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The Deaths of Two Leaders

"ויגוע וימת אברהם בשיבה טובה זקן ושבע ויאסף אל עמיו. ויקברו אותו
יצחק וישמעאל בניו אל מערת המכפלה …" (בראשית כה:ח-ט)


“And Avraham expired and died at a good old age, elderly and full of years, and was gathered to his people. And his sons Yitzchak and Yishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah …” (Bereshit 25:8-9)

Parshat Chaye Sarah records Avraham's death at a ripe old age after having lived a full life. He is buried by his two sons, Yishmael and Yitzchak, an indication of a rapprochement between the previously estranged brothers. The description of Avraham's'death reflects tranquility and family unity.

The Haftarah of Parshat Chaye Sarah portrays David as he approaches death:

"והמלך דוד זקן בא בימים ויכסהו בבגדים ולא יחם לו…. ואדניהו בן חגית מתנשא לאמר אני אמלוך ויעש לו רכב ופרשים וחמשים איש רצים לפניו." (מלכים א א:א,ה)

“And David the King was old, advanced in years, and they covered him with clothes, but he could not become warm…. And Adoniyahu the son of Chagit (and David) exalted himself saying: ‘I will be king'. And he set up chariots and horsemen for himself, and fifty men to run before him.” (Melachim I 1:1,5)

In contrast to Avraham, David's final days are characterized by infirmity and family conflict as he struggles with the succession of his intended heir, Shlomo the son of Batsheva, in the face of Adoniyahu's rebellion.

The contrast between the deaths of these two leaders is heightened when we recall that Avraham too struggled with the issue of succession and was ultimately forced to expel his son Yishmael (Bereshit 21). In both narratives there is concern about the continuity of the father's missions through his children. The stories exhibit both parallelism and disparity. In both instances, a younger child is favored at the expense of older children. And in both instances, the father fails to act in order to ensure the desired transition until persuaded by outside intervention. Yet, Avraham endured the pain associated with the selection of Yitzchak at an earlier stage in his life than David faced the issue of Shlomo's selection. The juxtaposition of the Torah portion and its Haftarah is designed to reveal interesting similarities and differences in the personalities of Avraham and David.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

The Haftarah opens with a description of David's infirmity. In his illness, David is confined to the palace, insulated from what is taking place in the streets of Jerusalem. He is unaware that although he had promised Bat Sheva that he would be followed on the throne by Shlomo, Adoniyahu has usurped the kingship. Unbeknownst to David, his military commander Yoav has defected to the camp of Adoniyahu. While David convalesces in the palace, the coronation of Adoniyahu is taking place outside.

It might seem that the impetus for Adoniyahu's rebellion is largely connected to David's illness. Yet, according to Abarbanel, the text implies that the rebellion has its origins in previously established relationships and behaviors.

"ולא עצבו אביו מימיו לאמור מדוע ככה עשית וגם הוא טוב תאר מאד ואותו ילדה אחרי אבשלום." (מלכים א א:ו).

אברבנאל: וזכר הכתוב מה הניעו לזה ונתן בו שלש סיבות: האחת - באמרו "ולא עצבו אביו מימיו לאמור מדוע ככה עשית", ר"ל שדוד לא הכעיסו ולא גער בו כל ימיו כשהיה עושה שום דבר רע. והסיבה השניה - לגסות לבו, הוא היותו טוב תואר, וחשב שהיה נאה לאדנות והוא מפני יפיו היה ראוי שימלך. והסיבה השלישית - ''ואותו ילדה אחרי אבשלום''… היה אמנון הבכור ואחריו דניאל ואחריו היה אבשלום ואחריו אדוניהו…ולפי שאמנון דניאל ואבשלום היו מתים חשב אדוניהו שלו היה משפט המלוכה.

“And his father had never grieved him (Adoniyahu) saying: ‘Why have you done this', and he was also very handsome, and he was born after Avshalom.” (Melachim I 1:6)

Abarbanel: And the verse mentions what motivated him (Adoniyahu) to do this (usurp the kingship), and it gives three reasons: one – when it says that his father had not grieved him saying: ‘Why have you done this', in other words that David never angered him or scolded all of his days when he would do anything wrong; and the second reason – his haughtiness in that he was very handsome, and thought therefore that he was appropriate for leadership and was worthy of kingship because of his beauty; and the third reason – “he was born after Avshalom … Amnon was the firstborn, and after him was Daniel, and after him Avshalom, and after him Adoniyahu, …and since Amnon, Daniel, and Avshalom had died, Adoniyahu thought that he had the right to the kingship.

Adoniyahu was encouraged to assume the kingship because of his physical appearance and his placement in the family. Yet, the first factor leading to the rebellion indicated by the verse is a flaw in David's parenting style. Throughout his life, David manifested an inability to properly direct his children, as reflected in the following Midrash from Shemot Rabbah:

הדא הוא דכתיב : ''חושך שבטו שונא בנו ואוהבו שחרו מוסר'' (משלי יג: כד) …ללמדך, שכל המונע את בנו מן המרדות סוף בא לתרבות רעה ושנאהו. שכן מצינו בישמעאל שהיה לו געגועים על אברהם אביו ולא רידהו ויצא לתרבות רעה ושנאהו והוציאו מביתו ריקם. כיוצא בו דוד שלא ייסר לאבשלום ולא רידהו יצא לתרבות רעה וביקש להרוג את אביו ושכב עם פילגשיו …ונפלו מישראל כמה… רבבות וגרם לו דברים קשים שאין להם סוף…וכיוצא בו עשה דוד באדוניה שלא רידהו בייסורים ולא גער בו ולפיכך יצא לתרבות רעה דכתיב ''ולא עצבו אביו מימיו''...וכל המייסר את בנו מוסיף הבן אהבה על אביו והוא מכבדו … ומוסיף עליו אהבה שנאמר: ''ואוהבו שחרו מוסר'', לפי ששיחרו מוסר , לכך אהבו. אתה מוצא שאברהם ייסר את יצחק בנו ולמדו תורה והדריכו בדרכיו (שמות רבה א, א)

