enshrined in the hearts of your children as a legacy of love.

The Sprouting Of Mashiach

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
           What is it about Tu B’Shevat?
            There are four “Roshei Hashanah.”
The First of Tishrei we all know about. That is the day we blow the shofar.
The First of Nissan and the First of Elul come and go in our times without much notice.
             But Tu B’Shevat is different. There is a sense of simcha, a sense of hope and many minhagim associated with it: we eat fruit and make a Shehecheyanu. We omit Tachanun.
           What is different about Tu B’Shevat?
One reason for the simcha is the universal joy felt at the advent of spring, and Tu B’Shevat is a harbinger of spring. “For on this day the strength of the soil of Eretz Yisrael is renewed and it begins to yield its produce and demonstrate its inherent goodness” (Book of Our Heritage, page 331). Who does not experience a surge of hope when the snows melt, the air turns warm and the trees are filled with magnificent blossoms? It hints of techias hameisim, the resurrection of the dead.
   In fact, the blessing of techias hameisim in Shemoneh Esrei ends with the words “umatzmiach yeshuaand He causes salvation to sprout.”
   I would have thought the shofar sounding and Mashiach ben David riding in on a donkey is far from “sprouting,” but apparently not.
   Actually the blessing for Mashiach implies sprouting. Does it not say “tsemach David – the sprouting of David”?
   Why is Redemption compared to the agricultural process?
   I believe this can illuminate the nature of the geulah shelemah.
 
   Where did King David come from? His great-grandmother Ruth came from Moab, a nation founded in perversity and immorality (the relationship between Lot and his daughter). Mashiach is raised in darkness and appears from the most unlikely of all possible places. As we say in Psalms, “Even ma’asu habanim haisa l’rosh pina – the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone .” (Psalm 118). This refers to David, according to the Targum. No one, not even David’s own family, wanted to believe David had been selected by God to be the redeemer of Israel.
   What is a seed and how does it germinate? It lies in blackness and obscurity, under the ground, unseen by the world. No one knows where it is. Some people forget about it completely, and during the winter it is buried under snow and ice in the frozen earth. It requires rain. From where does the seed arise? It comes from the fruits of the past, which have died and rejoined the earth after having nourished past generations.
This is so much like Mashiach ben David. Mashiach also lies, so to speak, in obscurity. No one knows who Mashiach is and where he will arise. He requires tears just as the seed underground requires rain. And Mashiach arises from the past; he is the fruit of King David, who will come to nourish future generations just as his father nourished generations of the past.
What is the highest form of food? After the Flood, mankind was permitted meat in order to have the strength to live in the new and challenging world. What about before the Flood?
After the expulsion from the Garden, Hashem said to Adam, “accursed is the ground because of you. Through suffering you shall eat of it . Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of your brow shall you eat of the bread until you return to the ground from which you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust shall you return” (Bereishis 3: 17-19).
   In other words, after the Expulsion mankind started eating herbs. After the Flood mankind started eating meat. What about before the Expulsion?
   It seems mankind was meant to eat fruit of the trees, from all types of trees except one.
   Why is the fruit of the tree the highest form of food?
   Herbs require destroying the plant. When you pull up a carrot from the ground you have uprooted the plant. There is no more carrot plant. You will eat, but you have destroyed a plant.
   When you eat meat, you have killed an animal. Your chicken or your steak or your fish required destruction of an animal.
   But the fruit of the tree is perfect. Nothing has been killed. The tree remains to produce more fruit and to bear beautiful blossoms and fruits. The fruit itself will produce more trees. In fact, I heard the brilliant Reb Zev Smith say he heard that if you plant one apple seed, it will grow into a tree, and then you take the apples from that tree and plant all their seeds, within twenty years you can feed the entire world from that one seed.

   This is Mashiach ben David. From this one “sprouting” seed of the Tree of Yishai the entire world will be saved. This is “tsemach David,” the sprouting of David. This is what excites and thrills us on Tu B’Shevat. We feel the sap pulsing in the trees and sense the imminent sprouting of the advent of Mashiach ben David, may we greet him soon in our days.

 

 

Roy Neuberger’s latest book, “2020 VISION” (Feldheim), is available at Jewish bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and online at Amazon.com. Roy can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com.

Pieter Lastman’s David And Uriah Paintings

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker

March 15 – August 02, 2009

The Jewish Museum

1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York

www.thejewishmuseum.org  

 

 

In one of the most complex and controversial of biblical narratives, the book of 2 Samuel recounts an almost operatic moment in which Uriah the Hittite, husband of Batsheva, was instructed by King David to unknowingly carry his own death sentence to the Jewish general Yoav (Joab). Had Uriah betrayed his king’s confidence and opened the letter, he could have surely have escaped death.

 

One can almost sense this nuance in a painting by the 16th-17th century Dutch painter (and Rembrandt’s and Jan Lievens’ teacher) Pieter Pietersz Lastman titled “David gives Uriah a Letter for Joab.” The painting is part of an exhibit at The Jewish Museum of works by many artists once owned by Dutch, Jewish collector Jacques Goudstikker, whose works were looted by the Nazis.

 

 

Pieter Pietersz Lastman (ca. 1583-1633). “David gives Uriah a Letter for Joab.” 1619.

