Parshat Haye Sarah
(I Kings 1:1-37)
November 10, 2001
The book of Kings paints a tragic picture of the final days of King David’s life. In his old age, David was so unaware of the realities of his kingdom and his own household that his oldest surviving son, Adonijah, practically usurped his kingship without his knowledge. Worse yet, David’s indulgent behavior toward his children most likely precipitated this rebellion. The haftarah accounts for this tragic state of affairs, with the following words: “His father had never scolded him: ‘Why did you do that?’ He was the one born after Absalom [making him the oldest living son], and like him, was very handsome.” (1 Kings 1:6 – NJPS translation)
The following midrash captures the tragic irony of this situation: “’Offense is better than folly’ (Ecclesiastes 7:3) – Solomon said: If only my father, David, had shown a little concern about the behavior of my brother, Adonijah, his concern would have saved him from the folly of the consequences of Adonijah’s actions [literally: the folly brought upon him by the divine aspect of justice]. ‘For with a sense of concern the heart may be gladdened’ (Ibid) – For if David had shown Adonijah his disapproval of his actions, Adonijah would have been guided along the right path. Instead, ‘David never scolded him’ (1 Kings 1:6)” (adapted translation from Kohelet Rabbah 7:3)
The rebellion of Adonijah was only a single episode of the tragedy and intrigue that filled David’s house. What characterizes the many examples is David’s inability to provide moral direction to the members of his household. He noticed outward appearance but ignored his children’s inner struggles and turmoil. This lack of concern bore consequences upon the life of his family and upon the life of the nation.
The lessons that we draw from the stories of our ancestors in the Bible are to be found in both their successes and their foibles. King David’s behavior did not meet the challenges which faced him in his home. His incapacity to offer moral guidance to his children brought disaster. We must learn from his failings. The way we interact with our children, the education that we offer them and the example that we set for them will ultimately shape not only our relationships with them but also whether they carry on the values that we hold dear. The fate of our families and the world depends on it.