(1 Kings 2:1-12)
January 2, 2010
16 Tevet 5770
Before he dies, David wants to ensure that his son, Solomon, will be successful as king. He counsels him: \”[to] 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 to succeed (taskil) in whatever you undertake and wherever you turn.\” (2:2-3)
What will be the key to Solomon\’s success? The answer to this question depends on the meaning of a single word. According to Targum Yonathon, the Aramaic translation of the Prophets, the word \”taskil\” means to \”succeed\”. Still, this definition does not capture the nature of the relationship between following God\’s ways and Solomon\’s future success. Did David intend to inform his son that success was a reward for following God\’s laws or was his intention to advise Solomon that God\’s ways would provide proper guidance for his success?
Rabbi Levi ben Gershom, a philosopher and exegete (Provence 14th century), sided with the later approach: \”a person should preserve in his heart what God commands him to observe, through the study of Torah, since by studying Torah one discerns God purpose and will follow God\’s ways… and then he will know what to do in every situation and will be ready to govern according to Torah.\” (adapted translation) Rabbi Meir Malbim (Poland 19th century) also followed this approach. He distinguished between success (hatzlahah) which he declared to be a matter of chance and \”sechel – discernment (taskil). The ways of Torah will train a person to discern the right action and will ensure that when he does err, he will be able to rectify his ways.
Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (Spain 15th century), in his commentary, presents both approaches but also emphasizes the importance of the Torah\’s lessons: \”The commandments, by their very nature, are beneficial. Also, for the performance of the commandments, God grants reward to those whom He loves and who perform His commandments… The performance of the commandments enables a person to acquire wisdom, knowledge and discernment so that they will succeed in all they do since the Torah teaches these qualities. This is the meaning of the word \”taskil\”. The Torah includes lessons in all of the things a person needs to know. Furthermore, we benefit from doing the things that God commanded us to do.\” (adapted and abridged)
Indeed, this later approach seems to have been David\’s intention. He wanted to give Solomon guidance as a leader and king. The promise of success as a reward was not what he needed. He needed to know the parameters of how to lead the life of a king, of how to lead a good life. He needed to know how not to veer from the right path. He needed \”sechel – discernment\”, a quality essential to being a good Jew, a good person.