Summon Bathsheba

By Debbi K. Levy

Painting by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, circa 1824-1904

 

“Location, location, location…” These three words are often used to describe the single greatest asset of any piece of prime real estate, whether it be during the years of my time or yours. It was that very “location,” that was pivotal to one of the most passionate love stories in the entirety of the Hebrew Bible. The piece of real estate I am referring to, in fact, was built at the highest point in all Jerusalem. The longitude and latitude, set up perfectly for our king to take in, and gaze upon, all who served him, including myself. His vision below, crystal clear, his eyes canvassing the horizon, further enhancing his feeling of nearness, and devotion, to the Almighty, while the sun shone down brightly on King David’s face.

As was our ritual, and still today, the ritual of our people, a woman purifies herself monthly with an immersion, or a ritual bath, seeking to prepare the body and the soul for the highest blessing of a child to come. I remind you of this cleansing, because it was here, in this moment, that the crystal clear gaze from above, fell upon me. I have been painted in this very moment, recorded here for all time, my beauty depicted in oils, canvases placed in museums that house great, and treasured fine art, for all to see, and to surely scrutinize. I would, perhaps, look down with my eyes, in humility, were we in pleasant conversation and you referred to me as beautiful, but in this bold narrative, I will not waste your time nor mine, for I know the truth of the beauty G-d has bestowed upon me. It is my desire, that in exchange for the words I will offer you to fill in the spaces and questions of David and my story untold, that you will find me equally as beautiful on the inside, as well. And at the end, a gift, perhaps, for my reader, a new perspective for your days.

Did I know the kings gaze was following the movement of my body? Did I have that internal awareness of being the object of his keen observation? Yes, I knew. We all have a spark of the divine that can tap in, and even surpass the senses you didn’t know you possessed. I could feel David’s eyes. Should I have ceased my actions, moved myself to a more private spot? I couldn’t move. Somehow, I knew my life would one day take a turn that would propel me to a place amongst our matriarchs, and that this moment would usher in the beginning of my ascension.  You may argue of my deserving, of me being counted amongst these women, but I submit; You may wish to take another look at the sacred text of 2 Samuel 11:2-5, for I am Bathsheba.

“Late one afternoon, David rose from his couch and strolled on the roof of the royal palace; and from the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and the king sent someone to make inquiries about the woman. He reported, “She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite.” David sent messengers to fetch her; she came to him and he lay with her- she had just purified herself after her period- and she went back home. The woman conceived, and she sent word to David, “I am pregnant.”

I will answer a question you must be contemplating thus far. Before you even ask, please be assured that the sacred text is very clear. “She came to him and he lay with her.” David and I are equally culpable in every way before the L-RD, and for everything that took place between the two of us.

David tried tirelessly to put the broken pieces back together, following our lustful, and yet destined encounter.  He summoned my husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from the battle he was fighting on the king’s behalf. David schemed that once home for a respite, Uriah would want to be with his wife, me. Uriah, once back in Jerusalem, slept, instead, at the entrance to the royal palace, along with the other officers who had been summoned. David then plotted anew, serving Uriah wine the very next evening, enticing him to make his way home, to lay with me. Once more, Uriah, even with drink, slept at the entrance to the royal palace, remaining loyal to the cause at hand. There would be no confusion as to the child’s paternity now, given the failure of David’s plan.  In a directive to blot out the moral dilemma he faced, King David had Uriah the Hittite positioned on the front lines of battle, and knowing David’s wishes for Uriah to be done away with, the other men stepped back as Uriah was stricken, with no one stepping forward to preserve his life, as one would expect of loyal comrades.

When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. After the period of mourning was over, David sent and had her brought into his palace; she became his wife and she bore him a son.  

2 Samuel 11:26

G-d was displeased with David, not only for our coming together in sin, but even more so for taking the sword to Uriah, forsaking his life in lieu of a swift resolution. We would not only repent for our moral pit falls, we would lose our son. He died seven days after his birth, and though David lay on the floor fasting and praying, refusing comfort of any kind, even though he was of the highest stature of our people, he could not soften the decree by G-d. Of all the pain we endured in in our togetherness, this grief was by far the sharpest. Still, we clung to one another. My husband’s Psalms, written in these years, will live for eternity, for they illustrate in a way not many mortals can convey, the pain of the human heart, and the sorrow we feel when we sin against G-d. Indeed, in Psalm fifty-one, David asked G-d to hide G-d’s face from his sins. In the great cavern of our shame, David somehow, and even still, consoled me during the mourning period following our infant’s death, and beyond. He, alone, took responsibility for our evil deeds before the L-RD.

David consoled his wife Bathsheba; he went to her and lay with her. She bore a son and she named him Solomon. The L-RD favored him, and He sent a message through the prophet Nathan; and he was named Jedidiah at the insistence of the L-RD.

2 Samuel 12:2

I was married to a great king, and I am the Queen mother of, arguably, an even greater king, Solomon. The woman between these two men, even if you did not know her, would, with certainty, be a very strong, and enduring woman. And I was. And I am. I have voice in the Tanakh. I move chess pieces in my kingdom on behalf of my two men. I draw upon each of my gifts granted by G-d, be it beauty, or intelligence, to assist in the will of G-d. I know as sure as the Israelites destiny was to cross the Jordan to arrive in our promised land, that King David and King Solomon were to lead us ever further, in wisdom, compassion, and in humility before our G-d. This is not the end of my story. It is the backdrop.

