A Tale of Two Apologies: King David and Rabbi Freundel

We held an event at our apartment the other night, dreamt up and put together by my wife Corinne, to help prepare our thoughts for Yom Kippur. The first half of the discussion focused on two sources, separated by 3,000 years, but eery in their parallels and fascinating in their differences – the case of King David and the case of Rabbi Freundel.

Some may be outraged and others surprised by the comparison, but the discussion we had was simply too interesting not to share.

In the wake of the discovery of their crimes both King David and Rabbi Barry Freundel attempt to make amends. I don’t want to put any spin on the following sources, but reading them through and judging your own reactions to them makes for a very interesting exercise.

The parallels are obvious but what are the differences?
Who is being addressed? What difference does it make that David’s is a prayer? Do you accept one but not the other?

And for those whose sins are not of the same magnitude what lessons can nevertheless can be applied to our own situations.

Click David’s teshuva and Barry Freundel’s for the sources or scroll down.

Two Apologies – Biblical and Contemporary

How do we apologize and make amends? Who do we address ourselves to – to God or to our fellows? Are there crimes which cannot be made up for? And can forgiveness be granted even if the perpetrator’s life lies in ruins in the aftermath of their crime?

King David and Rabbi Barry Freundel are separated by 3,000 years and yet the following sources bear an eery resemblance to one another. In the wake of the discovery of their crimes each of them attempt to make amends. I don’t want to put any spin on the following sources, but reading them through and judging your own reactions to them makes for a very interesting exercise.

The parallels are obvious but what are the differences?
Who is being addressed? What difference does it make that David’s is a prayer? Do you accept one but not the other?

And for those whose sins are not of the same magnitude what lessons can nevertheless can be applied to our own situations.

The Story of David and Bat Sheva

Background:

David has been king for many years. He no longer goes out to war with his people, but stays in Jerusalem. From the roof where he stands one day, he sees a beautiful woman bathing – she was Batsheva, the wife of one of his soldiers, Uriah. Batsheva is brought to him, he sleeps with her and sends her home. When David heard that she is pregnant, he summons Uriah back from war in order to try and cover up the paternity of the child. Uriah, however, refuses to go home and sleep with his wife whilst his comrades are out at war, and so David arranges for Uriah to be killed when he returns to the battle. Following Batsheva’s period of mourning for her husband, David takes her as his wife. At this point Natan the prophet enters.

Shmuel II, Ch.12

א וַיִּשְׁלַח יְהוָה אֶת-נָתָן, אֶל-דָּוִד; וַיָּבֹא אֵלָיו, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ שְׁנֵי אֲנָשִׁים הָיוּ בְּעִיר אֶחָת, אֶחָד עָשִׁיר, וְאֶחָד רָאשׁ.

1 And the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: ‘There were two men in one city: the one rich, and the other poor.

ב לְעָשִׁיר, הָיָה צֹאן וּבָקָר–הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד.

2 The rich man had many flocks and herds;
ג וְלָרָשׁ אֵין-כֹּל, כִּי אִם-כִּבְשָׂה אַחַת קְטַנָּה אֲשֶׁר קָנָה, וַיְחַיֶּהָ, וַתִּגְדַּל עִמּוֹ וְעִם-בָּנָיו יַחְדָּו; מִפִּתּוֹ

תֹאכַל וּ ִמ ֹכּסוֹ תִשְׁתֶּה, וּבְחֵיקוֹ תִשְׁכָּב, וַתְּהִי-לוֹ, כְּבַת. 3 but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and

reared; and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it atwe of his own

morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him as a daughter. ד וַיָּבֹא הֵלְֶ, לְאִישׁ הֶעָשִׁיר, וַיַּחְמֹל לָקַחַת מִצֹּאנוֹ וּ ִמ ְבּקָרוֹ, לַעֲשׂוֹת לָאֹרֵחַ הַבָּא-לוֹ; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-כִּבְשַׂת הָאִישׁ הָרָאשׁ, וַיַּעֲשֶׂהָ, לָאִישׁ הַבָּא אֵלָיו.

4 And there came a traveller to the rich man, and he decided to not take of his own flock and of his own herd, to give to the wayfaring man that had come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man that had come to him.’

ה וַיִּחַר-אַף דָּוִד בָּאִישׁ, מְאֹד; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-נָתָן, חַי-יְהוָה, כִּי בֶן-מָוֶת הָאִישׁ הָעֹשֶׂה זֹאת. 5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan: ‘As the LORD lives, the man that has done this deserves to die;

ו וְאֶת-הַכִּבְשָׂה, יְשַׁלֵּם אַרְבַּעְתָּיִם: עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, וְעַל, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-חָמָל. }ס{ 6 and he shall pay for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’ {S}

ז וַיֹּאמֶר נָתָן אֶל-דָּוִד, אַתָּה הָאִישׁ;

7 And Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!…
יג וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-נָתָן, חָטָאתִי לַיהוָה; }ס{ וַיֹּאמֶר נָתָן אֶל-דָּוִד, גַּם-יְהוָה הֶעֱבִיר חַטָּאתְָ–לֹא

תָמוּת. 13 And David said unto Nathan: ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ {S} And Nathan said

unto David: ‘The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.

תְּהִלִּים 51 Psalms Chapter

א לַמְנַצֵּחַ, מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד. ב בְּבוֹא-אֵלָיו, נָתָן הַנָּבִיא– כַּאֲשֶׁר-בָּא,

1 For the Leader. A Psalm of David;
2 When Nathan the prophet came to him, after

he had gone to Bath-sheba.

3 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your mercy; according to the multitude of Your compassions blot out my transgressions.

