"The Scepter Shall Not Depart from Yehudah"
"Melachim"/Kings 1, 2:1-12Some general background on the "Haftarot"
The "Haftarah" for this week's "Parshah," "Vayechi," is taken from the first Book of "Melachim"/Kings Chapter 2, verses 1-12. The two Books of "Melachim" were written by the "Navi," the Prophet "Yirmiyahu," Jeremiah, who would later witness the destruction of the Holy Temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem, by the Babylonians, in 586 B.C.E.
In the Books of "Melachim," he recounts the history of the Kingdoms of Yehudah and Ephraim, from the transition of the combined kingship from King David to his son, Solomon, or "Shlomo," the emergence of the Kingdom of Ephraim as a split-off from the Kingdom of Yehudah, through the earlier exile of Ephraim, and the final exile of Yehudah under King Tzidkiyahu. It is a history replete with saints and sinners, but mainly of real people, each with merits and faults.
The "Haftarah" opens with the deathbed scene of King David, who is aged beyond his years; his fire seems nearly extinguished for nothing can warm him ("Melachim" 1, 1:1-4), and there seems little music left in the "sweet singer of Israel" (Midrash Shochar Tov 1,6). "David HaMelech" transmits his "Final Will and Testament" to his son, Shlomo, the newly anointed King of Yehudah and Yisrael.
The First Chapter of "Melachim" recounts the outmaneuvering of Prince Adoniahu, who has declared himself King, by the Prophet Nathan , who enlists the aid of Bat-Sheva, mother of Shlomo, to appeal to David in behalf of her son. This double request by Nathan and Bat-Sheva rouses the King from his torpor, and he renews his oath to Bat-Sheva that Shlomo will in fact succeed him as King. He advises the immediate anointing of Shlomo as King. This not only redeems his pledge to Bat-Sheva, but probably saves her life and that of her son.
In his words to his son as recorded in our "Haftarah," David charges his son to be strong and, above all, to obey the Commands of G-d as written in the Torah of Moshe, in order to be successful. This is the pre-condition for G-d's fulfillment of His promise that the kingship would remain in the Tribe of Yehudah and in the House of David forever! ("Melachim"/Kings 1, 2:1-4)
In the six verses following ("Melachim" 1, 2:5-10), David identifies two "enemies" who have committed the sin against him of "rebellion against the King," and who were therefore liable to the death penalty, but whose sentence had been deferred by David due to over-riding political, or spiritual, reasons, as we shall see.
The first was Yoav ben Tzeruyah, who had sinned against David himself when he humiliated him by disclosing the contents of the private communication that David had sent him regarding Uriah, the husband of Bat-Sheva, instructing Yoav to send Uriah to the most dangerous part of the battle to ensure his almost certain death, as recorded in the second Book of Samuel ("Shmuel"/Samuel 2, 11:15). He had also slain two great and righteous officers, Avner ben Ner ("Shmuel" 2, 3:27) and Amasa ben Yeter ("Shmuel" 2, 20:10) secretly, and against the will of David.
We have qualified the word "enemies" by inserting double-quotes around it because Yoav, according to the understanding of Chazal, was not really an enemy.
He was, in many ways, a great man, as indicated in the Midrash Pesikta Rabati 11:3, "Yoav was a wise man, head of the Sanhedrin, great in Torah and valiant in war." Furthermore, the Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin (49a) interprets the verse in "Divrei HaYamim"/Chronicles 11:8, "And Yoav kept the rest of the city alive" to mean that before Yoav would taste any delicacy, he would distribute some to the poor. And the Talmud there adds the following comment, "His house was like a 'desert' in the sense that it was open to all, and completely free of stolen property and any sign of immorality."
Yoav was also David's nephew, the son of his sister, Tzeruya. David knew that Yoav would be found guilty at his Heavenly Trial for the assassinations of Avner and Amassah. So he commanded Shlomo to kill him, so that his execution would be counted as his punishment, he would escape Gehinnom, and enter the World-to-Come.
The second of the "enemies" was Shimi ben Gera, of the Tribe of Binyamin, the Tribe of Shaul, the first King of Israel, whom David had displaced at the command of G-d to Shmuel HaNavi (Shmuel 1, 15:28). When David had come to Machanayim, Shimi had uttered a terrible curse against David.
The king referred to this curse as a "Klalah Nimretzet," the word NIMRETZET being a "Notrikon," or Acrostic, with the letters "N" - "Nun" standing for "Noef" (Adulterer), the "M" - "Mem" standing for "Moavi" (Moabite), the "R" - "Resh" standing for "Rotzeach" (Murderer), the "TZ" - "Tzadi" standing for "Tzorer" (Oppressor) and the "T" -"Tof" standing for "Toevah" (Abomination).
