Haftarah Parshat Vayehi (1 Kings 2:1-12)
January 3, 2015 / 12 Tevet 5775
It is often an interesting exercise to compare different biblical accounts of the same events to see what we can learn from them. In this week’s haftarah, we read of King David’s deathbed message to his son Solomon who will soon be king. The first part of his message is totally noble. He charges his son to follow the path of God and the Torah of Moses to ensure the future of the monarchy and the kingdom. After this message though, David enters into a detailed list of political vendettas which he was unable to fulfill as king and which he expects Solomon as his heir to carry out. This message may have had its real politic necessity but still leaves the reader with a sour taste after the noble words which preceded it.
This message is paralleled by another account of David’s message to his son Solomon in his public investment as his successor, found in 1 Chronicles 28. It presents a different sort of message and might prove worthy to contrast its content with that which we have described above. There, David outlines God’s decision to elect him and his line to lead the nation. He also makes clear that he had intended to build a house for God, but was allayed from doing so by God on account of his having spilled blood. He appointed Solomon as his God designated successor, charging him with these words: “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your fathers, and serve Him with single mind and fervent heart, for the Lord searches all minds and discerns the design of every thought; if you seek Him He will be available to you, but if you forsake Him He will abandon you forever. See then, the Lord chose you to build a house as a sanctuary; be strong and do it.” (28:9-10)
There is no word in this later account of David’s disquieting words to his son. Why is that? The account in Chronicles is told at a time when David’s progeny had already taken on the mythic role as the ideal kings of the nation. The real politic of the book of Kings has been cleansed from its account because it seemed inappropriate for the “messianic” line. It is worthwhile for us to pay attention to this “retelling” of the story. It provides us with a valuable lesson because it tells us that people want their heroic figures to appear ideal so that they might provide a model for future generations. It also allows Solomon to maintain “clean hands” so that he might be worthy to build God’s house.
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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