Haftarah Parashat Hayyei Sarah
Shabbat Mevarkhim Hahodesh
November 3, 2018 | 25 Heshvan 5779
1 Kings 1:1-31
When David reached old age, his household was a hotbed of political and familial intrigue. Following the death of David’s oldest sons, Amnon and Absalom, the next oldest, Adonijah, saw himself as the rightful heir to the throne. It is unclear whether he knew what will be revealed later: that David had already promised the kingship to a much younger son, Solomon. Before nature can take its course, Adonijah attempts to assume the kingship, expecting that David will accede to his fait accompli. But Solomon’s supporters get David to announce Solomon as king, and Adonijah is eventually executed.
What made this chaotic situation possible? Why did Adonijah think he could make such a brazen move while his father was still alive?
The strange beginning to the Book of Kings might offer us an answer to these questions. A prematurely aged David is in failing health and is unable to maintain his own bodily warmth. His desperate servants find a beautiful young woman to “keep him warm” – seemingly with the hope that she will reawaken his potency and vigor. But the text tells us that David never had sexual relations with her, perhaps signaling to those around him, and to the reader, his irreversible decline and imminent death. This is the context for Adonijah’s move to seize the throne.
But Adonijah’s over-confidence was also a product of David’s inattentive parenting. The text tells us: “And Adonijah son of Hagith was giving himself airs, saying, ‘I shall be king!’ And he made himself a chariot and horsemen with fifty men running before him. And his father never caused him pain, saying, ‘Why have you done thus?’.” (verses 5-6) Like many children who eventually go astray, Adonijah sought to test his father’s boundaries but met no resistance. And he took his father’s silence as tacit approval.
These two stories, one of literal impotence and the other figurative, demonstrated that David had long ceased being the king his people needed him to be. Dissension in his government threatened to tear the nation apart. Thankfully, David was able – at the urging of the Prophet Nathan – to summon up enough strength to ensure the right leader took his place. As Rabbi Yosef Kara, a contemporary of Rashi, noted, “For every situation and everything there is a proper time – a time to be quiet and to wait; and a time to respond; and [for David], if not now, when?
David brought his nation to the brink, but he did what was necessary to avert the crisis. He responded to the challenge. May our leaders find the strength to do the same.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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