Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah Chayei Sarah

At the onset of this Parasha (Genesis 23:1-25:18) we are faced with death, “Now Sarah’s life was 127 years—the years of Sarah’s life,” (Genesis 23:1). Then two and a half chapters later, at the end of the Parasha we are faced with two more deaths, Abraham (Genesis 23:8) and Ishmael (23:17). Surrounded by death, this Parasha does not seem to be a pleasant one. The narrative continues with Abraham negotiating for and obtaining property for the burial of his beloved and eventually for the Patriarchs, (23:3-20). Next we read the account of the securing and mutual acceptance of Isaac’s wife. In the final section, specifically the death of Abraham we read what connects this portion to the Haftarah, 1Kings 1:1-31. In preparation for his death, we are told that to the sons of his additional wives and concubines “Abraham had given gifts and sent them away from his son Isaac while he was still living,” (25:6) and subsequently “Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, old and satisfied,” (25:8). Abraham Avienu could depart in peace, knowing he had cared for his wife and son of promise before he entered the olam haba; he left this realm “satisfied.” This departure description is the goal we all should be striving toward.

On the other hand, the Haftarah begins with an elderly, ailing King David, whose household was anything but settled. Like Abraham, David’s life was riddled with heights of joy and victory as well as depths of remorse and defeat. In 1 Kings 2:10, David joins his ancestors only after giving Solomon instructions concerning punishments that Solomon should initiate upon David’s death. This was not the parting of a “satisfied man.” Nor, sadly to say, was the institution of Solomon as David’s royal heir without intrigue and deception. Since David did not properly deal with the sons of his other wives and concubines as Abraham did, his sons sought to take matters into their own hands; first Absalom (2 Samuel 13 & 14), and now Adonijah, Absalom’s brother (1 Kings 1:5). According to 1 Chronicles, the throne was divinely assigned to Solomon, “Behold, a son will be born to you who will be a man at rest. I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon and I will confer shalom and quietness on Israel in his days. He will build a House for My name; he will be My son and I will be His Father. I will establish his royal throne over Israel forever.” (22:9-10). This proclamation was not in secret and Adonijah for sure knew of the ramifications of his actions; he just apparently didn’t seem to care – he would be king in place of his brother.

Sadly too is the charge against David that this passage makes, “His father had not scolded him at any time by asking: ‘Why have you behaved this way?’,” (1 Kings 1:6a). Perhaps this charge is the impetus behind the exhortation in Mishlei, ” Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it,” (Proverbs 22:6). This verse is not a cure all for all problems, nor is it a weapon to use against parents when children err from the way. It is simply a tool of child rearing with an expected outcome. The reality is that the child has free will just as do the parents, to choose to do or not to do what they know is right. It appears that Adonijah either did not have the training at home, or worse, he chose to go against the divine appointment.

Likewise, had David followed the words of ADONAI, he may have experienced another outcome. In Deuteronomy there are guidelines for the king, “Now when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself a copy of this Torah on a scroll, from what is before the Levitical kohanim. It will remain with him, and he will read in it all the days of his life, in order to learn to fear ADONAI his God and keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes,” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). The encouragement, the mitzvoth to “write, read, and learn” may have motivated him to apply a bit more attention to his children. Twice in the recitation of the Shema we read concerning the words of ADONAI, “You are to teach them diligently to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up,” (Deuteronomy 6:7 & 11:19). It is important here to notice that it is incumbent upon the parents to teach their children. From appearances David did not follow this exhortation and in later life he reap the fruit of his inactivity. On a positive note, the exhortation to teach is a life-long process; even if later in life, the teaching opportunity exists. It is never too later to pass on the truths of ADONAI to our children or even grandchildren. Due to time, age and life choices, we may need to find creative ways to teach but it can still be done and as “…the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword—piercing right through to a separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12).

Shabbat Shalom

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.