The haftarah of Parshas Shemini describes the successful return of the aron to its place in Yerushalayim by David HaMelech. When the ark reached the City of David, Michal – the daughter of Shaul and the wife of David HaMelech – was looking out the window and saw the king joyfully leaping and dancing in honor of the Torah in view of the masses, and in his enthusiasm and fervor, a small part of his skin was uncovered.
Michal felt it was dishonorable for a king to act this way and derided him upon his return, saying, “How honored was the king of Israel today who was exposed…as one of the boors would be exposed” (Shmuel Beis 6:20).
David responded that Hashem chose him over her father as ruler. Furthermore, he had rejoiced to honor Hashem and was willing to humiliate himself even more to honor Him.
The commentaries say that the dispute between David HaMelech and Michal definitely did not constitute a disruption in their marital harmony. So what were they arguing about? And why did David comment that Hashem chose him over her father? Shaul was no longer alive; how did he enter the discussion?
The Sefer Masuk Ha’or provides the following explanation: Our sages explain that the dispute was halachic in nature. The Talmud (Sotah) teaches that a king may not waive his honor other than for a dvar mitzvah. Michal argued that she had carefully observed her father’s conduct and believed that a king can only surrender his honor to a limited degree, which does not include exposing one’s skin in public. Michal believed that her husband should uphold her father’s tradition.
David, however, believed one must do everything in one’s power to honor the aron and that Hashem had chosen him because of his boundless willingness to humble himself for a dvar mitzvah.
The intentions of both Michal and David were purely l’shem Shamayim; they had no ulterior motive other than glorifying the name of Heaven. David wanted to rejoice over a mitzvah and Michal wanted to protect the honor of the king and, by extension, the honor of Hashem. Yet, the navi reports that Michal was punished for her stance. Why?
Michal believed David’s behavior would undermine the nation’s loyalty and trust in him and could hurt his effectiveness as a ruler. She did not realize, however, that the reign of a Jewish king is a gift from the Creator that’s granted only to one who has achieved the highest spiritual level and is devoted to adhering to the word of Hashem, as Devarim 17:20 states: “not to turn from the commandment right or left, so that he will prolong years over his kingdom.” She failed to understand that the honor of Heaven overshadows all other concerns and she therefore lost the merit of maintaining the continuity of the kingdom.
The Sefer Vayedaber Moshe interprets one of the stanzas in Lecha Dodi as a reference to David HaMelech’s celebration before the aron: “Right and left you shall spread out mightily and you shall extol the might of Hashem” – when a person expresses himself rightward and leftward, jumping and leaping with enthusiasm in honor of Hashem – “through the man descended from Peretz” – just as David HaMelech did – “then we shall be glad and joyful” – because it means we will be redeemed and not despised.
Rabbi Menachem Berlin once came to the Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi, whose mashgiach was the well-known Rav Shalom Schwadron, who later became the famous Maggid of Yerushalayim. That day, the yeshiva hosted the famed tzaddik and author of Lev Eliyahu, Rav Eliyahu Lopian, who delivered a fiery derasha.
When R’ Lopian finished speaking, the disciples were astounded to see their rebbe, R’ Schwadron, lie face down on the ground as R’ Lopian walked out. He then rose and walked behind R’ Lopian, following him out of the building. The students were utterly bewildered to see their icon behaving so oddly, and they asked him to explain his actions so they could learn from them.
R’ Schwadron explained: I wanted to fulfill the words of our sages (Avos 1:4): “and sit in the dust of their [the sages’] feet.”
One of the disciples later remarked that although decades had passed since the incident, the sight of his rebbe on the ground was engraved in his memory. It was the most compelling lesson he had ever learned, he said, on the overwhelming honor one must give to the Torah. Just as David HaMelech didn’t think about his own honor for even a moment, only thinking of the glory of the Torah, so too R’ Shalom only considered the esteem of Torah.
Our sages tell us (Avos 4:6), “Whoever honors the Torah will be honored by all of creation.”