This year, I accepted an invitation to the Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurship. The fellowship, named for Rabbi Stephen S. Wise “encourages students to carry forward Wise’s legacy by thinking imaginatively about how we can best serve the needs of the contemporary Jewish community, and make real our own visions for liberal Judaism in the 21st century”.
My project, Mixtape Midrash, aims to use popular music as an invitation to deep personal connection to Jewish text. I believe sharing your music is like sharing your soul, and I aim to utilize that passion as an access point to the discovered treasure trove of meaning that is found within Jewish texts.
This is an ongoing project that I am excited to continue! Below you will find the prototype - a project I put together in the spring of 2018. Enjoy!
A window into the world of The Book of Samuel’s Michal bat Shaul as told through the soundtrack of her life.
Little ink is spilled in detailing the events of Michal’s life, but what we do have is full of tumult. In only a few short verses we see Michal’s relationship with King David go from love to scorn. In creating this set of music, I aim to tap in to some of the emotions flowing through Michal as she goes through a series of events: first love, first parting, her time with Paltiel, reuniting with David, and the confrontation. In this interpretation, Michal has Spotify, and picks out songs that speak to her at different moments of her life. Below the player, I will detail the connections I made from each song to Michal’s story.
YOUNG LOVE – I SAMUEL 18, 19
o What makes Michal love David? Perhaps like her father she is soothed by his music.
o Michal’s story is bookended by two window scenes. The first is full of love, the second, disdain. Where Etheridge here is inviting love in, Michal uses the window to help her love escape her scornful father.
DAUGTHER OF SAUL? RESISTANCE TO THE KING – I SAMUEL 19
o Yes, it’s Mama in this song, but it’s Papa for Michal. King Saul has soured on David, putting serious strains on what Michal wishes “could be so easy”.
o Tired of being a pawn in Saul’s political game, this grungy song and the following track show the dormant anger in Michal which we will see erupt in II Samuel 6.
o Like the preceding song, here is Michal’s response to being made an object as part of a greater scheme. Here we get a taste of the sarcasm and bite that Michal releases in II Samuel 6.
o “Don’t tell me what to say, don’t tell me what to do, just let me be myself, that’s all I ask of you”. Michal seeks more independence from her father to love David on her own terms.
o Lovato’s song speaks to the severe wounds left by an abusive father. Michal too has a caustic relationship with her father. And while she has reason to be angry with him throughout, she remains Bat Shaul throughout her life.
o “Even if you started this whole war in me” – Michal’s body becomes the battleground between Saul and David.
o “I know you were a troubled man, I know you never got the chance” – Saul’s troubles are well documented in Samuel from issues of evil spirits and rage, to feeling abandoned by God and the people around him.
MISSING YOU: THE TIME WITH PALTIEL – I SAMUEL 25:44, II SAMUEL 3:5
o “If you don’t think you’ll be home soon, I’m gonna drown in my own tears”
o “Why can’t you come on home?” Michal, potentially peering out of another window, wonders where her past love might be, and when he might come back to her.
9. You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette (WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS)
o A song of true angst about a mentally abusive man who moved on to find a “more elegant” lover. I wonder what resentment Michal harbors not just for David but for Avigail and David’s other wives. Michal refuses to be forgotten.
o “I’m sure she’d make a really excellent mother” – Michal, famously childless, perhaps harbors resentment for David and the women he sires children with almost immediately.
o This sounds like the common belief held throughout Israel with regards to the charismatic David. Those close to him love him, sometimes inexplicably.
o In a moment of melancholy, Michal reflects on her love of David. Despite her anger and sadness in her current state, she still may have feelings for her first love.
o A bit of a departure in our playlist. But reuniting with David has given Michal a new pair of rose colored glasses. Yes, he disappeared in less than ideal circumstances, and yes, he has more wives and concubines with him, but maybe they can rekindle what she once thought they had! Love brings hope and hides the troubled past.
o “You made me leave my happy home” though we never hear if Michal loved Paltiel, we do know that he loved her. Perhaps the bloom falls off the rose quickly once she reunites with David, and she ends up regretting leaving her newfound, maybe simpler, happiness with Paltiel.
o “You love me, then you snub me” – David is a player of people, and Michal is one of the few who are wise to that fact.
ANGER WITH MR. BIG STUFF – II Samuel 6
o What is lingering? Is it Michal’s status? She’s back in the palace with her first love… but he has taken several more wives and concubines.
o “Was it just a game to you?” A recurrent theme throughout David’s life is the question of his authenticity. When is he invested in those around him, and when is he only looking out for himself? Michal, one of the first pawns in play, might see David for who he is more than anyone.
o The tipping point. One can imagine Michal trying to make things work with David, but give with no take is breaking her heart. “Break another little piece of my heart. You know you got it, if it makes you feel good”. The primal screams and moaning guitar which ends this song will transition into the confrontation between Michal and David.
o David, who so frequently is only looking out for himself could easily overlook the emotions of his tormented first wife.
o The heavy drum beats of this song can almost mirror the drums from the processional as David parades back into Jerusalem. But “there’s a fire burning” in Michal’s heart.
o “I see you crystal clear” – The idea of sight equates to knowledge in the bible, and so too here with Adele.
o This whole song is dedicated to putting a pompous partner in his place. You can imagine Michal listening to this song and getting revved up to take down David. She is convinced of his narcissism and self-interest, and eager to let him know where he stands.
o Samuel II 6:20 is rife with sarcasm, “praising” David for honoring himself. Look who thinks he’s so great, strutting into town for all to see. This song is a little more upbeat and fun than the others, but to be honest it sparked the project and I had a difficult time removing it. Here’s the perfect encapsulation of the biting sarcasm from Michal as she berates David for his loose behavior.
o “You leave your home for days and days”. We are aware of the travels of David as he flees and flies around the country. Back at home, Michal demands his attention. The raw emotion of Lydia Pense cannot be contained, and needs to be let out in unadulterated, combative blasts as does Michal’s voice in II Samuel 6:20.
o “You showed your ass and I saw the real you” – again what Michal can see is important. She believes she has a conception of David which cuts through the perfumed haze that the rest of Am Yisrael swims in. Also, David potentially exposes himself in public amidst his ecstatic dancing, “showing his ass” and his true self to Michal.
o Based in Geraldine Brooks’ reading of the loveless marriage between David and Michal. Though the biblical author appears to punish Michal for her brashness towards the king, I can’t believe that she feels the same way. She ends this song triumphantly, proclaiming “sucks to be you right now” for losing out on her love and support.
THE EPILOGUE – Between II Samuel 6:22 and II Samuel 6:23
o “Stayed in bed all mornin' just to pass the time. There's somethin' wrong here, there can be no denyin”. The next day, as reality sets in, Michal knows that whatever there was between she and David cannot be repaired.
o The street, the public space in which David thrives are not the same for Michal. She wanders the streets to avoid the palace and David’s presence, but all she really wants is a place “to go and weep”.
o David the musician strikes again. As his victory songs and psalms continue to ring out and enliven the public, they drive daggers into Michal as she remembers the many ups and downs that life has dealt her.