(1 Kings 2:1-12)
January 6, 2007
The fear of departing the world without some sort of a legacy is a very real human concern. This crisis faced King David no less than any other person. As his days drew to an end, he, too, was concerned with the legacy he would leave. He thought that his legacy would be shaped by the behavior of his son, Solomon. He expressed this concern explicitly in his message to his son: \”I am going the way of all the earth; be strong and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and following His laws, His commandments and 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.\” (Verses 2-3 NJPS)
One Talmudic sage, however, took note of a different kind of legacy which he \”discovered\” in what he thought was an anomaly in the language of the haftarah\’s opening words. The New Jewish Publication Society translation ignores the peculiarity of the language, translating: \”When David\’s life was drawing to a close.\” (Verse 1). The old JPS translation, however awkward its language, better captures the actual Hebrew on which the sage bases his midrash: \”Now the days of David drew nigh (vayeekrvu yemei David) that he should die.\”
\”\’The days of David drew nigh\’ – Is it possible for \”days\” to die? Said Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani: \’Righteous people, when they die, their days come to an end but they continue to exist, as it is written: \’Let the faithful exalt in glory; let them shout for joy from their graves (literally: beds), with songs to God in their throats.\’ (Psalm 149:5-6) Thus, we learn that even in their death, they give praise to the Holy One Blessed Be He.\” (Yalkut Shimoni 1 Kings Remez 169 Heman ed. p. 399)
For Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani, the unusual phrasing of this verse taught a valuable lesson. The righteous do not die. They live on among the living in a number of ways. It is obvious that one lives on through one\’s progeny. David wanted to insure this in his final message to Solomon. They also live on through their acts of righteousness which sing God\’s praises even when they are in the grave. There is no greater way to live in perpetuity than to live a righteous life.
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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