(1 Kings 1:1-31)
November 22, 2003
Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel, the 14th century exegete and statesman, opens his commentary to the book of Kings with an editorial question. He asks: “Why does the book of Kings begin with the final days of David’s reign and his last testament to Solomon, his son, before his death? These things should have formed the end of the book of Samuel which focuses on David’s life, leaving the book of Kings to open with the life and deeds of Solomon.” Similarly, he raises a question about the importance of the story of Avishag, who was chosen by David’s servants to serve as his companion in his final days, since this particular story has little relevance to affairs of state.
In his usual manner, Abrabanel answers his own questions. He concludes quite reasonably that the final events in David’s life were included in the book of Kings and not at the end of the book of Samuel because they were necessary in order to give a complete account of Solomon’s kingship from its inception. One cannot understand why Solomon was anointed king during his father’s lifetime without being aware that David’s other son, Adoniyah had attempted to usurp his father’s throne. Abrabanel also explains the presence of the story of Avishag in this story line. He asserts that the story of Avishag is symbolic, not only of David’s physical weakness but also his incapacity as a leader. Similarly, as the plot thickens, Adoniyah desires to take Avishag over as a wife in order to sure up the possibility that he might one day become king.
Agadat Bereishit (38:1), a 9th century Eretz Israel midrash, adds another dimension to this question. It asserts that the reason for all the of symptoms of David’s weakness was “that deed” – a euphemism for David’s misdeeds with Bathsheva. This theme is developed in a recent book by Rabbi Yaakov Medan entitled “David and Bathsheva” (Yeshivat Har Etzion, Heb.). He claims that the fact that David is bereft of his strength and lacks the prerogative to make even the most basic decisions in his own life, is, in some sense, a case of “poetic justice” for his poor decision and misappropriation of power in taking Bathsheva and having her husband, Uriah, killed. God punished David’s miscreant use of power by robbing him of even his most basic control of his own life. This is an example of the rabbinic concept of “Midah k’neged Midah – measure for measure” or, in other words, people are held accountable for their decisions and deeds.
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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