I asked earlier that in exchange for your open mind, your pausing, before harsh judgment of our sins, your natural questions answered, that I would gift you a new perspective. This perspective will, undoubtedly, be of use to you, as your path may encounter a slippery stone or two as you journey forth. King David and I lived through actions that cannot be justified. There were no extenuating circumstances. We had a myriad of choices. In our humanness, we failed to uphold the teachings God so lovingly set forth so that that we could enjoy wisdom, and be joyful. Your gift may unfold in one of King David’s extraordinary Psalms.

Do not cast me out of Your presence,

Or take your holy spirit away from me.

Let me again rejoice in Your help;

Let a vigorous spirit sustain me.

I will teach transgressors Your ways,

That sinners may return to you.

Psalms 51:13-15

King David, and I, his wife, took full responsibility for all that we were. We sought nearness to G-d, and, the best we knew how, walked humbly in G-d’s teachings. We ushered in the words of our prophet, Nathan, who communicated carefully G-d’s instructions to us.  We rejoiced that the great, mighty, and awesome G-d, found favor with our Solomon. Great though even a king may be, even one who leads the people Israel, and beautiful and wise as the queen mother may be, we found no treasure, no satisfaction, no riches, above pleasing the L-RD of Hosts. We mere mortals must confess our sins to be free from them, we must commit to our wrongdoings in order that we are able to ask G-d to absolve us of them. Yet how do we know, as a people, that the act of repentance for transgressions return us to G-d’s favor?

When Moses asked to see the face of G-d, G-d agreed to pass before him. God proclaimed:

“The L-RD! the L-RD! A G-d compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin”

Exodus 34:5-7

In the time in between our marriage and David’s death, there were a great many other wars waged. David was a skilled warrior with G-d in his heart, and he will forever be remembered as fearless and mighty. Other peoples, and even other would-be kings, including his own son, Adonijah, tried to wrench the reign from his ailing father. I, too, was mighty, and therefor, together, we defeated each and every foe, including Adonijah. I knew my legacy, in the end, would be to preserve David’s name, and assure our people the divinely inspired reign of our son, Solomon, whom whom G-d had favored at birth. David was a good deal older than myself, and he became frail and tired well before I. I therefor summoned my strength, and cleverness, to oust  Adonijah, who was assuredly confident that he would be the next ruler over Israel and succeed King David. It was I, who made my way to David’s sickbed where I was immediately given an audience, a sign of our devotion to one another. I told my King of the coronation and celebration feast for Adonijah that had commenced without his decree or his knowledge while the king lay in his bed. Nathan, his prophet, arrived not long after the king had absorbed this disturbing news, and Nathan began to fill in even more details of the sacrificial feast and the invitations made, not only to the commander of David’s army, and his priest Abiathar, but, indeed, all the officers of the army. Nathan informed David of the shouts heard, “Long live King Adonijah!  King David’s immediate response was, “Summon Bathsheba!”

I drew nearer to David so that he could feel my presence as he issued his oath, the oath he had sworn to me and in front of the G-d of Israel, and was now coming to pass, that Solomon should sit upon King David’s throne in his stead. I said with vigor, “May my lord King David live forever!”

Never had David professed his love to me in a more eternal way than these words to summon me at this crescendo. Moreover, the directive itself, made me a righteous woman in a time period when a woman’s solid ground could be in question at any time.  In the company of prophets and officers, the sacred witnesses and myself, David emphatically chose his son, Solomon, to be the reigning King of Israel, and had Solomon put upon David’s own mule to ride out before the people and be anointed. The sound of the horn was heard, and in this last, great act of leadership and strength, King David not only secured the legacy of Solomon for greatness, but he assured me, his wife, a legacy of my own. One not lived in shame, but, rather, in praise of Almighty G-d and in receipt of the gift of peace that only teshuva can grant, the peace of returning to G-d’s favor.  David died shortly thereafter. His warrior spirit, passion for G-d’s teachings, and humble ways in prayer, gone with him. I was to become one of King Solomon’s most trusted advisors, and a throne was set for me near that of my son, on his right.

Although the nature of the union of King David and myself initially displeased the G-d of Israel, we spent our remaining years together humbly asking G-d for forgiveness, and honoring G-d, by closely adhering to all of the sacred laws and precepts. David and I never parted from each other, never tried to begin again with another lover, and stayed the course of leading all who served us with care and respect.  On many an afternoon, we would walk together out onto the roof of the royal palace, our vision below, crystal clear, our eyes canvassing the horizon, further enhancing our feelings of nearness, and devotion, to the Almighty, while the sun shone down on our faces.

The great gift the two of us bow low and offer to you, our descendants, the thousandth generation, is our infinite lesson of return.

 

You can find Debbi K. Levy facilitating Jewish sensory explorations and meditations at Congregation Beth Torah or Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas. Last Purim she was inspired to dress in costume as Bathsheba, with her King (Barry Rothschild) by her side. She welcomes your emails at Debbiklevy@gmail.com.