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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Parashat Vayechi - the Haftara

Parashat Vayechi – the Haftara
1Kings 2:1 - 12
Reading date: 10th January 2009 – 14th Tevet 5769

Our highlighted Haftara text

“When the time came near for David to die, he gave this instruction to his son Solomon: 'I am going the way of all the earth; you must now be strong; show yourself to be a man.'”I Kings 2:1-2

We cannot finish everything we hope to do in the world --- but others who come after us can complete our efforts.

Our Haftara continues precisely where it left off from Chaye Sarah, where King David lies dying. There, Bat Sheva and the prophet Nathan orchestrated to have Solomon chosen as heir, and this week, David shares his final words of advice to his son Solomon. The parallel of David's death-bed instructions with Jacob's last will and testament to his household connects the Torah and Haftara portions.

Ironically, both parashot ‘Chaye Sarah’ and ‘Vayechi’ with the Hebrew root ch.y.h (meaning life, lived) in their names begin with the notice of the death of its major character. While we think of Genesis as a book of beginnings, it ends with the death of an era. All the patriarchs (including Joseph) die, and the Children of Israel people enter a new phase. The story turns its attention away from the lives of individuals to the lives of the Children of Israel.

This week's Haftara is taken from the book of I Kings which deals with the death of David and the monarchy of his successor, his son Solomon. The life of David is found in the book of II Samuel. After killing Goliath, David quickly rose in rank to become a captain in King Saul's army. After the death of Saul on Mt. Gilboa, David was anointed as King of Judah, and later, become king over all of Israel. According to legend, his strength was superhuman. He was a poet and a musician, and the Rabbis portrayed him as a Torah scholar. Jewish tradition considers David the author of the book of Psalms. His reign was idealized, and he became a symbol of hope for future redemption: the Messiah comes from the 'House of David.'

Let’s take a look at Israel’s modern leaders. Sharon, like many of Israel's leading politicians such as Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, began with a military career and was a decorated war hero. But as seasoned politicians, these soldiers-turned-statesmen had to deal with a different political reality. Even Menachem Begin, who began his career as a political 'hawk' eventually was the prime minister who signed Israel's peace treaty with Egypt's Anwar Sadat. King David, similarly, began his career as a military leader. The stories of the Book of II Samuel are less familiar to most of us- but they read like a political thriller with internal intrigue and lots of bloodshed. King David spent his lifetime fighting and conquering Israel's enemies: the Philistines, the Moabites, and others while dealing with internal conflicts. Even his final words are political advice: 'kill off my detractors (and your possible enemies)'.

King David succeeded in uniting the country (briefly- the Northern and Southern kingdoms separated after the death of Solomon), and reigned for 40 years. He lived in challenging times and had a hard life, yet his legacy was not only on the battlefield. King David was a complex personality. He had a deeply spiritual side, and his musical talents calmed Saul. After he conquered Jerusalem and established Jerusalem as the capital, he brought the Ark there and hoped to build YHVH's Temple. A divine edict, however, forbid him from doing so. "You will not build a house for My name," YHVH said to him, "for you are a man of battles and have shed blood" (I Chronicles 28:3). King David fought many battles, but he was not able to complete his work for peace. That work was continued by Solomon. Rabbi Tarfon says, "It is not incumbent for you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it." There is some comfort in knowing that although we cannot finish everything we hope to do in the world, others who come after us can complete our efforts.

Shabbat Shalom

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