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Va-Yehi 5772

Haftarah Parshat Vayehi
(1 Kings 2:1-12)
January 7, 2012
12 Tevet 5772

Parshat Vayehi (1 Kings 2:1-12)

David’s final charge to his son, Solomon, is likely to get mixed reviews. It begins positively with a call for Solomon to follow in his father’s spiritual footsteps: “I am going the way of all the earth; be strong and 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…” (2:1) A sentence or two later, however, David message becomes disquieting: “Further, you know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me, what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s forces, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether; he killed them, shedding blood of war in peacetime, staining the girdle of his loins and the sandals on his feet with the blood of war. So act in accordance with your wisdom and see that his white hair does not go down to Sheol in peace.” (2:4-5) David’s list of vengeances does not end with Joab!

David has plenty of reasons for wanted justice done to Joab. He may have suspected that Joab killed his son, Absalom, against his specific orders to keep him alive. He may have been angered at Joab’s blunt words after the incident. Joab’s murder of two of David’s close associates also weighed heavily on his conscience. Still, these words seem out of character.

This problematic episode comes up in a medieval discussion regarding a teaching from Avot: “There are four types of character: Easy to provoke and easy to appease – his loss is cancelled by his gain; hard to provoke and hard to appease – his gain is cancelled by his loss; hard to provoke and easy to appease – he is a saintly man (hasid); easy to provoke and hard to appease – he is a wicked man.” (5:11) Rabbi Shimon ben Zemah Duran (14th century Spain, North Africa), in his commentary Magen Avot, asks how someone could be considered a “Hasid – saintly” if he gets angry even infrequently? This opens a debate over contradictory rabbinic sources. He cites one source which equates anger with idolatry while another source notes that any sage who does not take revenge should not be called a sage. David’s anger noted above is cited in this discussion. Duran, who had lived through a number of persecutions and massacres of Jews in Spain, offers an explanation of David’s behavior. He asserts that “a righteous person is allowed to become slightly angry provided he is easily appeased.”

Duran apparently wants to leave open the possibility of using anger as a tool when necessary to right wrongs. David, seemingly, did not have an opportunity to carry out proper justice during his lifetime probably out of political considerations. Measured anger was necessary. Magnanimity for such offenses would have been ultimately destructive to society.

About This Commentary

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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