Parashat Vayechi, (Genesis 47:28 – 50:26), brings the Genesis narrative to an end, and passes the baton if you will. Jacob, elderly but still in control of his faculties, pronounced a patriarchal blessing on his sons. Earlier in the narrative, Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh and decreed that they would have the same status as Reuben and Simeon (48:5). Noteworthy is the continued pattern of the younger having prominence over the older (48:18-19).
Similarly, the Haftarah (1 Kings 2:1-12) passes the baton of the monarchy from David to his son Solomon. In the previous chapter Adonijah, another of David’s sons, tried unsuccessfully to usurp the throne. This week’s passage responds by confirming Solomon’s rule and reign, “So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established” (2:12). Then, as with Jacob (Genesis 49:33) and Joseph (50:26), David “slept with his fathers” (2:11). One interesting note on their death is that Joseph and his brothers took Jacob back to Canaan, to the Cave of Machpelah, east of Mamre (Genesis 50:13). Joseph, however, remained entombed in Egypt until the Exodus (50:25-26). David, like Joseph, was not buried with his family. He was not buried in Bethlehem, but in Jerusalem, the seat of his monarchy and the place where ADONAI would place His Name to dwell in the midst of Israel (2:11). Abarbanel notes that it was an honor for David to be buried in the capitol of the nation he conquered, elevating his status as the founder of Israel’s eternal dynasty. In comparison, Saul, the rejected one, had his body desecrated by his enemies and was laid to rest “beneath a tamarisk tree in Jabesh” (1 Samuel 31:13). This was probably not the end he had hoped for.[i]
David’s charge to Solomon, as well as his sons after him, rings true not only for Solomon but for each of us today.
Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2:2-4)
These words are more than simple encouraging words from a father to his son. They are from a monarch to his successor and are almost an exact repetition of Moshe’s charge in Deuteronomy 17:18-20 concerning future kings,
“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”
In the same vein, during Shacharit (Sephardic) in the אהבת עולם blessing that immediately precedes the Shema, we corporately ask the LORD to “instill in our hearts the wisdom to understand and to discern, to listen, learn and teach, to observe, perform, and fulfill all the teachings of Your Torah with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah and let our hearts cling to Your commandments. Unite our hearts to love and revere Your Name; and so that we may never be ashamed or humiliated or fall.”[ii]
From the most exalted ruler to the lowliest peasant, we are are responsible before the LORD, to learn and understand His ways for our lives, both as they relate to Him and equally important, as they relate to one another. And this is a life long process. David, at one point said, “I have been young and am now old, but I have never seen a righteous man abandoned, or his children seeking bread” (Psalm 37:25). In order to be righteous, one does not necessarily have to be perfect or completely sinless, most assuredly David had his fair share of shortcomings and of missing the mark. However, David was a righteous man in that he sought after the LORD, and when he stumbled, he got up, repented, and continued walking after Him.
With all his foibles and imperfections, David was a “man after God’s own heart,” (1 Samuel 13:14). R. Shaul shared the same idea when he told the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). David wanted Solomon, to “show yourself a man.” R. Shaul insinuated the same to the Corinthians. They were to emulate him, striving toward maturity and giving up “childish ways.” This is also what the LORD desires from each of us. Whether we are young or old, rich or poor, male or female – He desires for us “to understand and to discern, to listen, learn and teach, to observe, perform, and fulfill all the teachings of Your Torah with love” (אהבת עולם). Then regardless of the situation we may find ourselves in, we can trust the words of the Psalmist, “For the LORD loves what is right, He does not abandon His faithful ones. They are preserved forever” (Psalm 37:28).
[i] Rabbi Nosson Scherman. Kings I and II. (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications Ltd., 2006.), p 20
[ii] The Koren Siddur, Nusah Sepharad. (Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2012), p 100