Haftarat Va-y’chi – I Kings 2:1-12: Last Words
What should a father who say to his children before he dies? Parashat Va-y’chi relates Jacob’s blessing of his sons as his death approaches. Similarly, the Haftarah relates King David’s final words to the son he has chosen to succeed him: Solomon. Jacob’s last testimony reflects his blatant preference for his favourite son, Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph (Genesis 49:22-26). Is it a surprise that he remains true to form? And when we read what David says to Solomon, isn’t it to be expected that a man, whose life involved so much war and conflict, should tell his son to take vengeance on those who had acted against him – Joab son of Zeruiah, and Shim’i the son of Gera – as he takes his dying breaths?
But David does begin by proclaiming a more ethical legacy to his son: ‘Keep faith with the Eternal your God, walking in God’s ways, carrying out the laws, commandments, rules of justice, and directions of God, as written in the Torah of Moses, so that you may succeed in all that you do and whatever you turn to’ (I Kings 2:3). Interestingly, I Chronicles, chapters 28 and 29, record a much longer farewell address; a public pronouncement to all the officers of Israel, which includes confirmation that Solomon is his chosen successor, as well as David’s instructions to Solomon to build ‘the House of the Eternal’. In this speech, the dying king offers words of encouragement to the son, who is to rule after him: ‘be strong and of good courage and do it; do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Eternal God, my God, is with you; He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work on the House of the Eternal is done’ (I Chronicles 29:20). ‘Be strong and of good courage’. According to the Torah (Va-yeilech, Deuteronomy 31:22), this is exactly what Moses said to Joshua before he died – and this is exactly what David needed to say, as he handed on the mantle of authority to his son. We are left to ponder the contrast between King David’s private words to Solomon and his public utterance – and we are reminded that this powerful and charismatic leader, was also very flawed; a man of passions, who often allowed those passions to get the better of him – which is why the task of building the House of the Eternal was left to Solomon.
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah