M’lochim I 2:1
This week’s haftorah records the last moments of Dovid Hamelech’s life and his parting charge to his son, the newly anointed Shlomo Hamelech. Dovid told his son, “Be strong and in full control of your emotions and guard all the Torah’s precepts.” (2:2,3) He assured Shlomo that if he and his descendants walked perfectly in the path of Hashem they would be guaranteed their prestigious position royalty forever. Dovid digressed then and reminded Shlomo about two powerful men, Shimi and Yoav, whose behavior could never be forgiven. Each was guilty of disgracing and publicly shaming the king. Shimi Ben Geira cursed Dovid and hurled stones at him while he fled from his conspiring son, Avshalom. Yoav ben Tzruya executed two opposing generals despite Dovid Hamelech’s warm acceptance of their sincere peaceful gestures. Dovid, now on his death bed, instructed his son Shlomo to be sharp and alert and secure the execution of these two powerful figures. He said, “And do as your wisdom dictates and do not permit him to die an old man.” (2:6) After completing his instructions Dovid left this world with these parting words of revenge.
This final episode of Dovid Hamelech’s life is perturbing. Although we undoubtedly recognize the need for such instructions their timing is very disturbing. Couldn’t the aged king choose a more appropriate moment for these instructions? Wouldn’t a more gentle climate be appropriate for Dovid when parting with his precious son? It seems that Dovid intentionally reserved these words to leave an impressionable image on his son.
In search for an understanding of this we direct our attention to Dovid’s mild request inserted in the midst of these harsh commands. He said, “Act kindly towards the Barzilai children and host at your table because their father was close to me when I fled from your brother Avshalom.” (2:7) Barzilai was very gracious to Dovid Hamelech and provided him food and shelter in his grave time of distress. Dovid was forever indebted to Barzilai for this and hosted the entire family at his royal table. Now that Dovid was leaving the world it became Shlomo Hamelech’s responsibility to perpetuate this kindness. Dovid’s parting request conveyed to Shlomo a keen sense of continuity- to view himself as Dovid’s extension. He therefore instructed Shlomo to perpetuate this kindness and continue the royal practice of hosting the Barzilai family at his table.
Conceivably, this mild request was interspersed here to place these other commands in proper perspective. Apparently, Dovid Hamelech charged his son with the responsibility of perpetuating his father’s name and honor. He sought to instill in Shlomo a sense of perfect continuity, to follow closely his revered father’s path. For this same reason Dovid chose his parting moments to instruct his son about Shimi and Yoav. They brought Dovid much humiliation and indignation and certainly deserved execution. Yet, Dovid did not deem 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 role to act on his father’s behalf. Dovid reserved this difficult command for his last moments to convey to him his true role. He envisioned Shlomo following his fathers’ perfect path and therefore left him with a powerful image of continuity. Dovid instructed Shlomo to begin his reign by completing what his father could not accomplish and to continue this path throughout his lifetime. Dovid informed Shlomo that if he perpetuates his father’s honor and accomplishments he will never stray from the path and Dovid’s household will be guaranteed royalty over Israel.
Indeed, Shlomo accepted his father’s charge and fulfilled it to the best of his ability. In fact, Scriptures mention earlier Bas Sheva, Shlomo’s mother’s special bracha to her husband Dovid Hamelech. She said, “My master the king should live forever.” (1:31) Malbim (ad loc) explains that the words, “live forever” refer to perpetuating Dovid Hamelech’s reign through his son, Shlomo. These words had a major impact on her son as we clearly see from our haftorah’s concluding words. Scriptures records Dovid Hamelech’s forty year reign and concludes, “And Shlomo sat on his father Dovid’s throne his kingdom was firmly established.” (2:12) Ralbag and Malbim explain that this refers to the glaring phenomena that Shlomo ruled for exactly forty years. He followed so closely in his father’s footsteps that he merited his exact years of reign. Dovid’s dream was realized and Shlomo did become the extended image of his perfect father.
