May 19, 2024
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Parshat Vayechi

Throughout my years of studying and teaching the second perek of Sefer Melachim, the chapter from which this week’s haftarah is taken, the question most commonly posed (perhaps almost always posed) is how can we understand the harsh message that David HaMelech leaves to his successor, Shlomo, before David dies.

David tells the newly anointed king to deal harshly with two individuals who, we would think, were not deserving of such treatment. David clearly states “lo tarid seivato b’shalom sheol,” not to allow Yoav, David’s former chief of staff, to die of old age but “v’asita k’chochmatecha,” to use his wisdom, his cleverness, to find a reason to put him to death!! David then uses the same wording in charging Shlomo how to handle Shimi ben Geira, a leader of the tribe of Binyamin! Additionally, Chazal chose to read this haftarah on Shabbat Vayechi, the parsha in which we hear the loving blessings that Yaakov gave his sons before his death. These final words just don’t seem to fit the personality of David, the “n’im zmirot Yisrael,” the “sweet singer of Israel.” We sense no sweetness in the message he leaves his son and certainly no harmony with the peaceful message left by the parsha itself.

When we study the earlier perakim we read of the danger that these individuals posed to the reign of the young regent. The harsh message left by David was meant to make Shlomo aware of the threat that these seemingly supportive individuals posed to Shlomo. Certainly Shimi, who had a history of enmity toward David and even joined Avshalom’s rebellion, cursing David as the King fled from Yerushalayim.. He certainly posed a threat to the young Shlomo and David, understandably, warned Shlomo of that threat.

But I think that there is yet another underlying reason that will help us understand David’s harsh message to his successor.

Among the traits for which we often praise David is his military prowess. David was Shaul’s chief of staff at a young age. His legendary defeat of Goliat (Goliath) was but the beginning of his many exploits. He defeated the enemies of Israel who surrounded and threatened them including the Plishtim, Moavim, Aram Tzovah, Aram Damesek, Edom and Ammon. The text itself reveals that David brought “salvation” to Israel wherever he went. Indeed, David was never defeated in battle.

And yet, what most people fail to realize is that David was not a militant. He eschewed violence in taking the throne. He twice refused to kill Shaul who was pursuing David in order to kill him; he punished the two men who assassinated Shaul’s successor (Ish Boshet) in an attempt to place David on the throne; he publicly cursed the murderer of Avner, military leader of the armies of Shaul and Ish Boshet, who, at the time, was arranging for a peaceful transfer of power to David. David even refused to punish Shimi, who publicly cursed David, and he refused to forcefully take back his throne after Avshalom’s rebellion, waiting, instead, for the tribes to invite him back.

But his general Yoav, the man whom David said was a danger to Shlomo, believed differently; he preferred militancy over diplomacy. It was he who urged David to kill Shaul, and who wanted to kill Shimi and who murdered Avner. And this former chief-of-staff for David supported Adoniya as successor over David’s choice, Shlomo, perhaps because he saw Adoniya as an older and therefore stronger regent.

But he was not a threat to Shlomo alone. Rav Moshe Lichtenstein argues that behind it all was David’s commitment to Hashem’s promise of establishing a Davidic dynasty over all of Yisrael. David did not see these men as political enemies but rather as spiritual ones. They did not pose a danger to the new king but to the very spiritual destiny of all of Israel. Ignoring the menace posed by Yoav would encourage opponents who would agree with him to deny that Shlomo was the chosen son of David through which the dynasty would flourish. Ignoring the actions of Shimi, an opponent of David and a member of Shaul’s family, would allow people to believe that the true dynasty should have continued through Shaul and his tribe and not David and his tribe.

David was far more than a military hero, more than a righteous king, more than a unifier of Israel and a sweet singer of Israel. He was a man of peace who worried about the spiritual future of his beloved nation and therefore passed on that concern to his son.

David, melech Yisrael, through his teachings, is chai v’kayam.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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