Parshat Haye Sarah
(I Kings 1:1-31)
November 26, 2005
David\’s son Adonijah\’s acts of palace intrigue should not have been unanticipated. His were but the latest in a series of infractions which threatened to topple David\’s monarchy from inside. David\’s household had already been wracked by his son Amnon\’s rape of his sister, Tamar, and her brother (David\’s oldest son) Absalom\’s subsequent revenge of his sister\’s honor and rebellion against his father. It is likely that these events may have contributed to Adonijah\’s attempt to usurp his father\’s throne as David\’s life ebbed away. The account of Adonijah\’s attempted takeover is introduced by the following statement: \”His father had never scolded him: \’Why did you do that?\’ He was the one born after Absalom (v\’oto yaldah – literally: and him she bore) and, like him, was very handsome.\” (Verse 6)
The sages searched this verse for clues in an attempt to discern what about David\’s household prompted this tragic rebellion. In a previous examination of this question, we focused on the first part of this verse which dealt with David\’s oversights as a parent. (See Haye Sarah 5762.) Another interpretation takes note of the unusual way the second part of this verse describes Adonijah\’s birth – \’v\’oto yaldah\’ which literally means: \’and him she bore after Absalom\’. This textual understanding creates an obvious problem since Absalom and Adonijah were, in fact, half-brothers by different mothers. How then could this verse leave the impression that Absalom\’s mother bore Adonijah? The following midrash attempts to account for this discrepancy while trying to answer larger questions raised by this story: \”\’And she bore him after Absalom\’ – Is it possible that Absalom\’s mother gave birth to Adonijah? Wasn\’t Absalom the son of Maachah and Adonijah the son of Hagit? Rather Absalom got himself chariots and horsemen to rebel against his father, so did Adonijah; just as this one was a quarrelsome person, so was that one; just as this one has fifty men running before him, so did that one. (Verse 5)\” (Midrash Tehillim 2:9 Buber ed. p. 28)
The significance of this midrash is stated poignantly in a version of this same midrash found in the Talmud: \”Rabbi Yochanon said in th name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: \’Corruption should be ascribed to the corrupt.\’ Rabbi Yose ben Hanina said: \’Learn this from the following passage: \’And she bore him after Abshalom and like him, was very handsome\’. Was not Adonijah the son of Hagit and Absalom the son of Maacah? But because Adonijah acted in the same manner as Absalom who rebelled against the king, Scripture associated him with Absalom. (Baba Bathra 109b)
Adonijah\’s \’crime\’ was in following in the footsteps of his older brother. His older brother acted as a role model to him and like him, he ultimately fell in a tragic fashion. The lesson is not only for the Adonijahs of the world. The lesson should also not be lost on the Absaloms. When someone does something wrong, the impact of the act does not stop with the perpetrator. It is quite likely that the act will have a negative effect on those who might imitate it. This makes it possible for a single sinful act to live on sadly enough in perpetuity.
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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