What do King David and Jonah have in Common?

With Ari Fuld z"l at the King David Hotel
With Ari Fuld z"l at the King David Hotel

In memory of Ari Fuld z”l, a friend for almost 40 years

When reading the Haftara for Parshat Haazinu (Shmuel Bet, 22:1-51), King David’s Thanksgiving Song, you may experience déjà vu. These words sound so familiar that you may say to yourself “I feel like I have heard this recently.”

There are a number of reasons why King David’s ballad is so recognizable:

  1. The same Haftara is also read on Pesach following the Torah reading of Az Yashir (The Song of the Sea).
  2. The words in our Haftara are almost identical to Tehillim, Psalm 18.
  3. Many of the phrases in this Psalm are found in other Psalms as well.
  4. David’s prayer is very similar to Jonah’s prayer which we just read on Yom Kippur.

Let’s take a look at David’s prayer (Shmuel Bet 22:5-7):

For the breakers of death (mishberei mavet) encircled me (afafuni),

The floods of godless men would frighten me.

The pains (chevlei) of the grave (Sheol) surrounded me (sabuni);

The pains of death confronted me.

In my distress (b’tzar li) I called (ekra) upon the Lord,

Yea, I called (ekra) unto my God;

And out of His Temple (Heichalo) He heard my voice (vayishma),

And my cry (shavati) did enter into His ears…

Let’s compare that with Jonah’s Prayer (Jonah 2:3-8):

I called (karati), in my distress (mitzara li) to God and He answered me;

From the belly of the grave (Sheol) I cried out (shivati)- You heard my voice (shamata koli).

You cast me into the depth in the heart of the seas, the river surrounded me (yisoveveinu);

All Your breakers (mishbarecha) and waves passed over me.

Then I said ‘I was driven from before Your eyes,

But I will again gaze at your holy Temple (Heichal Kodshecha)!’

Waters encompassed me (afafuni) to the soul, the deep whirled (yisovevenu) around me;

Reeds were tangled about my head.

I descended to the base of the mountains;

The earth- its bars (were closed) against me forever.

Yet you lifted me from the pit, O HaShem, my God

When my soul was faint within me, I remembered God

My prayer came to You, to Your Holy Temple (Heichal Kodeshecha)…

How can it be that King David and Jonah the prophet who lived such totally different lives are saying almost the same prayer and singing almost the same song?

The words “mishberei” (Shmuel Bet) and “mishberecha” (Tehillim) are derived from the root sheber (shatter) and have three different meanings:

  1. The literal translation is heavily crashing waves that loudly break at the beach.
  2. Labor pains. Targum translates as pains experienced by a woman on the birthing stool.
  3. A dangerous situation/ crisis. Radak explains that the word comes from the root “break” – as in troubles which break a person.

Both David and Jonah were in danger, they cried out in prayer and were saved by God so even though their stories are very different, the universal message is the same.

Nehama Leibowitz points out that “the individual who expresses his sufferings, who is a world of his own with his own personal history and troubles gives expression at the same time to the tribulations of the people, as a whole, serves as a vehicle for the nation’s troubles in all ages. The deliverance that comes from God…constitutes not merely David’s salvation from the clutches of his enemies, from the hand of Saul, but the salvation of Israel. It refers not merely to any specific occasion of deliverance, be it that of the returning exiles from Babylon, or the Jews in Shushan from Haman or the Maccabees from Antiochus but the deliverance in every generation.”

Right now, the Jewish people are dealing with the “mashber” of the Knife Intifada. This crisis began in 2015 and claimed the life of our friend, Ari Fuld z”l this past week who was murdered by a 16 year old Arab terrorist outside of a shopping center.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, we recited Psalm 130 “Shir HaMaalot Mima’amakim Kraticha HaShem”, “A song of ascents: From the depths I call to you, God” and we will be saying it again on Hoshana Raba.

As we recited on Yom Kippur, “He who answered David and Shlomo (his son) in Jerusalem; He will answer us…He who answered Jonah in the belly of the fish, He will answer us…” may our prayers that we call out to God be answered and may we see true peace in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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