Parshat Haye Sarah
(I Kings 1:1-31)
22 Heshvan 5768
November 3, 2007
Surely no one can rightly make the claim that the Bible lacks its share of intrigue and intense human interrelationships. In King David\’s lifetime alone we move from the rivalry between King Saul and his attendant David through the shattering consequences of Absalom\’s challenge to his father\’s rule, King David\’s monarchy. Even in his final years, David knew no real peace for his son, Adonijah attempted to usurp the kingship. Tragically, David was unaware of this palace intrigue. However, those around David, including Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba, David\’s most prominent wife, were well aware of what was going on and its consequences both for them personally and for Bathsheba\’s son, Solomon, who had been promised the monarchy by David. In order to sure up their position before it was too late, Nathan and Bathsheba determined to make the aged David aware of the situation. Bathsheba entered into the king\’s presence first and explained the situation to the unknowing king in these words: \”And so the eyes of all of Israel are upon you, O lord king, to tell them who should succeed my lord the king on the throne. Otherwise, when the lord my king lies down with his fathers (dies), my son Solomon and I will be regarded as traitors (hataim – literally \’sinners\’).\” (Verses 20-21)
Bathsheba\’s last remark has provided some very interesting fodder for the commentators. Her intent seems clear. She is concerned that if the current situation continues, both she and her son will be put to death as traitors, along the lines of the meaning of this word when used for the followers of Korah in Numbers: \”who have sinned at the cost of their lives.\” (17:3) Josephus also understood the term \’hataim\’ this way: \”he (Adonijah) will kill her and her son\” (Antiquities 7:350 Shalit ed. p. 260) (Y. Kil, Melahim, Daat Mikra, p. 13)
While most of the medieval commentator\’s draw similar conclusions as to the meaning of these words with some interesting nuances which we will return to, there are a few who veer from this explanation. The Aramaic translation, Targum Yonathon translates: \”I and my son will be expelled.\” Expelled from what is open to interpretation. Does it mean \”expelled (or removed) from the kingship\” (See R. David Kimche) or \”expelled from the world\” (See Y. Kil)? Rashi possibly derived his interpretation from the Targum: \”lacking and removed from the kingship.\” Rabbi David Kimche offers an explanation of how preventing Solomon from being king would turn Bathsheba and Solomon into sinners: \”If Solomon does not become king, our sin (David and Bathsheba) will be revealed to everyone. People will say: \’Because of the sin that resides in me and Solomon, who is my son, he was kept from the kingship. Kimche also offers another interpretation: \”There are those who explain: \'[Bathsheba\’s remark] really refers to David [himself], [but this is not stated explicitly] so as not to diminish his honor, and it is meant to say that, you [David] will have sinned if you do not appoint Solomon king since you [David] swore to me by God.\”
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon [Ralbag] (France 13-14th century), who was a philosopher and sage, returns to what appears to be the plain meaning of the text with an interesting \’realpolitikal\’ twist: \”\’hataim\’ – means to be \’punished\’, since Adonijah knows [that if Solomon is alive] the monarchy will in the future be his, so he (Adonijah) must try to kill him… and his pretext will be to wait until after David dies when he will recall Bathsheba\’s sin and bring aspersions against Solomon. However, if Solomon becomes king, it will clear to all that David and Bathsheba\’s relationship was intended by God to continue, proving that she was not prohibited to him after Uriah\’s, her first husband\’s death. The public will believe this either because of their fear of the king or because of their popular approbation for the king.\” (Adapted translation)
Our immediate discussion aside, Ralbag\’s conclusion offers an interesting, if frightening insight into human behavior. He seems to be saying [for better or for worse] that it is often not rightness or wrongness which determines the outcome of events or the appropriate answer in serious debates among human beings. Instead, it seems, power controls how people think and those who lack power have reason to fear. This is not a pleasant thing to hear but it is an insight worth bearing in mind. Ultimately though, it is God\’s will that prevails.
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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