July 18, 2024
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Parshat Vayechi

The 12 pesukim from Sefer Melachim I that make up this week’s haftarah contain within them much to ponder and much from which to learn. In past articles we have underscored the rather sharp contrast between the parting words of Yaakov to his sons that we read in our parsha and the final words of David Hamelech to his son that make up the bulk of our haftarah. In this article, however, I would like to discuss the parallels and similarities between these two seemingly different farewells and to learn from those similarities as we learned from the contrasts.

As we have pointed out in the past, both addresses leave messages for the future. The words of Yaakov Avinu speak, in large part, of the future inheritance of his descendants. A close reading will reveal the patriarch’s description of the exact portions of the land that would be inherited and settled by the specific son’s tribe. The words of David Hamelech to his son speak of his inheritance as well as that of the throne of Israel. King David urges Shlomo to prepare for his future by solidifying his hold upon the throne and strengthening the support of the people which, for a young regent, would be crucial in building a successful reign and in laying the groundwork for a lasting dynasty.

But beyond this general parallel, a close reading will lead us to the understanding that, in a very real sense, the advice of David was meant to realize the blessings of Yaakov. Our patriarch blessed his son Yehudah with a portion that would yield red wine and promote the raising of animals that would provide milk for the people. But Yaakov adds a far more essential bracha to his fourth son. He tells Yehudah, “Yishtachavu lecha b’nei avicha,” that his brothers would bow to him, and that “Lo yasur shevet miYehudah,” the ruling scepter would never leave Judah. This blessing of leadership and kingship, ironically, similar to the dreams of Yosef, was exactly what David, hundreds of years later, was promoting in his words to Shlomo.

The challenge of ruling Israel was a difficult enough one for the young Shlomo. His father, however, reminded him that serving as king was not enough! He had to fulfill the blessing given to his great-great-great-grandfather generations before and renewed to his father: that the throne must always remain in the hands of the tribe of Yehudah and, as promised to David, the descendants of David would always be the royal family. His challenge, therefore, would be to ensure that the kingship would be passed down to his son and grandson forever.

True. A kingship was wonderful, but a dynasty was essential for the survival of Israel. And Shlomo creates the first dynasty of Israel by succeeding his father, which is why Sefer Melachim, the Book of Kings, begins with the ascension of Shlomo to the throne and not with the rule of Shaul or even of David.

From one generation to another, Hashem’s promise lives on for it is passed on and eventually realized. Perhaps that is what Chazal mean when they comment on this week’s parsha and say that Yaakov Avinu never died.

And why we still sing today “David, Melech Yisra’el chai vekayam.”


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

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