October 29, 2006

Hey, who's the guy with the sword?

Folks, I've added a photo of myself to my Blogger profile in the upper left corner. Do you see it there? And no, that's not really me. That's David - about to sever the head of the arrogant Philistine, Goliath, in a powerful painting by one of my favorite artists, Peter Paul Rubens.

There are many visual metaphors for a smooth stone. However, I chose this particular painting to represent this blog because the name of this blog is taken literally from the Bible story of David and Goliath, in 1 Samuel 17. You see, all it took was one smooth stone to slay the arrogant Philistine.

The artist Rubens took no liberty when he painted David. David was a shepherd and carried only a sling and a pouch and within it, five smooth stones he found from a nearby brook. David carried no sword. The sword in the painting is Goliath's and the sword with which David cut off Goliath's head as mentioned in the Bible is Goliath's. Pan in with your mouse and look closely at David's strength in his muscles here. How did a shepherd become so muscular? David himself tells his king, Saul, that he needs no armor to face the Goliath.

In an excerpt from Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus,
"I undertake this enterprise," said David, "in dependence on God's being with me, for I have had experience already of his assistance; for I once pursued after and caught a lion that assaulted my flocks, and took away a lamb from them; and I snatched the lamb out of the wild beast's mouth, and when he leaped upon me with violence, I took him by the tail, and dashed him against the ground. In the same manner did I avenge myself on a bear also; and let this adversary of ours be esteemed like one of these wild beasts, since he has a long while reproached our army, and blasphemed our God, who yet will reduce him under my power."
But why did David and Goliath fight to begin with? Who started it? Why?

Well, the Philistines had been gathering themselves for a very long time and during this time they grew to have a large army. And having gotten together a great army, they made war against the Israelites. This was in a place between Shochoh and Azekah. Saul, who was also king, drew out his army to oppose the Philistines; and by pitching his own camp on a certain hill, he forced the Philistines to leave their former camp, and to encamp themselves upon such another hill, over-against that on which Saul's army lay, so that a valley, which was between the two hills on which they lay, divided their camps.

Goliath was a man of vast bulk who came out of the Philistine camp and challenged - not once- but for 40 straight days to Saul and the Hebrews, "I will free you from fighting and from dangers; for what necessity is there that your army should fall and be afflicted? Give me a man of you that will fight with me, and he that conquers shall have the reward of the conqueror and determine the war; for these shall serve those others to whom the conqueror shall belong; and certainly it is much better, and more prudent, to gain what you desire by the hazard of one man than of all."

Saul and his army were terrrified, while they put themselves in array as if they would fight, but they did not come to a battle. When no Israelite took Goliath's challenge, he reproached them, that they had no man of valor among them that would come down to fight him; and as David was talking with his brethren about the other business for which his father, Jesse, had sent him, he heard the Philistine reproaching and abusing the army. Flavius Josephus writes:
[David] taking his staff with him, and putting five stones out of the brook into a shepherd's bag, and having a sling in his right hand, he went towards Goliath.

But the adversary seeing him come in such a manner, disdained him, and jested upon him, as if he had not such weapons with him as are usual when one man fights against another, but such as are used in driving away and avoiding of dogs; and said, "Dost thou take me not for a man, but a dog?" To which he replied, "No, not for a dog, but for a creature worse than a dog."

This provoked Goliath to anger, who thereupon cursed him by the name of God, and threatened to give his flesh to the beasts of the earth, and to the fowls of the air, to be torn in pieces by them. To whom David answered, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a breastplate; but I have God for my armor in coming against thee, who will destroy thee and all thy army by my hands for I will this day cut off thy head, and cast the other parts of thy body to the dogs, and all men shall learn that God is the protector of the Hebrews, and that our armor and our strength is in his providence; and that without God's assistance, all other warlike preparations and power are useless." So the Philistine being retarded by the weight of his armor, when he attempted to meet David in haste, came on but slowly, as despising him, and depending upon it that he should slay him, who was both unarmed and a child also, without any trouble at all.

But the youth met his antagonist, being accompanied with an invisible assistant, who was no other than God himself. And taking one of the stones that he had out of the brook, and had put into his shepherd's bag, and fitting it to his sling, he slang it against the Philistine. This stone fell upon his forehead, and sank into his brain, insomuch that Goliath was stunned, and fell upon his face. So David ran, and stood upon his adversary as he lay down, and cut off his head with his own sword; for he had no sword himself.

And upon the fall of Goliath the Philistines were beaten, and fled; for when they saw their champion prostrate on the ground, they were afraid of the entire issue of their affairs, and resolved not to stay any longer, but committed themselves to an ignominious and indecent flight, and thereby endeavored to save themselves from the dangers they were in. But Saul and the entire army of the Hebrews made a shout, and rushed upon them, and slew a great number of them, and pursued the rest to the borders of Garb, and to the gates of Ekron; so that there were slain of the Philistines thirty thousand, and twice as many wounded. But Saul returned to their camp, and pulled their fortification to pieces, and burnt it; but David carried the head of Goliath into his own tent, but dedicated his sword to God [at the tabernacle].
One smooth stone and faith in the Almighty is all we need to slay our enemies. But Rabbi Noson Weisz tells us, and I agree, that the common conception holds that belief in God is generated in the heart of the believer, by virtue of a conviction that God exists. Those who are skeptical of God's existence have no such conviction of faith and thus do not believe in God's existence. The great 20th century sage, the Chazon Ish explains that belief in God is a built-in attribute of the human soul, and is not dependent on one's prior convictions.

But the point is, that life without faith is not an option. and we shouldn't be confused by optimism and belief. Optimism is the confidence we will defeat our enemies and belief concerns matters that are beyond our capacity to accomplish especially when applying this concept to the situation of the Jewish people in Israel. We can clearly see that they are presently located in a belief situation where there is little room for simple optimism.

So what I pray for myself is to have faith like David in my invisible Protector and to have belief in the not-very-optimistic situation in Israel that we will defeat our enemies.

Will we need something more powerful than one smooth stone to defeat our enemies? Yes, we will, and that item will be our belief in our faithful One and Only True G-d of Israel. As hard as it might be to elevate to that level, we must all feel within us our own Jewish spark, and ignite it.

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