In the Gemara (Yoma 22b) Rabbi Huna said, “How little does he whom Hashem supports need to grieve or trouble himself! Shaul sinned once and it brought calamity upon him. David sinned twice and it did not bring evil upon him.”

What was the sin of Shaul? The incident with Agag. The prophet Shmuel instructed Shaul to smite Amalek and utterly destroy all their possessions: “Spare them not, but slay both men and women, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (I Samuel 15:3). Shaul spared Agag, the king of Amalek, as well as the best of the sheep and the oxen and hence did not utterly destroy them.

What were the two sins of David? One was the sin against Uriah. Uriah was the husband of Batsheva, whom David wanted to marry. He sent a message to general Yoav to set up Uriah in the forefront of the most dangerous battle and then leave him alone so that he would be killed (II Samuel 11).

David’s second sin was the counting of the people. According to Torah law, people should not be counted directly, but through ballots or contributions, and he had them counted directly (II Samuel 24).

One may rightfully wonder: Hashem is described in the Torah as “A G‑d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He” (Devarim 32:4). Is it fair to punish Shaul for committing only one sin and overlook David, who committed two sins?

The answer lies in careful analysis of each incident.

When Shmuel met Shaul after the war with Amalek, Shaul greeted him by saying, “I have performed the commandment of Hashem.”

In amazement Shmuel said, “What then is the meaning of the noise of the sheep in my ears?”

Shaul told him, “The people spared the best of the sheep to sacrifice them to your G‑d and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

Shmuel admonished Shaul, “Hashem anointed you king of the Children of Israel and instructed you to utterly destroy the sinners of Amalek and fight against them until they are consumed. Why didn’t you obey the voice of Hashem?”

Shaul responded, “Indeed I have obeyed Hashem’s voice, but the people took the spoils to sacrifice to Hashem your G‑d.”

Shmuel said, “Has Hashem as great delight in burnt-offerings as in obeying His voice? To obey is better than sacrifice and to listen is better than the fats of rams.” Finally, Shaul said to Shmuel, “Chatati” — “I have sinned.”

Let us consider David’s response. After the death of Uriah, Hashem sent the prophet Natan, who told David a story of two men who lived in the same city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds, but the poor man had only one little lamb. He brought it up and nourished it and treated it very gently. Once a traveler visited the rich man and refusing to take from his own flock to prepare a meal for the wayfarer, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and made a meal from it.

Upon hearing this, David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man and he said to Natan, “The man that had done this is worthy to die.”

Natan said to David, “You are the man. Why did you despise the commandment of Hashem and do evil in His eyes? You killed Uriah with the sword and took his wife to be your wife.”

Upon hearing this David immediately said to Natan, “Chatati” — “I have sinned against Hashem.”

Graciously Natan told him, “Hashem has commuted your sin; you shall not die” (II Samuel 12:1-13).

In the incident of the forbidden method used for counting the people, immediately after general Yoav told David the census, Scripture tells us, “David’s heart smote him that he had numbered them, and David said to Hashem, “Chatati me’od — I have sinned greatly in what I have done — and now I beseech you Hashem, take away the iniquity of my sin, for I have done very foolishly” (II Samuel 24:10).

The difference between David and Shaul is that David immediately recognized his wrongdoing, without attempting to justify it or to cover it up. On the other hand, Shaul originally thought he could ‘fool’ Shmuel, and therefore he claimed to have fulfilled Hashem’s wish. Afterwards, when Shmuel asked about the sheep, Shaul blamed it on the people and endeavored to justify it, saying the sheep would be used for sacrifices. Only when he finally realized that this approach was not impressing Shmuel did he express remorse and say, “chatati” — “I have sinned.”

Hashem is definitely fair in His judgment, but we must remember to acknowledge our mistakes and not think that we can deceive Him. To err is human and to forgive is divine, but we must always recall what the wisest of all man said, “He who covers up his sins shall not prosper, but u’modeh ve’ozeiv yerucham — he who confesses and forsakes it — will experience the mercy of Hashem” (Proverbs 28:13).

(הגיוני יצחק, מר' יצחק ז"ל גרינבלאט)