Haftarah Parshat Haye Sarah
(1 Kings 1:1-31)
October 30, 2010
22 Heshvan 5771
The sages had a marvelous literary sensitivity to the text of the Tanach. Their uncanny familiarity with its text and texture allowed them to pick up on all sorts of cues, allusions and internal midrash, where one story assumed knowledge and awareness of material found elsewhere in the text. Only in recent years have modern Bible scholars caught up with this awareness of the literary nature of the biblical text, much to the better understanding of the texts and stories of the Bible.
The rabbinic sages made us aware of a biblical motif called \”midah k\’neged midah – measure for measure\”. Today this motif is sometimes called \”poetic justice\”. The biblical authors sometimes want to make the reader cognizant that certain actions for good, but more frequently for bad, are not left unanswered by the storyline of the text. They do this by placing the hero in a situation similar to the one of the first action but with opposite results. The text of the story will often cue us in to the intended result by using parallel language.
The modern bible scholar and literary critic, Robert Alter, has noticed this technique at work in this week\’s haftarah. David\’s sinful adulterous affair reverberates throughout his life. He pays for it time and again in all sorts of ways during the years of his life. The author of his life story makes very clear the repercussions for his actions but apparently wanted us, his readers, to be exceedingly aware that such behavior does not go unanswered in this world.
In one of the last scenes we are privy to glimpse in the life of David, we are told that when David is old and infirm, he cannot retain his body heat. His servants search out for him a beautiful young woman, Avishag, to sleep with him and keep him warm. The story, however, makes it very clear to us that David does not have relations with her. This fact would seemingly have no import to us, the readers. We might have wished not even to know this detail of David\’s later life, but the author gives it to us anyway, but not without reason. Alter noticed that the language and plot line of this latter episode matches that of the episode where David sent out servants to bring him Bathsheva, Uriah\’s wife, the woman with whom he committed adultery. (See The David Story, p. 364)
The author of this story apparently wanted us to know one last time that there is comeuppance for the deeds that we perform in this world. Not even the grandest and most important among us is immune!
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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