Friday, November 10, 2017

Haftarat Chayei Sarah: Kings, Politicians, Comedians... But Really All Just Predators

This Haftarah is terrific. It fits nicely with our Torah portion, because the parashah tells of Abraham passing on the mantle of leadership to his son, Isaac, and how the succession was fraught with challenges and obstacles.
Our Haftarah, from the First Book of Kings, lays out the story of King David's death, and how Solomon became the eventual successor - though not without challenges and obstacles of his own. The story is riveting; describing how Batshevah, Solomon's mother (and our story's heroine AND underdog), just barely managed to make her son king, sneaking in a victory against a much more powerful rival. It's got intrigue, plot twists, betrayal, high drama, and an exciting finish. And I'm not going to talk about any of it. There's something else in our Haftarah - more minor to the text itself, but painfully poignant for all of us today - that I feel I need to highlight instead.

What do we know about King David? He's good with a sling shot, he plays the harp, he's a poet, he's a mighty warrior, and he's a good looking guy. Oh, and he's a serious womanizer. Even if you don't know A LOT about David, there's a good
chance you've heard that he had lots of wives, that he kept adding MORE wives, and you may have even heard the infamous story of David going so far as to kill a man to steal HIS wife. Hey, that was the era he grew up in, ok? It was just what monarchs DID back then. (Yeah, right...) But our Haftarah portrays a very different King David. By now, he's an old man. The rock-slinger is long gone, the warrior king is history, and even the harp is lying dusty in the corner. And yes, his womanizing is behind him as well. However, the text doesn't just let that last narrative end quietly, with dignity and grace. Instead, the text seems to want to offer bitter irony, and perhaps even karma, coming back to bite the skirt-chaser-in-chief.

Our Haftarah begins by saying that David is old. And what sometimes happens in old age? Circulation isn't what is used to be, and the text tells us he couldn't get warm, no matter how many blankets they put on him.
Then, eyebrow-raisingly, his servants try an "unusual" technique to warm him; they have a young virgin brought to the king to sleep in his bed. However, the narrator is then painfully and embarrassingly explicit; making sure to tell you that A) They did not have sex, and B) David still couldn't get warm. Karma, we might say, has come back to haunt him. His libido was SO powerful when he was young. Yet it also led him astray, very much to his own destruction, as God was furious with David for stealing Batshevah from another man. Now, all of that has been stripped away from him; no wives are there to warm him or hold him, and even this young maiden can't provide comfort. David is utterly alone.

I doubt I really need to point out parallels to you, or highlight ways in which this is relevant to us today in 2017. Bill O'Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore, and most recently Louis CK - to name just a few of the powerful, famous, influential men who took advantage of women for decades.
Some even (allegedly) preyed on boys and young men, as in the case of Kevin Spacey. It seems as if every day new celebrities, politicians, and others are being publicly shamed - rightfully so - for the harm they caused others. Our Bible has tried to teach us a lesson about people like these, but sadly there are many who just don't listen. God lambasted King David for his indiscretions, and then our narrator added another twist of the dagger, by humiliating him at the end of his life. These sexual predators do not deserve our sympathy or our forgiveness. Their behavior is as inexcusable today as David's was 3,000 years ago. Hopefully, their collective falls from grace will help usher in a new era of equality, respecting other people's bodies and rights, and not abusing power. I know that this disgusting behavior has been going on for - literally! - millenia. But let us also remember that the exposure of these heinous acts has a long history as well, and now it is OUR turn to demand better behavior and to bring these reprehensible crimes to light. It's time for all these King Davids to get down off their thrones; their reign has ended.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Jordi Roqué on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of PetarM on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image "Marooned" (made me think of solitude...) courtesy of Jappalang on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Ebrahim on Wikimedia Commons

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