December 30, 2017 | 12 Tevet 5778
Haftarah | 1 Kings 2:1-1
David’s parting advice to his son, Solomon, is filled with two types of advice, some noble and some painfully realpolitik. His noble advice summons Solomon to be loyal to the Torah and God’s ways: “Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and following Hs laws, His commandments, His rules, and His admonitions as recorded in the teachings of Moses, in order that you may succeed in whatever you undertake and wherever you turn.” (2:3)
What exactly were David’s expectations of Solomon? On this count, the medieval commentators have different ideas. Rabbi David Kimche (13th century Provence) suggests that David intended for Solomon to abide by the commandments. Rabbi Yosef Kara (12th century France) asserts that David wanted Solomon to follow laws of kings found in the book of Deuteronomy which constitutionally limited the excesses of the king.
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (13th century France), who was both a commentator and a philosopher, offered a more nuanced picture: “He (Solomon) should observe in his heart that which God commanded him to observe. And [this will be accomplished] through studying the Torah, and this learning will be through contemplating the purpose of ‘walking in the ways of God blessed be He which are recounted in the Torah and through observing the laws, commandments, statutes and testimonies written in the Torah of Moses, for through studying it you will discern and know all that is fitting and appropriate to do in all that will happen to you… for if you never learn it you will not know to do it.'” (Adapted translation)
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon proposes a very interesting argument concerning the purpose of education. Education is intended to give a person the tools necessary to confront the situations in life that one will inevitably face. Consequently, a Jewish king without a “good Jewish education” will not know how to act like a good Jewish king. This same line of thinking goes for all of us. If we do not give ourselves the tools to face life, whether these be the technical skills necessary to manage in life or the tools to assess and access what it means to lead a worthwhile life, we will have left ourselves abandoned.
Modern Jews have become very good at guaranteeing themselves the former kind of education and less good at the latter. If we leave ourselves without the skills to manage and think as Jews, we have denied ourselves access to a meaningful life as Jews. Rabbi Levi realized how important this was for a king; it is equally important for each of us.