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Haye Sarah 5773

Haftarah Parshat Haye Sarah
(1 Kings 1:1-31)
November 10, 2012
25 Heshvan 5773

Parshat Hayei Sarah (1 Kings 1:1-31)

The book of Samuel contains practically all of the events of King David’s life so why were the last few episodes of David’s life left for the book of Kings? This question gave pause to a number of the classical biblical commentators.

For Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (15th century Portugal and Spain), who served as a government minister in both Portugal and Spain before being expelled from Spain with his Jewish brethren in 1492,the inclusion of the stories of David’s old age and the rebellion of Adonijah in the book of Kings were intended as an introduction to the anointment of David’s son, Solomon as king while David is still alive since it is this event which really inaugurated the book of Kings.

Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim (19th century Lithuania) is normally a tremendous fan of Abrabanel’s commentary, often adopting his words in full. Here, however, he takes issue with Abrabanel’s interpretation. He asserts, in particular, that the inclusion of the story of Avishag the Shunamite, who served as a companion for the weary King David, cannot be explained as a justification for Solomon’s anointment as king. Rather, the inclusion of the David’s later years in the book of Kings, according to Malbim, is intended to explain the events leading up to the rebellion of Adonijah against David.

This, he points out, explains the inclusion of David’s young companion, Avishag, in the story. What prompted Adonijah to rebel against his father and attempt to usurp the kingship? After all, he should have learned from Absalom’s rebellion against his father that it was unwise to attempt to wrest the monarchy from his father while he was still alive. What made him think it was possible to become king now? Malbim asserts that the introduction of Avishag into the story indicates David’s weakness and vulnerability. David’s advisors realized that he had aged and no longer had contact with his wives and concubines, so they brought in Avishag, to care for him and to guard his from contact with those who might influence him and coerce his actions. She was especially intended to keep him from contact with his wives.

It was this situation which prompted Adonijah to usurp his father’s position. Intrigue in politics, as if we did not know, was not born yesterday. Nor is it restricted to politics. This little vignette is proof that it can rear its ugly head in politics and just as easily in family life. It is also a warning that it almost always ends badly and unlike the story in the haftarah, there is not always a prophet like Nathan to put the pieces back together.

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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