Haftarah Parshat Vayehi
December 29, 2012
13 Tevet 5773
Moderns are disconcerted by textual discrepancies in the Bible. For our rabbinic sages, discrepancies were often turned into opportunities to teach lessons. At the end of this week’s haftarah, the length of David’s term as king is summarized in these words: “And the length of David’s reign was forty years: he reigned seven years in Hebron, and he reigned thirty three years in Jerusalem.” (1 Kings 2:11) This does not comport with what is written in Samuel: “In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty three years.” (2 Samuel 5:5) We are left with six months unaccounted for in the version found in the book of Kings.
A midrash in the Jerusalem Talmud attempts to account for the disparity between these two sources: “It is written: “And the length of David’s reign was forty years” (1 Kings 2:11) and it is written: “In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all of Israel and Judah thirty three years.” (2 Samuel 5:5) [How can it be that] in one verse there is time lacking and in the other verse there is additional time? Rabbi Yitzhak ben Katzatzta in the name of Rabbi Yonah: There were really only thirty two and a half years in Jerusalem but for the sake of the honor of Jerusalem they were accounted as complete. Rabbi Yehuda son of Rabbi said: The numbers for the larger unit swallow up the numbers for the smaller unit. (The number was rounded down.) Said Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman: “When your days are done” (2 Samuel 7:12) – The Holy One Blessed Be He said to David: David, I will grant you full days, and not days that are lacking. Shlomo your son will build the Temple in order to offer sacrifices, but more beloved to Me is your justice (mishpat) and tzedaka than sacrifices. (adapted from Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana Ch. 1 Halacha 1 56:b)
The first two explanations offered by this midrash provide practical common sense attempts to explain what happened to those missing six months. Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahman’s answer, though, is the most interesting. What he seems to be saying is that while God promised David ‘complete days’, here interpreted to mean ‘complete years’, He nevertheless broke this promise to David in order to suit a higher purpose. David’s interest in the pursuit of justice and tzedaka or righteous acts (charity) captured God’s attention. He wanted to preserve these values in the world as long as He could. Isn’t it amazing what can be taught as a result of a textual difficulty?