|November 14, 2009
Hayye Sarah: Ashkenazim: 1 Kings 1, 1-31
By Rabbi Charles Simon
The book of Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses. The book of Joshua ends with the death of Joshua. Saul, the first King of Israel dies at the end of the first book of Samuel but King David dies at the beginning of the first book of Kings. Usually heroes, leaders, die at the end of the book at the end of their story, but the author of the Book of Kings must have desired to make a specific point when he chose to reverse this order.
It is possible that the connecting thread that links the Torah portion and the haftarah reading provides a hint to the author's reason for this reversal. The Torah reading for Hayye Sarah is connected to the haftarah thematically through the common link of aging. In each text the phrase “old and advanced in years' appears in the Torah. The Torah portion is concerned with the death of Abraham. The haftarah portion addresses the death of David. It is possible that this connection was made to challenge us to consider the consequences of two distinctly different approaches to aging.
The haftarah is composed of four incidents. At first we see David as an old man, weak and frail, and most likely cold and alone at night. Perhaps he was so lonely that he had to summon a young girl to provide him with warmth. The text is very explicit it wasn't for sex. The second incident revolves around the plotting of his son, Adonijah, who desperately wants to succeed his father and become King. The third incident reveals yet another of the conspiracies and plottings that surround David's life as Bathsheva politically maneuvers her way through his administration to insure that her son, Solomon, will succeed his father even though he is the youngest son. Finally the author of our story allows us to learn the father's response to all the plotting and chicanery that was necessary to assure Solomon's succession.
David's legacy was a reflection of the life he had lived. As Michael Fishbane states in his haftarah commentary, “a manipulator in his lifetime, David was manipulated in his old age.” It took the creativity of the rabbinic tradition to develop a broader vision of David and to paint him as a truly noble figure.
Abraham, on the other hand, enters old age with dignity and integrity. After the death of Sarah he purchases a burial plot for his family and he begins to prepare his family for his demise. He makes his servant Eliezer swear that Isaac will marry within the clan. He bequeaths gifts to the children of his concubines and thus avoids future contentious fighting.
All of us know how painful the division of property can be for siblings with issues when their parents' possessions need to be divided.
The haftarah suggests that the manner in which we choose to conduct ourselves in lives often is reflective of how those who follow us choose to live theirs. Our lives serve as models for our children. The haftarah reminds us that how we choose to model ourselves makes a difference both for us and those who follow.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/Noah_haft.shtml
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.