Chayei Sarah - Weekly Torah Portion
Today, despite the temptation to deal with Sarah’s life, I will deal instead with two elderly men, just about to finish their respective historical tasks. They are referred to similarly. We read in the Torah that, “Now Abraham was old, advanced in age” and in the Haftarah of this Shabbat we find, “Now King David was old, advanced in age”. The continuation of the description for each is quite different though and sheds a light on their lives. It is said that “the Lord had blessed Abraham in every way.” By contrast, it is said about King David that, “they covered him with clothes, but he could not keep warm.” Once more we find in the scriptures a related description where one opposes the other. On one hand a man who received a promise that in a remote future he will be considered the father of a nation and feels that he has everything. On the other hand there is a king, a mighty and wealthy king, who lacks the fundamental human warmth.
The two men have to contend with the continuation of their dynasties. There is a big difference here too. Abraham’s dynasty will continue without contest, it will be by his only child from Sarah, Isaac. There is no inheritance conflict but a challenge of finding for him a worthy life partner. Abraham therefore asks of “his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, ‘Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.’” He also alerts him to the fact that he may not leave Isaac in a foreign land even if the chosen lady will not come back with him. By contrast, King David who knew several women, faces an inheritance drama. The royal court is in a political crisis trying to determine who will be king after King David passes away. We read about one of his sons, “Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king.’ So he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen with fifty men to run before him. His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?’” Some in the royal court, Joab the son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest supported Adonijah.
There is also a worried mother here, and she approaches the old king, and “Bathsheba bowed and prostrated herself before the king. And the king said, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to him, ‘My lord, you swore to your maidservant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Surely your son Solomon shall be king after me and he shall sit on my throne.’ Now, behold, Adonijah is king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know it.’” In politics, like in politics, at a perfect timing the prophet Nathan arrives and speaks to the king, and even today the cynicism is his voice is apparent, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? For he has gone down today and has sacrificed oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons and the commanders of the army and Abiathar the priest, and behold, they are eating and drinking before him; and they say, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me, even me your servant, and Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and your servant Solomon, he has not invited. Has this thing been done by my lord the king, and you have not shown to your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?’”
It is possible that the king was not even able to imagine the end of his life and maybe he was content with leaving the situation unclear and unresolved to the very end. Leaders have done that then and now. In many respects it has to do with the illusion of endless power that they believe that they possess and thereby can determine how history will twist and turn. David was left now with now choice and he must make a decision. He therefore requests, “’Call Bathsheba to me.’ And she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. The king vowed and said, ‘As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, surely as I vowed to you by the Lord the God of Israel, saying, ‘Your son Solomon shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place’; I will indeed do so this day.’”
Abraham and David, one who is the head of a family that will become one day a People, the patriarch of a Nation; the other the first on the throne to continue for generations. There is a big difference between the two personalities. For one his greatness stems from his modesty, well described in the Torah that does not spare us also from his shortcomings. This is also true for the King but it seems that regardless of how great his kingdom and leadership is it does not give him everything. He does not have the permission to build the Temple, nor does he enjoy the simple pleasures of life, warmth. Instead he must deal with fights over his inheritance and possibly his legacy. It does not seem he is happy or enthusiastic about doing it, rather it is done under pressure and despite what he would have preferred to do – continue to be king.
Today like in yesteryears, the political turmoil is here to haunt us. It was with great sorrow that I listened to Israel’s attorney general read his decision to accuse the prime minister of Israel. Let us not make any mistake here – by law every person accused is assumed innocent until such time that in a court of justice his or her guilt is proven by the prosecution. On the other hand it seems that he does not possess much of the modesty of Abraham and rather has more of the god and bad tributes of David. The uncontrolled attack of the prosecutors using his own voice is unacceptable. It is a continuation of a behavior of a leader that refrains from taking responsibilities to his actions. We should not fall to this trap – there are judges in the State of Israel, and they, and only they, will determine his verdict. We will have to accept their decision.
Reuven Marko, 22 November 2019, 25 MarHeshvan, 5780