April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Parshat Chayei Sarah

This week’s haftarah, a selection taken from the opening perek of Sefer Melachim I, focuses upon two seemingly different events. The first pesukim describe for us the final days of David Hamelech, chronicling his physical weakness and the necessity of finding a “sochenet,” an attendant whose proximity to the king would help keep him warm. The rest of the chapter focuses upon the attempts of Adoniya, David’s oldest surviving son, to take over the throne and force the royal succession to follow his family and not that of Shlomo, the heir apparent. When studying these events we are led to ask the simple question of what connection could there be between the two stories and why was the opening episode, a seemingly minor event, even included in the holy text. But it would be a mistake to take the approach that these are two separate stories with no real connection when, in truth, it is the first episode that led to the second.

It was the physical weakness of the king, seen in his inability to keep warm, and his detachment from what was occurring outside the palace, proven by the fact that he had to be informed of the rebellion, that gave the impetus to Adoniya and his supporters to gather followers and publicly proclaim the throne for Adoniya. Furthermore, the same Adoniya would later request that David’s royal attendant, Avishag, be given to him as a wife, for an act of marrying the former king’s servant can substantiate the claim that he, not Shlomo, was the true successor.

In past articles we have addressed the contrast between Yitzchak’s peaceful succession of his father Avraham with Shlomo’s stormy succession of David Hamelech. But it is also important to compare the behaviors of both “successors,” Yitzchak and Shlomo. In both cases the sons took no part in the choice. Both Yitzchak and Shlomo were passive and showed no involvement in their fathers’ choices to have them carry on their leadership. In fact, the entire Sefer Bereishit can be described as a struggle for bechora, bechira and bracha; a story of children claiming the bechora, the first-born birthright, in order to merit the bechira, the choice to receive the bracha, Hashem’s special blessing. Yet in each case it was not the bechor, the firstborn, who was chosen; neither Yishmael nor Eisav nor Reuven was chosen.

And the lesson we learn is the same one taught to us by the haftarah: leadership is not to be determined by birth but by deed. God’s choice is “merit-based,” which is also why Shlomo, and not the eldest (surviving) son, Adoniya, was chosen.

We are judged by what we do, by what we accomplish, and not by accident of birth. “Yichus” is important; but only if it serves as inspiration to help us live up to the greatness of those who preceded us.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler


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

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