4 Wash me thoroughly from myiniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

5 For I know my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.

6 Against You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight;…

8 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts; make me, therefore, to know wisdom in my inmost heart.

9 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow

12 Create for me a cpure heart, O God; and renew a stedfast spirit within me.

כְּרֹב רַ ֲח ֶמיָ, מְחֵה

אֶל-בַּת-שָׁבַע. ג חָנֵּנִי אֱלֹהִים כְּחַסְדֶָּ;

וּ ֵמ ַח ָטּא ִתי
וְחַטָּאתִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד.

וְהָרַע בְּעֵינֶיָ, עָשִׂיתִי:

תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶָ וּבְסָתֻם,

תְּכַבְּסֵנִי, וּ ִמ ֶשּׁ ֶלג וְרוּחַ נָכוֹן,

ו לְָ לְבַדְָּ, חָטָאתִי, .לְמַעַן, תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶָ–

פְשָׁעָי. ד הרבה )הֶרֶב(, כַּבְּסֵנִי מֵעֲוֹ‍נִי;

טַהֲרֵנִי. ה כִּי-פְשָׁעַי, אֲנִי אֵדָע;

ח הֵן-אֱמֶת, חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת; ח ָ כ ְ מ ָ ה ת וֹ דִ י ֵע ִנ י .

ט תְּחַטְּאֵנִי בְאֵזוֹב וְאֶטְהָר; אַלְבִּין.

יב לֵב טָהוֹר, בְּרָא-לִי אֱלֹהִים; חַדֵּשׁ בְּקִרְבִּי.

וְרוּחַ קָדְשְָׁ, וְרוּחַ נְדִיבָה

יג אַל-תַּשְׁלִיכֵנִי מִלְּפָנֶיָ; אַל-תִּקַּח מִמֶּנִּי.

יד הָשִׁיבָה לִּי, שְׂשׂוֹן יִשְׁעֶָ; תִסְמְכֵנִי.

13 Cast me not away from Your presence; and take not Your holy spirit from me.

14 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation; and let a willing spirit uphold me.

16 Deliver me from bloodguil, O God, Thou God of my salvation; {N}
so shall my tongue sing aloud of Thy righteousness.

17 O Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

18 For You delight not in sacrifice, else would I give it; You have no pleasure in burnt-offerings

19 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

אֱלֹהֵי וּפִי, יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶָ.

עוֹ ָלה, לֹא
אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תִבְזֶה

תִרְצֶה. יט זִבְחֵי אֱלֹהִים,

טז הַצִּילֵנִי מִדָּמִים, אֱלֹהִים– תְּשׁוּעָתִי: .תְּרַנֵּן לְשׁוֹנִי, צִדְקָתֶָ

יז אֲדֹנָי, שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח; יח כִּי, לֹא-תַחְפֹּץ זֶבַח וְאֶתֵּנָה;

רוּ ַח נִשְׁבָּרָה:

.לֵב-נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה–

Rabbi Freundel’s Letter of Apology, Washington Jewish Post, Sept 2015

No matter how many times I attempt to apologize, it will never be enough. There are simply no words available to sufficiently assuage the hurt that I caused among conversion candidates, congregants, students, family, friends, and rabbinic and academic colleagues. I am sorry, beyond measure, for my heinous behavior and the perverse mindset that provoked my actions.

On May 15th, as I sat in the courtroom listening to the victim impact statements, each felt like a blade entering my gut. The speakers expressed their feelings of rage, hurt, humiliation, vulnerability and violation. How could I have been so incredibly blind, so unaware of my own impact on others? I ask myself that question every day. Through therapy, I came to understand the psychological underpinnings of why I acted in this despicable way. But I have not yet fully grasped how I could have been so completely oblivious to the harm I was doing to others.

I shook the faith foundations of those who were approaching Judaism with determination and the trepidation of leaving their previous lives behind; I defiled a space that was supposed to be private, sacred and healing; and I caused people to feel unsafe, abused and objectified, I did this to people I genuinely cared about, people to whom I was close, and I shattered the worlds of those I loved

most.

Throughout my lifetime, I never wanted to disappoint people, to cause people to feel that I was arrogant, untrustworthy, unapproachable or abusive. But now I understand that this is how people have felt. I became a rabbi precisely because I wanted to help people, as well as being drawn to the depth and the scholarship of Judaism, and I have tainted that miserably. I wanted to help folks heal, and in many instances, I have instead triggered their past traumas and caused new pain. I am sorrier than anyone can imagine for what I have done.

My preference would be to apologize individually to each person I have hurt. However, I recognize that reaching out to convey my regret could cause further harm to some and that such contact would be unwelcome. Therefore, I thought that the only solution would be to apologize publicly.

Additionally, I am aware that my actions have had very negative repercussions not only in the D.C. area, but throughout the Jewish world. In particular, I would ask forgiveness from other rabbanim and Orthodox scholars, who may have had to fight harder than normal to uphold halakhic standards of observance in the face of criticism.

Finally, I would like to apologize to anyone who saw me as stoic, hubristic or unreachable. I work every day to improve, but I know I sometimes still miss the mark. In the absence of anything else, I would like to repeat how completely sorry I am for my behavior and actions. There is no excuse for what I’ve done.

Again, I’m truly sorry.

Bernard Freundel

Rabbi Barry Freundel is serving a 6 1/2 year prison sentence for voyeurism
for secretly filming 52 women in the shower room of the mikvah adjacent to Kesher Israel, the prominent Orthodox Washington synagogue he led for some 25 years. He published the apology letter above in the Washington Jewish Week.

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