Oil on panel. Private collection. Courtesy of The Jewish Museum, N.Y.

 

 

Lastman portrays David sitting on his throne clad in a blue-purple robe and red cape and bearing a golden scepter. Like many 17th century Dutch paintings, Lastman’s work should not be “read” simply on a surface level. Ironically, a dog, the symbol of fidelity in art, stands between David and Uriah, and two pillars, typically symbolic of fortitude, flank the anything-but-confident David on both sides. Additionally, a young boy, who seems most interested in the scepter, stands on the king’s left, and might represent Absalom, who later rebelled against his father, seeking to steal the kingdom from Solomon. Uriah kneels before David with his helmet at his feet, and about a dozen soldiers appear in the background, which contains a Christian propagandist element: a depiction of St. Peter’s Basilica, rumored to contain pillars from Solomon’s Temple. By casting an Old Testament scene in Vatican City (which of course did not exist in David’s era), the Catholic Lastman was suggesting that the episode from the Jewish bible also bore significance to Catholics.

 

 

Pieter Pietersz Lastman. “King David Handing the Letter to Uriah.” 1611. Oil on oak panel. Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo Courtesy of Detroit Institute of Arts.

 

 

The letter David holds in his right hand – in a pouch bound with the king’s seal – is exactly the same sort Lastman had depicted eight years earlier in “King David Handing the Letter to Uriah,” at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Detroit version includes writing on the outside of the letter (presumably by David’s hand), which the later version lacks. (Incidentally, a letter written and sealed by a royal hand might be relevant in interpreting verses like Esther 3:12, 8:8, and 8:10, and 1 Kings 21:8, and Daniel 6:18). The boy who sits on the king’s right in the Detroit version might be the same one on his left in the later version, though he looks at David’s crown rather than his scepter. Though he wears armor, Uriah is dressed in the contemporary Dutch fashion (with a feathered hat replacing the helmet) in the Detroit version, while the later Uriah looks to be dressed in a more “biblical” fashion, though both in fact wear the same tan robe with brown stripes at the hem. St. Peter’s also appears in the Detroit painting, but it is accompanied by a fountain with a pagan river god pouring water. Another difference is that the Detroit David is a much older man than his peer in the other work. 

 

It is difficult to locate Lastman’s two depictions of David and Uriah in a larger artistic tradition, because there was not much of a precedent for the scene. Jean Colombe’s “David entrusts a letter to Uriah” from the “Tr?s Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” (1485-9) shows an entirely different composition: David in gold sitting in the foreground, Uriah, clad in blue, kneeling behind, in what appears to be a medieval castle, and two court advisors. The illumination accompanies the text of Psalm 50 (in the Greek numbering, 51 in Jewish counts), which begins, “A song to David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, when he went to Bathsheba.” On the throne, Colombe painted a jester carrying a stick and wearing animal ears, perhaps a reference to 1 Samuel 21, where David impersonated an insane person to evade capture at Gath.

 

 

French Gothic. Detail: “David and Bathsheba.” C. 1250. Pierpont Morgan Library.

 

 

The 1490 “David, accompanied by Bathsheba, gives Uriah a letter for Joab” by the Master of Cornelis Croesinck, also known as the “Master of the Dark Eyes,” also does not seem to have captured Lastman’s attention. The work, which is at the Hague, mysteriously adds Bathsheba to the scene standing behind David as he hands the letter to Uriah. This bold interpretive move, which makes little sense in the context of the larger story, is also unprecedented. Other depictions of Uriah that would have been available to Lastman feature Uriah’s death rather than his receiving of the letter (a 1511 “Killing of Uriah” by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, and a c. 1430 “Uriah is killed in the battle before the city of Rabbah” by Master of Otto van Moerdrecht, also in the Hague).

 

For the most part, other depictions feature a medieval knight kneeling before David , some include a letter, which often looks more like a loaf of bread than a letter (most notably a c. 1500 illumination from a Book of Hours and a 13th century illumination from “Image du Monde”), but most do not. “A 13th century illumination from a Psalter and Book of Hours” is the only one to show a letter bearing a dangling seal that resembles Lastman’s works, and might have served as a model for the piece. A supposed “David and Uriah” is attributed to Rembrandt in the collection of the Hermitage dated 1665, but the Hermitage calls the scene “Haman Recognizes His Fate,” and even though Rembrandt studied with Lastman, he does not seem to have copied Lastman’s motif.

 

 

Psalter and Book of Hours. Ms. 730, fol. 109v. Detail: “David sends Uriah to Joab.”

13th century. Pierpont Morgan Library.

 

 

But where Lastman’s predecessors tended not to show the Uriah scene altogether and when they did depict David and Uriah, they tended to opt for stylized portraits, Lastman’s David looks worried or morally torn, in short, more human. This is surely a mode of biblical interpretation that Lastman passed along to Rembrandt, evidenced by the latter’s many naturalistic depictions of biblical characters.

 

Many viewers will surely find the Jewish Museum show fascinating for historical reasons, and will be interested in the back-story of the return of looted art. But examining the larger context of even one of the works shows what a tragedy it would be for the public to not have access to viewing them.

 

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts//2009/06/10/

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