(1 Kings 2:1-12)
13 Tevet 5768
December 22, 2007
The life of all creatures on this earth is finite. This simple fact of existence has perplexed, indeed tormented human beings from time in memorial. The consequences of death reverberate beyond the grave, touching issues of memory, legacy and inheritance. No one wants to be forgotten and no one wants to think that his or her life was without significance. Both the parashah and the haftarah contend with these difficult questions as they confront two of the premier figures in the Jewish tradition: Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes, and David, the founder of the monarchic line.
Both Jacob and David are monumentally concerned with the legacy that they will leave behind them. Jacob charges each of his sons with an individual message, each according to his unique character: \”And Jacob called his sons and said: \’Come together and I will tell you what is to befall you in the days to come. Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; Hearken to Israel your father.\’\” (Genesis 49:1-2) David delivers his message to Solomon, the son chosen to bear the challenge of leading the people as their king: \”When David\’s life was drawing to a close, he instructed his son Solomon as follows: \’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, 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 2:1-3)
The following midrash pays close attention to those things which concerned both Jacob and David on their deathbeds and which concerns found no place in the messages left by them: \”\’And Jacob called his sons\’ – This verse should be understood with this other verse in mind: \’Come, my son, listen to me; I will teach you what it is to fear the Lord\’ (Psalm 34:12) When the righteous leave this world, they do not charge their children concerning money, nor with regard to possessions, rather they charge them concerning fear of the Holy One Blessed be He. So it was with David as he commanded Solomon and so it was with Jacob as he commanded his sons in the fear of God.\” (adapted from Agadat Bereishit 83:4 Buber ed. p. 158)
It is for each of us to decide what message we truly want to leave our children with. God blessed Jacob and Solomon with many things, both spiritual and material. Ultimately, they knew what was really important.
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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