The Veil of Ignorance
By Erick Cohen, The George Washington University
In II Samuel 11, David the King of Israel commits some morally questionable acts. The story of David and Uriah the Hittite is one of the most interesting stories in the Tanakh that holds a lesson we should all keep in mind: The idea of the Veil of Ignorance
We mostly attribute greatness with King David – after all, he slaughtered Goliath the Philistine who was harassing the ancient Israelites. King David was in his palace one day and decided to go out on the roof. From atop, he saw a woman named Bathsheba bathing. She was very beautiful, and David inquired about her. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was battling in David’s army. David laid with her and she became pregnant. In order to cover-up this scandal, David instructed Uriah to return from battle so he may lay with his wife to make it seem like the child was his. Uriah refused to go to his house and sleep with his wife while his fellow soldiers were out in battle. Uriah was nothing but loyal. After a night of drinking and another failed attempt to get Uriah to go to his house, David ordered Uriah to go back to the battle with a message for the general Joab. What was in the letter? David instructed Joab to place Uriah on the front lines and then have the other men pull back to have him die in battle.
David ordered the murder of an innocent man. Now a widow, Bathsheba became David’s wife and she bore him a son. For others in the city, David looked like a hero. He helped the poor widow of Uriah the Hittite, made her his wife and personally cared for her and what others believed to be Uriah’s son. Hashem saw this terrible act and sent a messenger named Nathan to David.
Instead of directly scolding David and telling him how he has done terrible things, Nathan approaches David with a dilemma that the city was facing. Nathan tells David that there are two men in the city – one rich and one poor. The rich man has many cattle and large flocks with many animals, while the poor man has but one tiny lamb. The poor man and his family cared for that lamb so much. The rich man had taken the lamb of the poor lamb and slaughtered it so he could eat one meal. Instantly David grew angry with rage saying, “whoever did this deserves to die!” Nathan tells him, “that man is you!” David understood his sin and repented before G-d.
As Nathan was able to remove David, Uriah and Bathsheba from the story, he removed any bias from the story. This Veil of Ignorance allowed David to look only at the facts, removing himself from the story. He clearly has opinions and knows right from wrong, it just took Nathan and the Veil of Ignorance to make him see clearly. This speaks volumes to how much we project ourselves into a narrative that can distort facts. We should negotiate and form our own opinions with this Veil of Ignorance in mind.