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Haye Sarah 5770

Parshat Haye Sarah
(1 Kings 1:1-31)
November 14, 2009
27 Heshvan 5770

The confrontation between David and his son, Adonijah, is a study in contrasts. David\’s life forces were on the wane. He is described as a man who has lost his bodily warmth and whose life is controlled by his servants and advisors. It is not the David of old, the virile king and warrior but rather an old man who still remained the king. It was from this David that Adonijah thought himself so different. It is from this David that Adonijah wanted to usurp the monarchy: \”Now Adonijah son of Haggith thought highly of himself (mitnasei), boasting, \’I will be king.\’ He provided himself with chariots and horses, and an escort of fifty outrunners. He father had never scolded him: \’Why did you do that? He was the one born after Absalom and, like him, was very handsome.\” (1:5-6)

What prompted Adonijah\’s sense of self importance? Rabbi David Kimche attributes it to his good looks which gave him a sense of superiority over his brothers and somehow shielded him from his father\’s criticism as well. This attitude led him to assume that he was the only suitable candidate for the crown. His father\’s deteriorating strength and his overwrought sense of self importance strengthened the immediacy of this imperative for him.

In their quest for deeper meaning in biblical stories, the rabbis were always on the lookout for seemingly superfluous expressions which might lend a clue to the significance of the events of the story. The word \”mitnasei\”, which can also mean \”lift up\”, lent itself to this role and a story developed around it.

Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: There is a tradition regarding the house of David that the king\’s crown will only fit on the head of someone who is suitable to be king. [It is written], \”Then Adonijah the son of Haggith thought highly of himself (mitnasei), boasting, I will be king.\” Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: He \’lifted up\’ the crown trying to get it to fit his head, but it did not fit him. (adapted from Avodah Zarah 44a) Rashi records a tradition that the crown was crafted to fit the unique shape of King David\’s head. Only those with a similar shape were deemed eligible to be king.

Rabbi Zadok Hacohen of Lublin (19th-20th century Poland) asserted that it was Adonijah\’s very self importance which made him ineligible for the kingship. (Pri HaTzadik Parshat Hayei Sarah). In an anecdotal way, this explains the significance of the story from the Talmud. What is it that kept David\’s crown from fitting on Adonijah\’s head? Perhaps it was the fact that he had a \”swelled head\”? The rejection of Adonijah, then, is meant as a lesson in the importance of humility for those who aspire to leadership.

About This Commentary

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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