Abuse of Power – 929 English

929 is an international daily study program of Tanach. Rabbi Alon Meltzer wrote the following article on the biblical book of Samuel II, chapter 11, regarding #MeToo, the abuse of power, and our biblical figures.

“Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah”

Leonard Cohen, in his famous song Hallelujah, speaks of one of the low points of King David. Immortalized as the psalmist, the one with the greatest connection to the Almighty, we see David abuse the power that he was divinely given. He sees Bathsheba bathing. He desires her. He demands her presence. He sleeps with her. She falls pregnant. And immediately after, her husband Uriah is sent to the front lines whereby he is killed by a lethal arrow.

Post #MeToo, the revelation of abuses of power, whereby the powerful, usually male, engages in abusive or coercive techniques, usually sexually, against subordinates or those with less power, usually female, has seen the downfall of many a personality.

The Daat Zekenim, a compilation of 13th and 14th century writings, in its commentary on Bereshit, seems to place blame on Bathsheba. The Babylonian Talmud seems to absolve David’s sin (Shabbat 56a). While we will explore the response of God and the prophet Nathan in our analysis of Chapter 12, at first glance these responses would rightly outrage any moral person in the post #MeToo era.

The human condition is to place our leaders on a pedestal, to glorify them and ensure that they always appear squeaky clean. The Torah, however, has never tried to color our leadership with rose-tinted glasses. Each mistake, each challenge, each misstep is there in black and white, and our job is to think about what we can learn from the many examples. In this case, we shouldn’t have needed a social movement to realise the issues that arise between those in power and those without, especially between the sexes. We should have been the ones to ensure it never happened from the very start.

Rabbi Alon Meltzer is the Rabbi of Or Chadash and Director of Programs at Shalom in hte Sydney, Australia Jewish Community.