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Haftarah Parshat Hayei Sarah

Haftarah Parshat Hayei Sarah (1 Kings 1:1-31)
November 7, 2015 / 25 Heshvah 5776

The beginning of the book of Kings speaks of David’s vulnerability. He is no longer the strong virile king that he once was. Still, one would not expect his son, Adonijah, to usurp the throne from his father and to wrest it from Solomon, the heir apparent. What prompted such behavior? The story seemingly makes this clear: “His father never scolded him: ‘Why did you do that?’ He was the one born after Absalom and like him, was very handsome.” (verse 6)

Rashi thrashes out the behavioral implications of this verse: “He never reproved him and the one who refrains from reproving his son brings upon him death… His good looks made him haughty… His mother raised him in the manner that Absalom’s mother raised him.” Rashi clearly attributes Adonijah’s traitorous behavior to his upbringing. Adonijah was a pampered child. He was a favorite because of his attractiveness. This raised in him expectations which he naturally assumed should be met. Rabbi David Kimche adds: “Even though Adonijah knew that David said that he would crown Solomon, still, since David had not made this public, Adonijah thought in his heart that since his father loved him and had never admonished him, he could become king while his father was still alive. If his father did not complain, he would know he was king.”

Rabbi Joseph Kara, a younger French contemporary of Rashi, approaches this question differently. He asks why if Adonijah was a favored son, who was handsome, acted majestically and had the backing of important people, he did not become king. He offers a very interesting answer: “[He did not become king] because God did not choose him, for the nation is not permitted to appoint its own king, unless God chooses him… and since Adonijah knew that it had already been made known to David by Nathan the prophet… And the king can only be anointed by the High Priest and Zadok had previously appointed by the Sanhedrin as High Priest and Benayahu was head of the Sanhedrin. Both of these figures already know of Nathan’s prophecy.”

As a test of leadership, what is the lesson of Rabbi Kara’s interpretation? Adonijah may have had all of the requisite qualities to be king, but he did not have the backing of the normative authorities. He chose instead to buck the normative means for changing power. The biblical story could not abide this threat. Rabbi Kara, despite the anachronistic aspects of his interpretation, expresses this concern.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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