Melochim I – 2:1
This week’s haftorah records the last moments of Dovid Hamelech’s life and the parting charge which he delivered to his son, the newly anointed King Solomon. Dovid told his son to be strong and in full control of his emotions and to guard all the precepts of the Torah. Dovid assured Shlomo that if he and his successors walked wholeheartedly in the path of Hashem they would be guaranteed the eternal position of royalty amongst the Jewish nation.
Dovid then digressed and reminded Shlomo about two powerful men who could never be forgiven for their unacceptable behavior. Each of them humiliated and disgraced Dovid Hamelech through their public conduct. Shimi Ben Geira cursed the king and hurled stones at him when Dovid fled from his own son Avshalom’s conspiracy. Yoav ben Tzruya executed two opposing generals after Dovid Hamelech had warmly accepted their gestures of peace. Dovid, now on his death bed, instructed his son Shlomo to be politically astute and secure the execution of these two powerful leaders. Dovid said, “And do as your wisdom dictates and do not permit him to die an old man.” After completing this unpleasant instruction, Dovid passed away with those last words of revenge on his lips.
This final episode of Dovid Hamelech’s life is quite puzzling to us. Although we recognize that these powerful individuals deserved their sentence the timing of this instruction remains quite disturbing.
Couldn’t the aging Dovid Hamelech choose a more appropriate moment for this discussion? Wasn’t a gentle climate in order for Dovid’s parting words with his precious son? It almost seems as if Dovid intentionally reserved this instruction to serve as the impressionable image by which to be perpetually remembered in the mind of his son Shlomo!?!
In search for an understanding we focus on a light request which Dovid Hamelech inserted in the iddle of these harsh execution commands. Dovid says, “And you shall act kindly towards the Barzilai children and they should eat at your table for they were close to me when I fled from your brother Avshalom.” The Barzilai family had been very gracious to Dovid Hamelech when he fled from his son. They provided him food and shelter and deserved to be repaid for their kindness. As long as he lived, Dovid Hamelech maintained the Barzilai family at his table and now it was Shlomo amelech’s responsibility to perpetuate this indness. Before parting, Dovid conveyed to Shlomo that his life should serve as an extension of his father’s and that any kindness which Dovid began should be continued by his son, Shlomo. It seems that this kind request was most peculiarly inserted in the midst of the harsh execution commands to place them in a proper perspective.
Apparently, Dovid Hamelech sought to charge his son with the responsibility of perpetuating his name and honor. He sought to instill in Shlomo the sense of perfect continuity, that Shlomo follow closely in the path of his revered father. It is in this spirit that Dovid commanded his son to execute Shimi and Yoav. They had caused Dovid much humiliation and indignation and certainly deserved their execution. However Dovid had not deemed it appropriate to respond to their actions during his lifetime and left this matter an unfinished affair. Now that Dovid was leaving this world it became Shlomo’s responsibility to act on his father’s behalf. Dovid saved this difficult command for his parting words to demonstrate to Shlomo his true role as king. He hoped that Shlomo would fashion his life according to the perfect ways of his father. He therefore chose to part from his son with this perfect image of continuity. His parting message to Shlomo was to perpetuate his father’s ways and establish imself as an extended image of his father. Dovid instructed his son to begin his reign by completing what his father couldn’t and to continue in this role of perpetuating his father’s honor and accomplishments.
Indeed, Shlomo accepted his father’s challenge and fulfilled his mother’s blessing mentioned earlier that, “My master the king should live forever.” (M’lochim 1 1:31) The Malbim (ad loc) explains that this refers to the perpetuation of Dovid’s reign through his son Shlomo. This is clearly demonstrated through the concluding words of our haftorah which give an account of the forty year span of Dovid Hamelech’s reign. It then closes immediately with the following verse, “And Shlomo sat on the throne of his father Dovid and his kingdom was firmly established.” The Ralbag and Malbim see this as a reference to the remarkable phenomena that Shlomo, like his father, ruled for exactly forty years. He followed so closely in his father’s footsteps that he actually merited a perfect resemblance to his father with a similar reign of exactly forty years. Dovid’s dream was realized and Shlomo did become the extended image of his perfect father.
This lesson runs parallel with the parting blessing which our patriarch Yaakov conveyed upon his son Yosef. Moments before Yaakov Avinu left this world he gathered together his children and blessed them, identifying each one’s individual qualities and future role amongst the Jewish people. But he showered all of his blessings on one particular son, Yosef. The extent of these blessings is expressed by the Torah in the following words, “Your father’s blessings which superseded all of his ancestors’ blessings… shall rest upon Yosef’s head, the premier amongst the brothers.” (B’reishis 49:26) Rashi (ad loc) develops Yosef’s blessing in relation to his indescribable levels of self control and morality. Rashi quotes the Talmud in Mesichta Sota (36b) which reveals the secret source of Yosef’s inner strength. Rav Yishmael taught that at the crucial moment of temptation the image of Yaakov Avinu appeared before Yosef and reminded him of his illustrious future. Yosef personified his father Yaakov and always viewed his life as an extension of his father. This perspective served as a constant reminder to Yosef to follow carefully in his father’s footsteps.
Following this formula, Yosef, like his father Yaakov reached indescribable levels of sanctity and self control. Rabbeinu Avrohom Ben HaRambam explains that it was this outstanding merit of piety and sanctity which earned Yosef these special blessings from his father. Upon reflection it can be said that Yosef, the son who viewed his life as a complete extension of his father’s, truly deserved all of his father’s blessings, unlimited potential for fortune and success forever.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chesed of Skokie.