(I Kings 2:1-12)
December 29, 2001
To expect that David’s last will to his son Solomon would consist exclusively of virtuous words without an element of real politik is not realistic. Nevertheless, David’s advise in the first half of his legacy to Solomon seems at odds with the message found in the later section. The ethical element of David’s final message is encapsulated in the verse: “Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and following His laws, His commandments and 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.” (1 Kings 2:3) This is followed by David’s admonition to deal with his remaining foes. David introduces this section of his message with a seemingly innocuous word – “v’gam” which literally means: “and also”. These words join the later section of David’s message to the previous section.
The word “v’gam” serves as a pretext for a number of the medieval commentators to explain the connection between the first part of David’s message and the second part. Rabbi David Kimche (Radak), the 12th century Provencal commentator, maintains that David’s message regarding his enemies should be viewed as part of the Divine commandments that Solomon was to follow. He asserts that each of David’s enemies, who had previously gone unpunished for crimes they had committed, were still subject to punishment. Consequently, David advised his son, Solomon, to carry out his judicial role as king.
Abrabanel, the 15th century Spanish commentator and statesman, reflects upon his personal knowledge and experience in his explanation of this passage. He rejects Radak’s explanation that David’s advise to Solomon was concerned with past crimes. Rather, Abrabanel explains that David’s concern was for the future. Solomon was only an impressionable youth. David was concerned that his enemies might offer the new king false council or worse yet, might even overthrow the new king. If Solomon was not made aware of this possibility, he would have been ill-prepared for his new role as king.
People often look to the Bible with the expectation that it will reflect an idyllic utopian reality. The story of King David’s advice to his son on his deathbed presents a different picture. Its expectations are not illusory but very realistic and pragmatic. The establishment of righteousness and justice in the world cannot be otherwise. David, who had served as the king for so many years, was well aware of this undeniable truth. He would have been negligent as a monarch and as a father if he had not made Solomon aware of this reality as well.
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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