Haftarah Hayei Sarah (1 Kings 1:1-31)
November 26, 2016 / 25 Heshvan 5777
This week’s haftarah is not just a story about an elderly king and his journey towards old age. It is also a tale of palace intrigue where princes vie for his throne. And so, an elderly David is oblivious to the fact that one of his sons, Adonijah, had declared himself king and arranged a huge festive gathering to celebrate the occasion. Of course, only those loyal to his cause were invited: “And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fatlings by the stone of Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel; and he called all of his brothers the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah, the king’s servants; but Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, and the mighty men, and Solomon, his brother, he did not call.” (1:9-10) When those loyal to King David realized that a coup was in progress, they confronted him with this information: “And Nathan [the prophet] said: ‘My lord the king, have you yourself said, Adonijah shall be king after me and he shall sit on my throne? For he has gone down today and made a sacrificial feast of oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and he has invited all of the king’s sons and commanders of the army and Abiathar the priest, and there they are eating and drinking before him, and they have said, Long live King Adonijah! But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest and Benaiah son of Jehiada and Solomon your servant he did not invite.” (1:24-25)
The intent of this episode is to make David aware of what is going on around him. The prophet Nathan was a master diplomat. He approached David subtly to intimate to him of the goings on. He did so by making David aware that none of his allies and attendants were invited to this “royal” feast where Adonijah was making known his plans.
Rava, a Babylonian Talmudic sage, sees in this story a lesson in “derech eretz – proper behavior” as well: “Rava said to Rabba ben Mari: ‘From where do we derive the popular saying: Sixty pains reach the teeth of him who hears the noise made by another man eating while he himself does not eat’? He replied: As it is written, ‘But me, even me your servant and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon, he did not invite.” (Baba Kama 92b)
Rava learns a little realpolitik from this episode. Politics, as with all human endeavors, is about relationships. He wants to say that Adonijah made a big mistake excluding David’s entourage from his gathering. To his mind, it may even have been the reason for his downfall. The awareness that people’s feelings matter in all interrelationship is certainly an important takeaway which should not lost even in our day.