Friday, December 29, 2017

Haftarat Va-Yechi: Be a Man! (Guest Blogger, Rabbi Kelilah Miller)

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy New Year! I want to thank Rabbi Gerber for once again lending me this platform (while he is on vacation), especially in a year in which he is exploring the Haftarah each week! It is a wonderful reason to do a deeper reading into the Books of the Prophets:

This week’s Haftarah mirrors the Torah portion rather closely in theme.
In the Torah portion, Jacob shares his final wishes and blessings with his sons; in the Haftarah, King David gives his final charge to his son Solomon, who will rule after him. Both are deathbed scenes involving the final requests of the dying, but there the similarities seem to stop. 

Jacob seems interested in bringing his shattered family back together by urging forgiveness. He asks that Joseph forgive his brothers for what they did to him, and Joseph appears ready to let the past go (Gen 50:16-17).  Conversely, David urges revenge. He gives Solomon a list of who is to be rewarded and who is to be assassinated.  Perhaps most disturbingly, some of the grudges appear to be personal (I Kings 2:8), rather than strictly rooted in political necessity. David appears in this text as a savvy but merciless ruler, right up to his death.

It seems that I am not the only person who has been bothered by King David’s approach.  According to the commentary of Biblical scholar Michael Fishbane, a section was added to this Haftarah that tries to mediate David’s ruthless message.
Right before David’s political directives, there is a section in which David gives Solomon religious advice. He urges Solomon to follow God’s Laws and to walk in God’s ways. He adds that, if Solomon will follow these rules of conduct, his line will be secure on the throne forever (I Kings 2:3-4). Fishbane suggests that a later editor of the text added this section in order to make a clear point: lasting leadership is based on principle and faith, rather than military might and political maneuvering.  We, like David, live in the “real world” of violence and politics, but that reality is not everything. There are things more lasting and more crucial to remember than a list of friends and enemies. There are qualities more valuable than the power to enforce one’s will upon others.

It is striking to me that, before all of this religious and military advice, David prefaces his words by telling Solomon: “I am going the way of all the earth; be strong and show yourself a man” (I Kings 2:2). We live in a time in which many of us are trying to
reassess what it means to “be a man”. As the parents of a boy, my husband and I are particularly interested in this question, as we prepare our child to take his place in his family and community.  I am grateful to the later editor of this week’s Haftarah for providing us with a reminder that this is an old conversation - not just a new one. Our larger society (both then and now) sometimes tells boys that power over others is all-important, but we can do our best to teach our children to make choices based on the teachings of a Torah of mercy and kindness - as Jacob tried to do in the end.

Photos in this blog post:
1) CC image courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images on Wikimedia Commons
2) CC image courtesy of Thomas Quine on Wikimedia Commons 

3) CC image of Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man," courtesy of Lviatour on Wikimedia Commons 

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