Why Did Dovid Thank Hashem?

Lo yavo Ammoni u’Moavi bi’khal Hashem gam dor asiri lo yavo lahem bi’khal Hashem ad olam. (Devarim 23:4)

The Torah forbids a person who is born to proper Jewish parents to marry an Ammonite or Moabite. Commenting on this prohibition, the Medrash Pliah cryptically remarks that this verse is what Dovid Hamelech was referring to when he wrote (Tehillim 118:21) “ode’cha ki inisani — I thank You (Hashem) because you afflicted me.” The connection between these two concepts is difficult to grasp. What does the prohibition against marrying somebody descended from the nations of Ammon and Moab have to do with Hashem causing us to suffer, and why did that specifically inspire and motivate Dovid to thank Hashem?

Harav Mordechai Benet writes that in order to understand this perplexing Midrash, we first need to understand what pain and suffering Dovid was referring to. The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they would not accept the Torah, sham te’hei kevuraschem — there will be your collective burial place.

Commenting on this Gemara, Tosafos questions why it was necessary for Hashem to do so after the Jewish people had already enthusiastically declared that whatever Hashem says, “naaseh v’nishma — we will do and we will listen” (Shemos 24:7). The Midrash Tanchuma (Noach 3) answers that although they had readily accepted the Written Torah, which is relatively limited in scope and can be learned with little difficulty, they were initially unwilling to accept the Oral Torah, which is substantially more complex and can only be understood after great toil and exertion, until Hashem forced them to do so by threatening them with mass extinction.

In light of the teaching of the Midrash, Rav Benet explains that Dovid was thanking Hashem for afflicting the entire nation and compelling them to accept the Oral Law in addition to the Written Law. What is the connection between the Oral Torah and the prohibition against marrying a descendant of Ammon and Moab? The Gemara in Yevamos (76b) records that after Dovid slew Golias, Shaul grew concerned that perhaps Dovid was destined to become king and take his position away from him, so he inquired about Dovid’s lineage. Although Shaul posed this question to Avner, who was the general of his army, his advisor Doeg overheard the question and responded, “Before you examine Dovid’s pedigree to determine if he is fit to be king, you should first inspect his ancestry to see if he is even fit to marry a regular Jewish woman, as he is descended from Rus the Moabite, and the Torah teaches that a Moabite may not marry into the Jewish congregation.”

After a lengthy discussion of the ensuing arguments and refutations presented by Avner and Doeg, the Gemara concludes that the law is that the prohibition against marrying Ammonites and Moabites applies only to the males of these nations but not to the females, whom one is indeed permitted to marry after they convert. The Gemara explains this distinction in light of the reason given by the Torah for this prohibition: they did not greet the Jews with bread and water as they were leaving Egypt. Because it is the practice of men to go out to greet guests while women modestly remain in their homes, this lack of hospitality does not reflect negatively on the females of these nations, and they are therefore permitted to marry Jews. As a result, the ancestry of Dovid, who was descended from the female Rus, was deemed acceptable.

With this background information, Rav Benet suggests that the meaning of the Medrash Pliah becomes clear. The verse in the Torah which forbids the offspring of Ammon and Moab to marry into the Jewish nation does not appear to differentiate between male and female progeny, seemingly including both of them equally in the prohibition. When Dovid encountered this verse, he became frightened that perhaps it applied to his great-grandmother Rus as well, as Doeg maintained. However, when he realized that the Oral Law distinguishes between the genders and rules authoritatively that female descendants are permitted to marry Jews, he rejoiced and exclaimed “ode’cha ki inisani — thank You (Hashem) for afflicting me (at Mount Sinai by threatening to kill us if we did not accept the Oral Torah, which clarifies my legal status and clears the way for me to get married and become king).”

Q: The Torah teaches (24:5) that if a man marries a new wife, he does not serve in the army for one year. Rashi writes that this law only applies if his wife is new, but if he remarries a woman he had previously divorced, he is not entitled to this exemption. If a man marries a woman and divorces her shortly thereafter, only to remarry her before one year has passed from their original wedding date, does he go out to battle?

A: Harav Eliyahu Gutmacher argues that it is clear that in this case, the man would be exempt from serving in the army since his remarriage occurred within one year of the time of his original marriage, which exempted him from serving in the army during that year on the condition that he is married, which he is once again. However, the Sfas Emes is uncertain about the law in this case, as perhaps the fact that he divorced his wife ended the one-year exemption to which he was entitled, and now that he is remarrying her, she is no longer a new wife who exempts him from army service.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.