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Haftarah Parshat Hayei Sarah

Haftarah Parshat Hayei Sarah (1 Kings 1:1-31)
November 15, 2014 / 22 Heshvan 5775

King David’s household was not a pacific household. It suffered from two full-blown in-house revolts where two of his sons tried to usurp rule from their father. The first was at the hands of Absalom, who, not without justification, violently attempted to wrest the kingship from his father. The second was at the hands of Adonijah, who sought to overthrow his father in the waning years of his monarchy. Adonijah, the subject of this week’s haftarah is described in these words: “Now Adonijah the son of Haggith went about boasting: ‘I will be king!’ He provided himself with chariots and horses, and an escort of fifty outrunners. His father had never scolded him: ‘Why did you do that?’ And she bore after Absalom and like him was very handsome.” (5-7) [NJPS: He was the one born after Absalom. This translation does not adhere to the plain sense of the Hebrew.]

The description of Adonijah’s birth is awkwardly phrased. It could be understood to imply that he was born from Adonijah’s mother which we learned in the previous verse was not the case. This textual problem prompted the following rabbinic comment: “Is it the case that Absalom’s mother gave birth to Adonijah? Wasn’t Absalom the son of Maachah and Adonijah the son of Haggith? Rather, just as Absalom went around with chariots and horsemen to rebel against his father, so did Adonijah. Just as Absalom was quarrelsome (baal mahloket) so, too, was Adonijah. Just as Absalom had fifty men running before him, so did Adonijah.” (Midrash Tehillim 2:9 Buber ed. p. 28)

In this midrash, Adonijah is described as a “baal mahloket”. We are familiar with the term “mahloket” – dispute. In the Jewish tradition, we do not generally consider a dispute as something harmful or threatening. It is part and parcel of our religious discourse. So what about this description of Adonijah as a “baal mahloket” makes him a threatening character, so much so that he is described in the Talmud this way: “a king who was the son of a king need not be anointed. [If this so then] it must be asked: Why was Solomon anointed?It was due, [it may be replied], to the dispute of Adonijah.” (Horayot 11a)

 

The seeds to understanding the difference between a “good” mahloket and a “bad” one are found in this Talmudic passage. What makes for a “bad” mahloket? A “bad” mahloket is one that is political in nature, where one party seeks to usurp power from the other – where its purpose is not the search for truth or the righting of a wrong but rather the unadorned, unabashed appetite for power. Both Absalom and Adonijah were concerned not with the monarchy as a means for service but rather with the signs of power. Ego and not service were readily on display and ultimately were the cause of their downfall

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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