This lesson runs parallel lines with Yaakov Avinu’s parting bracha to his beloved son Yosef. Moments before leaving this world Yaakov Avinu gathered his children and blessed them revealing to each his unique quality and role amongst the Jewish people. Yet, he showered an abundant bracha upon one particular son Yosef. The Torah expresses this in the following words. “Your father’s blessings that superseded those of his predecessors. . . shall rest upon Yosef’s head, the premier amongst the brothers.” (B’reishis 49:26) Rashi explains that Hashem’s bracha to Yaakov Avinu distinguished itself from those given to Avrohom and Yitzchok Avinu. Their brachos were of limited nature whereas Yaakov’s bracha was unlimited and spanned the entire world. Yaakov now continued this tradition and bestowed upon Yosef this unlimited bracha.
We can appreciate this by analyzing Yaakov’s introductory words to this bracha. He describes Yosef’s superb inner strength in the following words, “And he firmly settled his power and adorned his arms with gold; this came from Yaakov’s strength from where he became the shepherd of Israel.” (Breishis 49:24) Rashi quotes the Sages who interpret this to refer to Yosef’s incredible self control displayed during the irresistible seductive scene with Potiphar’s wife. They reveal Yosef’s true source of inner strength during his life’s most trying challenge. Rav Yishmael said that at that crucial moment of overpowering temptation Yaakov Avinu’s image appeared before his son and reminded him of his illustrious predestined position amongst his brothers. (see Rashi ad loc from Mesichta Sota 36b)
The upshot of this is that Yosef dedicated his life to personifying his father’s supreme qualities. He was so similar to his father that his life’s experiences echoed those of his father and even his facial features reflected Yaakov Avinu. (see Rashi to Breishis 37:2) His life’s goal was to be a perfect extension of his father, disseminate his lessons to all and perpetuate his sterling character. Yosef’s focus served as a constant reminder to him of his father’s perfect ways. Even after total alienation from his entire household Yosef remained loyal to all his father’s teachings. Although Yosef was subjected to the fierce immorality of Egypt he drew inner strength from his father and resisted the most powerful seduction of life. At that impossible moment he suddenly envisioned his father beckoning him not to succumb to passion. The mere image of Yaakov Avinu sufficed to release Yosef from the clutches of sin and flee from its tempting environment.
Yosef’s unprecedented achievement earned him the title Yosef the righteous one. His fierce encounter with the repulsive Egyptian behavior helped shape his moral character into one of sanctity and purity. Yaakov alluded to this, as well, in his elaborate bracha to Yosef. He says, “Graceful son whose grace rose above the eye; maidens climbed the walls to catch a glimpse.” (49:22) The Sages interpret this verse to refer to Yosef’s supreme level of sanctity. Egyptian maidens tossed Yosef jewelry and ornaments for him to gaze their way but Yosef’s eyes rose above this and never roamed freely throughout his entire reign in Egypt. (see Bamidbar Rabba 14:6) This purity and sanctity set the stage for Yaakov’s household’s descent to Egypt. Yosef’s relentless commitment to the highest standards of sanctity served as a shining example for Yaakov’s entire household and oriented them to their new home for the next two hundred and ten years.
Rabbeinu Avrohom Ben HaRambam explains that these outstanding qualities of self control and sanctity earned Yosef his special blessing. Upon reflection we realize that Yosef’s perception of himself as his father’s extension earned him his abundant bracha. Hashem bestowed upon Yaakov an unlimited bracha because he attained the highest levels of sanctity and piety. (see Breishis Rabba 69:2,3 and Ohr Hachaim to Breishis 28:13) . Now that Yaakov was leaving this world he sought to share this unlimited bracha with one who attained similar levels of piety and sanctity. Yosef who achieved outstanding piety and sanctity through maintaining his father’s image became the perfect candidate for this bracha. Yaakov therefore transmitted to Yosef the unlimited bracha he received from Hashem for outstanding success and fortune in every aspect of life.
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim of Kiryat Sefer, Israel.