Everybody Loves David

Saul’s Daughter Michal Watching David Dance Before the Ark, c.1553, by Francesco Salviati

I zoomed into a lunch talk at the Manhattan JCC today with Rabbi Joseph Talushkin. The topic was moral imagination, but the rabbi ended up reflecting a lot about anger and love. He started with good and bad ways of dealing with anger. (This is in his wheelhouse: he is the NY Times best-selling author of a book called Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, after all.) And after counseling us that if we have to express anger toward a loved one we should restrict it to the incident that provoked it, he switched to the topic of relationships.

He claims that the only love story in the Tanakh told from a woman’s perspective is the story of King David and his wife (or rather one of his 700 wives), Michal. No, she was a special one. She was his first. And the rebellious daughter of King Saul, with whom David had a, I guess you’d call it a complicated relationship? There was a lot going on — it’s a whole thing. It was Michal’s idea to marry David and Saul demanded 200 foreskins from David as a wedding price, as you do.

Anyway. It’s not clear whether David was as into Michal and she was into him (although 200 foreskins is a lot). He was pretty into Saul’s son Jonathan at the time, as you’ll no doubt recall (there were definitely no foreskins involved there). But Michal did risk her life for him when Saul’s people came after David. (Saul himself once threw a spear at David as he played the harp for Saul — they just had this love-hate thing going on.)

So they’re married, and Rabbi Talushkin suggests it wasn’t exactly bliss. David was a rock star. That’s the thing. So, one day, the story goes, he was out celebrating — something big, but never mind, not the point — and he comes home, and Michal just lays into him. She’s like, “Welcome home, Magic Mike!”

“How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today!” She says sarcastically. “Going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants like a… like a common goatherd!

Which was a low blow, because, you know: humble beginnings. She always called him a goatherd when she knew he’d been a shepherd. He had told her a hundred times: “sheep are grazers; goats are browsers.” He knew she was just doing it to get on his nerves. But you don’t have to bring that shit up every time a guy gets drunk and takes his pants off in public. (Yeah, that was the naked half she was talking about. That was always the naked half with David.)

So, they bickered, as couples do. And finally he’s like, “You know what? If I want to dance around naked, I’ll dance around naked. I’m the King! God chose me over your dad, didn’t he?”

Yeah. He said this to the woman who literally saved his life when her father’s hitmen came to kill him. And he never even said thank you. Not even a, like, surprise bouquet delivered next day. Nada. It wasn’t God who helped him climb out the window so that he could escape. It wasn’t God who dragged that idol out of the closet, dressed it in pajamas and topped it off with some goats’ hair so that Saul’s goons would think it was David lying there in bed with the stomach flu, to buy him more time. That was all Michal. But whatever.

“You think dancing half-naked is shameful,” David concludes: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Michal had, of course, seen everything, as had everyone else. That was the point. But clearly the authors of Samuel were on David’s side of this he said/she said. Because after David has his say, this is the last we ever hear of Michal:

“And Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children to the day of her death.”

Me-ow.

So the lesson here is: ladies, when your husband goes a little “Magic Mike” on bowling night, cut him some slack. He’s just blowing off steam. And guys: if at first you don’t succeed, you’ve got 700 more chances. Don’t sweat it.

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