The Tanach describes1 the manner in which King David brought the Ark of G‑d from the house of Oved Edom the Gittite to the City of David. On the way,2 “King David was joyously singing songs of praise with all his strength before G‑d; and David was girded with a linen ephod.” [Afterwards,] when they arrived in the City of David, it is related3 that “King David was joyously singing songs of praise and cavorting before G‑d.”

The differences between the wording used to describe King David’s conduct outside the City of David and inside it call for explanation:

a) Beforehand, it is mentioned that David was wearing a linen ephod,4 but no mention of that is made while he is in the City of David.

b) Beforehand, it is stated that David was “joyously singing songs of praise,” while in the City of David, he was “joyously singing songs of praise and cavorting.”

The interchange between David and [his wife,] Michal the daughter of [King] Shaul, also begs to be explained. When she saw David “joyously singing songs of praise and cavorting,” she mocked his conduct. David responded to her saying:5 “In the presence of G‑d Who chose me over your father…, I will hold myself even more lightly esteemed than this.” Why did he have to mention G‑d’s choice of him over her father? Surely, he should just have stated the reason for his happiness.

Creating a Setting for Prophecy

Rambam speaks about a linen ephod,6 explaining that it was not one of the eight garments of the High Priest, for that ephod was made not only of linen, but also of sky-blue and purple wool. As support, he cites the instance of Shmuel the prophet who was a Levite, and yet he is described7 as “a youth, girded with a linen ephod.”

In conclusion, Rambam explains that a linen ephod would be worn by those aspiring to prophecy and those fit for the prophetic spirit to rest upon them. [Wearing this garment] indicated that the person had attained “the level of the High Priest who spoke with the spirit of prophecy, through the medium of the ephod and the choshen.6

To explain: Prophecy truly indicates a very elevated spiritual attainment, for “the Divine presence rests only on a man who is wise, mighty, rich and of prominent stature…,”8 and possessing various refined personal qualities as mentioned in that source. Even to such a person, garments — and the type of garments — are significant. Thus it is stated:9 “And he removed his clothes and he prophesied.” A sign that one was fit for the spirit of prophecy to rest upon him was wearing a linen ephod.

The Rambam’s words are based on the Talmud Yerushalmi10 which notes that in Nov, the city of kohanim, there were 85 kohanim who wore linen ephodim.11 The Talmud Yerushalmi asks: Isn’t there only one High Priest? [Why, then, were the others wearing ephodim?] And it answers that they were all fit to serve as High Priests. This is [the basis for] Rambam’s statements.

One of the preparatory steps for prophecy is solitude. Generally, one finds solitude outside a city. Now on the way, David made most of his preparations for prophecy. Therefore it is mentioned that he was wearing a linen ephod.

He was therefore “joyously singing songs of praise with all of his strength before G‑d,” for “the Divine presence rests only amidst happiness.”12 He was “joyously singing songs of praise”13 to G‑d to call forth the revelation of prophecy. For as is well known,14 praise and adoration call forth inner powers that are generally hidden.

When describing his rejoicing in the City of David, Scripture uses the term “cavorting,” i.e., dancing excessively. He did not do this outside the city. Indeed, it is not clear whether he danced there at all.

In Chassidus,15 it is explained that a person dances when he is overcome and permeated by happiness to the point that it affects even his feet. For that reason, “cavorting” is mentioned only in the second verse. David’s rejoicing outside the city had a purpose — he was seeking prophecy, that the Divine presence would rest upon him. Hence, his celebration had its limits; it did not permeate him entirely. His rejoicing in the City of David, by contrast, was not directed to a specific purpose. As a consequence, it was unbounded, as manifest in his cavorting and excessive dancing.

For G‑d to Choose a King

On this basis, we can understand why Michal was uneasy with David’s “joyously singing songs of praise and cavorting before G‑d” in the City of David.

She could have been reconciled to David’s rejoicing with a purpose. True, there are certain situations in which one should not see a king,16 for that would compromise the fear of him mandated by the command,17 “You shall certainly appoint a king over yourselves.” Nevertheless, since the rejoicing has a purpose, there is room for it to be countenanced by logic and reason. However, “joyously singing songs of praise and cavorting” without any restraints, above all logic and reason, has no place in the realm of understanding.

On this basis, we can understand why in King David’s answer to Michal, he highlights G‑d’s “choosing me over your father.” In doing so, he focused on the difference in their approach to Divine service. Shaul’s Divine service was structured according to logic and reason. For that reason, he did not desire to utterly destroy the property of Amalek. According to logic, it seemed proper to use “the choice sheep and cattle… to sacrifice to G‑d —”18 as he told Shmuel.

David emphasized this difference with the words, “Who chose me over your father.” Because Shaul followed his logic, the kingship was taken from him and was given to David, as the verse continues,19 “to appoint me as a ruler.” David — whose Divine service was characterized by kabbalas ol, the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke, as reflected by the phrase,20 “And David My servant,” — [was granted kingship forever].21 For the perpetuation of kingship requires kabbalas ol and humility. As David said, “I will hold myself even more lightly esteemed… and I will be humble,” unrestrained by reason.

Greeting Mashiach Joyously

This concept also serves as a support for the chassidic custom — practiced also by the Rebbeim — of dancing and clapping hands on Shabbos and festivals. According to the Mishnah, a unique halachic explanation22 is required to explain [why clapping is permitted]. Nevertheless, this is the universal practice, followed without question.

What is the inner motivating principle? We are coming ever closer to the advent of the era of Mashiach. Directly after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, we began proceeding toward the time when we will greet Mashiach. After the moment of the destruction, there was only an interval long enough for a cow to bellow before the redeemer of Israel was born.23 From that time on, and from moment to moment, we draw closer to the time when “My servant David will rule over them,” over the entire Jewish people, “an eternal ruler.”24

That is why we conduct ourselves — as reflected in Rambam’s ruling25 — according to the practice of “My servant David,” “joyously singing songs of praise and cavorting before G‑d.”

(Excerpted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shemini, 5715).