April 18, 2024
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Parashat Vayechi

Over the years, we have both compared and contrasted the parting words of Ya’akov Avinu found in the parsha and those of David HaMelech, found in our haftarah. The different messages that they leave to their children, clearly reflect the different challenges that the respective generations would face. Ya’akov’s messages to his sons are meant as both words of admonition and blessing that would guide them into the future, and they are significant lessons that parents might normally share with the children. David’s message, however, is not.

The haftarah opens with David’s words to Shlomo of “v’chazakta, v’hayita l’ish”—to be strong and become a “man.” Such a charge to one so young (a mere 12 years old, according to Chazal), is quite understandable. But it is also a reminder to Shlomo that, since his coronation (found in the first perek), he had been guided by his father. As a result, it is understandable that David would remind him that now he must “be a man”—a grown adult, independent and capable of shouldering the weighty responsibilities of a regent. Logical as well, was the elderly King’s warning that his son’s success would be dependent upon his adherence to Hashem’s mitzvot, as detailed in the Torah.

We listen with appreciation to David’s urgent plea to treat the family of Barzilai with generosity, as their father, Barzlai, supported and sustained David during his difficult months when he fled from his rebellious son, Avshalom. The advice is certainly one that sits well with us, as showing hakarat hatov, gratitude to one who had done so much, is an admirable trait and a proper message to share with the incoming regent.

We might also read with understanding the elderly King’s warning not to trust Shim’i ben Gera who, although apologizing to David for having cursed him and pelted him with stones, was part of Sha’ul’s family and remained a danger to the stability of a Davidic dynasty.

However, we rightfully feel discomfort upon hearing the message that David leaves to his son regarding the treatment to be meted out to Yoav, David’s former Chief-of-Staff. Yoav ben Tzruya was David’s nephew, a supporter and defender of David through his years, who had saved David’s life more than once. Why would David tell Shlomo to suspect Yoav’s allegiance to the throne and see him as a threat to his reign?

Allow me to respond. Yoav had a history—one that indicated that, as much as he supported David, he also undermined him. In the early years, when David ruled over Yehuda alone, he had come to an agreement with Avner ben Ner, the military leader of Ish Boshet (son of Shaul and ruler of the other tribes): Avner would become a general for David and would bring all of the tribes under David’s rule. It was the opportunity to realize Hashem’s promise that David would rule over all of Israel. At that very crucial time, Yoav, seeing Avner as a threat to David (and, perhaps, to Yoav’s own position), assassinates Avner, thereby delaying the reunification of the tribes.

In a very similar way, David, following the fractious rebellion of Avshalom, brokered an agreement with his nephew, Ammasa ben Yeter, who had been the leader of Avshalom’s army, and made him his own general—replacing Yoav. By doing so, David hoped to merge the warring factions and to reunite the nation once more. And, again, Yoav assassinates his rival, threatening to prolong the division within Israel.

And so, after Yoav openly defied David’s wishes by supporting Adoniya in his fight for the throne, the King realized that Yoav could not be trusted. I imagine that it wasn’t an easy decision for David, but, in the end, he was proven right, for, after David’s passing, Yo’av plotted with Adoniya to replace Shlomo with the older brother.

In summation, we can see Ya’akov’s blessings as directives to help his once-divided twelve sons to unite and grow into one nation, and we can see David’s directives as a mode to insure that his united nation would not divide into 12 tribes.

Both fathers looked to the future but each recognized the unique challenges that had to be met for that future.


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

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