QUESTION: The Gemara describes the source for David ha'Melech's 15 chapters
of "Shir ha'Ma'alos." The Gemara relates that when David ha'Melech was
digging the Shisin at the place where the Mizbe'ach would be built, he
inadvertently removed a potsherd that was covering the hole of the Waters of
the Deep. The waters came up and threatened to drown the world. David
ha'Melech asked whether it was permitted for him to write the name of Hashem
on the potsherd and to throw it back into the water in order to stop the
deluge, and -- after cursing anyone who knew the ruling but would not reveal
it to him -- Achitofel told him that it was permitted to write the name of
Hashem on the potsherd and throw it into the water, even though Hashem's
name would be erased by the water. When he saw that the water was descended
too much, he said the 15 psalms of Shir ha'Ma'alos in order to raise the
What was unique about the 15 psalms of Shir ha'Ma'alos that enabled them to
have such control over the level of the water?
ANSWER: The KLI YAKAR (Bereishis 6:15) cites the Gemara in Sotah (16b) which
states that when there is peace between a man and his wife, the Shechinah
dwells in their midst. The letter Yud of the word "Ish" and the letter Heh
of the word "Ishah" come together and form the name of Hashem. If, Chas
v'Shalom, there is not peace between a man and his wife, the letters of the
name of Hashem -- the Yud and Heh -- depart from the "Ish" and "Ishah,"
leaving two flames -- "Esh" -- which destroy each other.
We see that the Yud and Heh, and the name of Hashem which they spell, are
related to peace in marriage. Similarly, there were 15 stairs in the Beis
ha'Mikdash joining the Ezras Nashim and the Ezras Yisrael, representing the
name of Hashem (the Gematria of which is 15) that is formed when there is
peace between man and wife. (That is why the 15 stairs comprised two sets,
one of ten and one of five -- corresponding to the Yud and the Heh -- as we
learned in our Mishnah, 51b).
When there is a widespread problem with marital relations and the man and
woman are involved in licentious activities, Hashem punishes with water. The
world was punished with the Great Flood because of the sin of Arayos, as the
Torah states (Bereishis 6:11-12). (We might add that this is also why the
Egyptians were punished by being drowned, for the people of the nation of
Egypt are described as being exceedingly promiscuous, Vayikra 18:3.)
For this reason, the waters of the Mabul rose 15 Amos above the highest
mountain. The people sinned by abusing the Yud and Heh that spell Hashem's
name that dwells among the people when there is peace between man and wife,
and therefore they were punished with water that rose 15 Amos above the
highest point. Similarly, the rain descended for 150 days, which is 15 times
10. Each floor of the Ark was 50 Amos wide, 300 Amos long, and 10 Amos high,
for a total of 150,000 cubic Amos. This multiple of 15 alluded to the fact
that it was the name of Hashem, Yud and Heh, which protected the family of
No'ach in the Ark, for they were not involved in Arayos.
Similarly, the Gemara relates that Chizkiyahu ha'Melech was threatened with
death in this world and the next (Berachos 10a), because he refused to bear
children, having foreseen that he would have wicked descendants. When he did
Teshuvah and agreed to bear children, he was given 15 extra years as a
reward for restoring the honor to the name of Yud and Heh.
In our Gemara, David ha'Melech wrote the name of Yud and Heh upon the
potsherd in order to prevent the water from flooding the world. David
ha'Melech was calling upon the merit of the people guarding themselves from
Arayos to protect the world from the water! (Kli Yakar)
We might add that this is why Achitofel refused at first to permit David to
use the name of Hashem to protect the world from the water. We know that
Achitofel was the grandfather of Bas Sheva (Sanhedrin 69b), and he
maintained that David was guilty of an impropriety with her. As a result, he
felt that David did not have the power to protect the world from the flood
waters with the name of Yud and Heh. However, Hashem knew that David truly
repented and could restore the peace of the world with the name of Yud and
Why is it that flood waters are the punishment for sins which create
disharmony between man and wife? Chazal compare the rainwater to the male
element and the earth to the female element -- "rain is the husband of the
land" (Ta'anis 6b). The rainwater irrigates the earth which then produces
crops. When there is no peace between man and his wife, it is water that
The Kal v'Chomer upon which Achitofel based his ruling involved the Halachah
of erasing Hashem's name for the sake of bringing peace *between a man and
his wife*. Causing the waters to subside was a form of making peace between
the water and the land -- between man and wife. That is why the water
descended 16,000 Amos below the ground level -- which is 15,000 Amos below
the original water level. In order to bring back the water to a reasonable
level, David ha'Melech said 15 psalms of Shir ha'Ma'alos.
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when David ha'Melech was digging the
Shisin at the place where the Mizbe'ach would be built, he inadvertently
removed a potsherd that was covering the hole of the waters of the Tehom.
The water came up and threatened to drown the world. David ha'Melech asked
whether it was permitted for him to write the name of Hashem on the potsherd
and to throw it back into the water in order to stop the deluge, and --
after cursing anyone who knew the ruling but would not reveal it to him --
Achitofel told him that it was permitted to write the name of Hashem on the
potsherd and throw it into the water, even though Hashem's name would be
erased by the water.
What was David's question? It was certainly permitted to write the name of
Hashem and cause it to be erased, because it was a situation of mortal
danger, and Piku'ach Nefesh overrides almost all Isurim (except for Avodah
Zarah, Giluy Arayos, and Shefichus Damim)!
(a) The ARUCH LA'NER answers that David was concerned that his action might
involve a *Chilul Hashem,* and Chilul Hashem does *not* override Piku'ach
(b) HAGAON RAV Y. S. ELYASHEV (in HE'AROS B'MASECHES SUKAH) cites the RAMBAN
(Sanhedrin 73a) who rules that not only do the three Isurim of Avodah Zarah,
Giluy Arayos, and Shefichus Damim override Piku'ach Nefesh ("Yaharog v'Al
Ya'avor"), but also any *branch* ("Abizrayhu") of those Isurim. Erasing the
name of Hashem might involve transgressing a subcategory of Avodah Zarah,
and therefore David ha'Melech waited until he had received a Halachic ruling
that it was permitted.
(c) HAGAON RAV Y. S. ELYASHEV (in HE'AROS B'MASECHES SUKAH) suggests that
the water posed no actual mortal threat to the world. Rather, the rising
water was threatening to disrupt the normal lifestyle and routine of the
world. There was no question of Piku'ach Nefesh, and therefore David
ha'Melech waited until he had received a Halachic ruling from his rebbi.