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Parshat Vayechi

As King David’s years draw to an end, he summons his successor, Shlomo, and advises him how to best ensure his hold upon the throne and create a stable government. As a young and inexperienced regent, Shlomo would be regarded by opponents as a tempting target, easy to challenge and to replace. For this reason, David warns his son to be wary of those individuals who had shown strong opposition to David’s reign and choice of successor. In fact, the king uses strong language, urging Shlomo not to allow them to die of old age but rather “vhorad’ta et sayvato b’dam sh’ol,” to see that they meet a violent death.

This advice and these expressions rightfully concern us, especially when comparing them to the final words of Yaakov Avinu to his sons, words of blessing and at times admonition, that we read in this parsha. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that when we read the saga of King David in Sefer Shmuel we are struck by David’s refusal to use power or violence in order to attain or retain the throne. When Shaul Hamelech pursues him in an attempt to murder him, David twice refuses to kill him when he had the opportunity to do so. He also puts to death the Amalekite who killed the mortally wounded Saul, despite the fact that the king himself had made that request, just as he later executed the two men who assassinated Ish Boshet, Shaul’s surviving son, in order to assure David’s rule over all of Israel. He would not allow his men to kill Shimi, who cursed David as he fled from his rebellious son, Avshalom, nor would he allow his men to kill Avshalom during the battle, pleading with them “l’at li lana’ar, l’Avshalom, spare the young Avshalom for me.” In fact, David even refused to return to his own throne after his son’s rebellion until he was invited to do so by all of Israel, eschewing the possibility of marching into Yerushalayim with his victorious army to reclaim his rightful position by force. Given this past history, we have every reason to wonder why David advised his son in his final words to take steps that were so antithetical to his own beliefs.

In reality, David spoke wisely to his son and showed a deep understanding of the political situation and of the opposition that Shlomo would face. Each of these men had popular support and had used that support in the past hoping to overthrow the king or undermine his wishes. David Hamelech understood well that the nation stood at a crossroads. The ascension of Shlomo to the throne would create, for the first time in Jewish history, a dynasty—a son following his father on the throne. The importance of this reality was underscored by the fact that Hashem’s promised reward to David was that his son will succeed him (Shmuel B:7). A dynasty would create for the people a stable government, one that would not be challenged by civil wars and uprisings upon the death of the king. The knowledge that a successor had been chosen rallied the people behind the new king and prevented the possible political chaos that often followed the death of a regent.

David knew that the very future of the kingdom was based upon Shlomo’s ability to perceive any plot or conspiracy to overthrow this first “son successor.” Indeed, David’s words proved true when the very people about whom he warned his successor attempted, some years later, to remove Shlomo from the throne.

Yaakov and David may seem very different when we study the two readings this week. But in reality, they were closer than we imagine. Both planned for the future; both gave sage advice to their sons.

And both built the nation of Israel.

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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