Haftarah Parshat Vayechi
(I Kings 2:1-12)
December 21, 2002
David was well aware that Solomon, his son, was very young when he ascended to the throne. According to Rabbi Yitzchak Abrabanel, the 15th century Spanish interpreter and statesman, David’s concern for his son reflected two major issues: first, that his son not mourn overly much for him. But more significantly, David was worried that with his death, Solomon would be left with inadequate guidance to assure that he would govern properly. The beginning of his admonition to his son reflects this concern: “I am going the way of all the earth; be strong and show yourself to be a man. Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and following His 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.” (1 Kings 2:2-3)
When David admonishes his son to “show yourself to be a man”, what does he mean? Targum Yonathan, the 7th century Aramaic translation of the prophetic books, interprets this to mean that Solomon should be a “man who fears sin”. Rabbi David Kimche, the 13th century Provencal exegete, elaborates on this quality in these words: “You should be careful, showing self-control, and overcoming your impulses by following the ways set out for you in the Torah of Moses.” (adapted translation)
This interpretation asserts that King David showed profound personal awareness of the susceptibility of powerful people to fall prey to the abuse of their own power for the purpose of personal gratification. David warns his son to be conscious of this danger and to be guided by God’s commandments as a means to deter this potential abuse. Perhaps this is why David emphasizes so explicitly his expectations with regard to Solomon’s loyalty to the Torah. Abrabanel captures this point when he notes that David intended for his son to be aware that even as king he was still accountable to God: “Observe God’s law like a faithful servant, loyal to his Master, walking in His ways, imitating God’s qualities.” The use of power framed by humility is a quality that is important not only to kings who wish to rule morally but also to all who desire a world committed to human dignity before God.
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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