Haftarah Parshat Hayei Sarah
(1 Kings 1:1-31)
October 26, 2013
22 Heshvan 5774
The book of Kings opens with a description of a once powerful king whose life is ebbing away: “King David was now old, advanced in years…” (1:1) Since he was no longer a powerful warrior or strong leader, those who surrounded him were interested in preserving what little strength and power remained in his weary body. All, both friends and foes, knew that his days were numbered and it seemed that everyone was jockeying for position to determine who would succeed him.
Still, death is a mysterious thing. No one has a handle on when it will come and no one can stem its coming. The following midrash, in its deliberations on David’s weakened state make this message clear: “’King David was now old’ This verse should be understood with the following verse in mind: ‘No man has authority over the lifebreath – to hold back the lifebreath; there is no authority over the day of death.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8) There is no one in the world who, when death comes, can say: ‘I will close my mouth and not let the breath of life depart from me, nor from his ears, nor from his nose. He cannot control when death will come because he does not know from where his breath of life will depart. Rather when his death comes, his life force will simply up and depart.” (Agadat Bereishit 35:1 Buber ed.)
The message of this midrash seems bleak. Under normal circumstances, human beings, no matter what their station in life, have no control over their day of death. Not even King David, in all of his glory, could stall his end. What is gained by such a disturbing message? Perhaps the stern reality reflected in this midrash is a call for each of us to ration our time wisely – to make use of the moments that we do control to the best of our ability – to do important things with the fleeting moments that we do have.
We all must battle the human tendency to think that we have all of the time in the world to make our mark. Time passes rapidly. The realization that our lives are finite is therefore an important lesson to learn. It should not be lost on the King Davids among us, nor among those of us who manage smaller fiefdoms.
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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