Haftarah Parshat Vayehi (1 Kings 2:1-12)
January 14, 2017 / 16 Tevet 5777
David’s deathbed advice to his son, Solomon, the future king of Israel is seemingly contradictory. Much of what he expects from his son has to do with evening scores that David was incapable of accomplishing during his reign. Woven into this realpolitikal message, is a noble message, one which we would “expect” David, as the king of the Jewish people, to pass on to his son: “I am going on the way of all the earth. And you must be strong and be a man. And keep what the Lord your God enjoins, to walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His dictates and His admonitions, as it is written in the Teachings of Moses, so that you may prosper in everything that you do and in everything to which you turn. So that the Lord may fulfill His word that He spoke unto me, saying, ‘If your sons keep their way to walk before Me in truth with their whole heart and with their whole being, no man of yours will be cut off from the throne of Israel.’” (2-5)
It is the consensus of modern scholars that this passage is a Deuteronomic interpolation into the original text of David’s monologue. This conclusion was reached on account of the linguistic similarity between these sentences and the language of Deuteronomy, as well as the disparity between them and the language of the book of Kings. If this hypothesis is correct, what might have been the rationale for its inclusion in David’s words?
Robert Alter, a modern scholar of the literary character of the Bible, asserts that the redactor of the book of Kings was disturbed by the violent nature of David’s pronouncements to his son. He seeks to mitigate the harshness of David’s words by mollifying them with the noble words of the Deuteronomic message. The very human David, whose vengefulness is understandable, is transformed into a more idyllic figure who seeks to offer his son moral guidance along with practical politics. (Alter, The David Story, p. 147)
The fact that the editor is disturbed by the content of David’s original message is significant. What we see is a transformation in what is expected of a leader. A leader must be more than someone who can capably manipulate his or her environment. The leader must also be someone who provides a worthy model to emulate – someone who stands for the highest values of the community. In this case, it is valuable to see the seams in this David story because it allows us to see the very evolution of what the leader should be.
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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