Here too David displayed incredible restraint, reasoning that Shimi would never have been allowed by Heaven to make such accusations if there weren't truth in them.
Who was Shimi ben Gera?
The Zohar says of him (Section 2 107b), "On the verse (from our 'Haftarah') 'And behold Shimi ben Gera is with you." ("Melachim" 1, 2:8) What is the meaning of 'with you?'
It means that Shimi was together with Shlomo all the time, for he was Shlomo's teacher of Torah! And he told him 'Build a house in Yerushalayim,' ("Melachim" 1, 2:36) meaning that Torah should come forth from him in the Land of Israel; that he should not leave the Land."
And the Zohar also says there, "Shimi was a Torah Scholar and a very clever man - why then did he charge out at David and do what he did?" (The explanation is) "that it came from a 'higher place' into his heart to do this, to cause David discomfiture, and that he should pour out many tears before the Holy One, Blessed be He, over his sin, and that he would return in 'complete Teshuvah,' and that is the explanation of 'Hashem told him to curse.' "
The Midrash Abba Gurion Beit HaMidrash Jelinek, 1:23 (Phew!) (** - see comment at end) says as follows, "When Shimi cursed David, David saw that Mordechai would descend from him. He said to his son, Shlomo, 'When Shimi stops having children, execute him, in order that he enter the World-to-Come in a pure state.' "
"The Quality of Mercy"
On the other hand, in the "Haftarah" of Vayechi, Shlomo is commanded to treat with kindness the children of Barzilai HaGiladi ("Melachim" 1, 2:7). This is to repay the kindness that Barzilai had shown him when he was close to the bottom of his fortunes, when he was forced to flee from his rebellious, but beloved son, Avshalom.
As the verse testifies in "Shmuel" 2, 17:28-29 "When David came to Machanayim, , and Barzilai the Gileadite of Roglim provided " a whole long list of supplies because he and his friends said, in a very human response, "this group is hungry and tired and thirsty from being in the desert."
A Historical Speculation
Interestingly, one of the band of generous comrades listed with Barzilai, Machir ben Amiel by name, came from a town called "Lo-Davar." In Hebrew, a way of saying "You're welcome" is "al lo-davar," meaning "it was nothing." Apparently, residents of that town had an "attitude" - that attitude was to always practice generosity and extend kindness to people in trouble, so they were always being thanked for their good-heartedness. Because its residents were saying "al lo-davar" so frequently, that expression automatically became incorporated into the town's name.
And even though the Talmud in Masechet Shabbat 152a does an even more astonishing flip-flop on the character of Barzilai, "Barzilei the Gileadite was a liar, immersed in immorality, " David was only repaying him, in accordance with the Attribute of Hashem, "Midah Keneged Midah," "Measure for Measure," for the generosity and kindness with which he treated David at that time, when he needed it the most!
" In the Way of All the Land"
The "Haftarah" concludes with the death of David, and his burial in "Ir David," the City of David, in Jerusalem. A one-line biography is provided for the author of Psalms, which describes from within all of human experience, "And David ruled over Israel for forty years; in Hebron he ruled seven years and in Jerusalem he ruled for thirty-three years." ("Melachim" 1, 2:11) In Hebron he had ruled over only his own tribe, Yehudah; in Yerushalayim, he ruled over all the Tribes of Israel, and that is the kingdom that he transferred to Shlomo. Its very last verse is, "And Shlomo assumed the throne of his father, David, and his kingdom was established very firmly." ("Melachim" 1, 2:12)
Links between the "Haftarah" and the Torah in general, and between the "Haftarah" and "Parshat Vayechi" abound:
One of the great lessons of this "Haftarah" is that Truth frequently lies beneath the surface of events. That in the complexity of life, great men sometimes commit great crimes for great reasons, and they are killed not as punishment, but rather as atonement, to gain for them entry into the World-to-Come.
And that although the personality of David had aspects which coincided with every name that Shimi ben Gera called him, he was also the one who "established the yoke of 'Teshuvah,' Repentance." ("Shmuel" 2, 23:1) He was the one who said, "For I know my failure, and my sin is before me always;" ("Tehilim"/Psalms 51:5) the Founder of the House of David, from which the "Mashiach," the Anointed Redeemer of Israel will, may it be the will of G-d, shortly come.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU