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Mashiach and Jewish Leadership: Part 26 – David’s Feigned Insanity – Historical Precedent

The second aspect of foolishness is based on the story of David, who when forced to flee from King Saul to the land of Gat, feigned insanity in order to escape from Achish, the king of Gat. After being saved he wrote in great thankfulness the thirty-fourth Psalm. The Midrash reveals the “background” to this fascinating story:

‘David said before the Holy One blessed be He: all that You have made is beautiful and wisdom is the most beautiful of all… but insanity that You created–what beauty is there in it for You? For example, when a man walks in the market and he drools over his clothes and children run after him and the people make fun of him; this is beautiful before You? The Holy One blessed be He said to David: ‘You complain about the injustice of insanity; by your life you will regret this and you will pray for it until I give it to you.’

Only a short time passed till David found himself with Achish… The Holy One blessed be He said to David: You are going to Achish? Yesterday you killed Goliath and his brother is the head guard of Achish and his blood is still not absorbed [in the ground] and you are going to him with your sword in your hand? David began to plead and pray and said: Master of the world?answer me at this time. The Holy One Blessed be He said to him: what are you asking for? He said to Him: the same insanity that you created and I complained about. He said to him: Didn’t I tell you, ‘he who despises a word–it will punish him’? Nevertheless I will give it to you. David made himself as if insane and changed his whole appearance and he wrote on the walls: Achish the king of Gat owes me a hundred thousand and his wife owes me fifty-hundred thousands. [Now] the daughter of Achish and her mother were insane. They were both screaming and going crazy inside and David was screaming and going crazy outside. Achish said to them [in the court]: ‘and did you think that I am lacking crazy people?!’ At that moment David rejoiced that he was able to feign insanity and from that joy he made this song [the thirty-fourth Psalm]. The Holy One blessed be He said to David: Is insanity then good? This is what is written [by David]: ‘I will bless you at every moment’ and also it is said: ‘everything He made is beautiful in its hour.’

The more mysterious part of the above incident is why David’s insanity saved him and how is it relevant to us today. We must also keep in mind that David is the forerunner and prototype of the Mashiach and all of his actions as recorded in the Bible allude to deep spiritual truths and archetypal historical patterns.

The Arizal revealed the secret of the primordial “breaking of the vessels” and how it is the primary mission of the Jewish People to search out, uplift and redeem these holy sparks throughout reality. The role of a Jewish leader is to be in the forefront of these efforts, ever aware of clarifying and revealing holiness, especially in areas and situations where one would least expect.

More than anyone, the Mashiach is associated with the Divine service of going into the very depths of unrectified reality where the shells of evil predominate, in order to liberate sparks of holiness and return them to their rightful source. These attempts are fraught with spiritual and physical danger. In effect this is an even deeper manifestation of the previous dynamic of bringing science and secular knowledge under the wings of Torah.

According to Kabbalah, evil forces actually derive their energy by “sucking” life force from holiness. A true chasid sha1kes off the grip of the external shells of reality and sees through them to their essential kernel of holiness. Even though he may fall, his essential grounding in holiness allows him to eventually rise up, identify, and eventually rescue holy sparks everywhere.

In order to save himself David had to feign insanity. In so doing he became so abhorrent to Achish that he willingly expelled David from his presence. One of the seventy-two three-letter Names of G-d revealed in Kabbalah is the Name, chevu [chetbeitvav] which appears as the first letters of the phrase (Job 20:15): “he [evil] has swallowed down riches and he shall vomit them up again.” The power to make evil vomit out the very holiness it has sucked upon is through this holy Name. Therefore, in prayer books which contain Kabbalistic intentions, we are taught to have this Name in our thoughts when reciting the blessing for the ingathering of the exiles, recited three times a day in the silent prayer: “Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth….” The three letters of chevu [chetbeitvav] appear in the second to last letters of the words “together from the four corners.”

Even though we have been figuratively swallowed up in exile, we pray to be gathered, or in this context, “vomited out” of exile and returned to Israel with all the holy sparks we have redeemed during our long and bitter separation from our homeland. The precedent for being “vomited out” of exile is alluded to by David feigning insanity. History has shown that when Jews become so “indigestible” that nations cannot bear us any longer–due to jealousy of our successes, our clinging to our beliefs in the face of dire consequences, or on account of becoming too strong a foreign element in their midst–they eventually vomit us out. This spiritual law has a parallel manifestation in the Torah’s warning to Israel that if it doesn’t conduct itself in a Torah-true manner when living in Israel, the Land itself will vomit the people out.


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