That is what is written: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he that loves him chastens him” (Mishlei 13:24)…. This is to teach you that whoever spares his son corrective punishment drives him to delinquency. For so we find in the case of Yishmael, for whom Avraham longed, that he did not correct him and he fell into evil ways and hated him, and he sent him from his house empty handed. Similarly, David did not punish Avshalom and didn't correct him, and he fell into evil ways and sought to kill his father, and slept with his concubines …and tens of thousands fell in Israel, and he caused him unending difficulties…. And David did the same thing with Adoniyahu, that he did not correct him with punishment or scold him, and he fell into evil ways, as it says: “And he never grieved him”…. And anyone who chastens his son, his son increases his love for his father and honors him …as it says: “but he that loves him chastens him” – because he chastens him, he loves him. You find that Avraham chastened Yitzchak his son and taught him Torah and directed him in his ways.

According to the midrash, both Yishmael and Avshalom became rebellious because their fathers failed to discipline them properly. Yet Yitzchak, unlike is brother Yishmael, followed in the footsteps of his father, as indicated in the following verse:

"ואלה תולדות יצחק בן אברהם אברהם הוליד את יצחק." (בראשית כה:יט)

מדרש רבה (שמות א:א): ואלה תולדות יצחק בן אברהם אברהם הוליד את יצחק: ללמדך שהיה דומה לאביו בכל דבר.

“And these are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham, Avraham begot Yitzchak.” (Bereshit 25:19)

Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 1:1): And these are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham, Avraham begot Yitzchak: To teach you that he was like his father in every way.

The midrash interprets the apparently superfluous identification of Yitzchak as the “son of Avraham” as an indication that he followed his ways. The midrash concludes that Avraham learned from his unsuccessful parenting of Yishmael, and raised Yitzchak in a more disciplined fashion. This, in contrast to David, whose disastrous parenting failures with Avshalom were not corrected in his relationship with Adoniyahu. As a result, the two sons of David seem to be carbon copies of each other. The similarity between Avshalom and Adoniyahu is emphasized by Rashi and Yalkut Shimoni in their interpretation of the phrase “after Avshalom” (אחרי אבשלום) in the previously cited verse:

רש''י: [אמו של אדניהו] גידלתו אחר תרבות שגדלה אמו של אבשלום.

ילק''ש: מה זה [אבשלום] עשה לו רכב ופרשים, אף זה כן מה זה בעל מחלוקת אף זה כן מה זה חמשים איש רצים לפניו אף זה כן.

Rashi: [the mother of Adoniyahu] raised him in the same culture as Avshalom's mother raised him.

Yalkut Shimoni: Just as this one [Avshalom] set for himself a chariot and horsemen, so too this one; just as this one was divisive, so too was this one; just as this one had fifty men running before him, so too this one.

David's failure to correct his past mistakes, may reflect the fact that he often found it difficult to take decisive action. This trait was evident in his failure to punish Amnon after the rape of Tamar, to punish Avshalom for his murder of Amnon, or to kill Avshalom when he rose up in rebellion against him. According to Radak, this personality trait also explains the defection of Yoav, David's nephew and military general:

יואב ידע כי דוד שנא אותו …על שהרג את אבנר … אבשלום … וגם עמשא, אלא שהיה דוד ירא אותו כל ימי חייו לפי שהיה נלחם מלחמותיו. לפיכך היה אחרי אדניהו כדי שיניחנו שר צבא אם ימלוך, כמו שהיה חושב בלבו שדוד יצווה אל בנו המולך תחתיו להמיתו.

Yoav knew that David hated him because he had killed Avner, Avshalom, and Amasa, but that David feared him all of the days of his life because he fought his wars. Therefore, he followed Adoniyahu so that he would appoint him the commander of the army if he would become king, as he thought in his heart that David would command his son who would succeed him as king to kill him.

Even when it became clear to David that he had to militarily end the rebellion of Avshalom, he hoped to spare his son's life. He, therefore, hated Yoav for killing Avshalom. Nevertheless, Yoav felt secure in his position during the life of David, confident that David would not act against him. As the end of David's life drew near, however, Yoav feared that vengeance would be exacted by David's appointed successor.

David the Activist

Unlike David, Avraham acted zealously to fulfill God's will even when it contradicted his personal interests. Batsheva tries to encourage David to reach a similar level of activism by emphasizing to him that only he can ensure the fulfillment of his promise regarding Shlomo's ascension to the throne after his death:

"עיני כל ישראל עליך להגיד להם מי ישב על כסא אדני המלך אחריו. " (מלכים א א:כ)

“The eyes of all of Israel are upon you that you should tell them who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.” (Melachim I 1:20)

With sensitivity to David's personality traits, Natan and Batsheva approach the king in a gradual fashion, each reinforcing the words of the other, in order to move David to action. David ultimately comprehends the message and realizes that he alone can thwart the rebellion of Adoniyahu. He subsequently assures Batsheva that Shlomo will reign, and orders Tzadok the Priest, Natan the Prophet, and Benaya ben Yehoyada to immediately effect the public coronation of Shlomo. Ironically, in his final days and in a weakened state, David finds the fortitude to act decisively against his own son Adoniyahu in order to ensure the fulfillment of the destiny of the House of David.

David emerges from the experience strengthened. In the second chapter of Melachim, he gives Shlomo sage advice, and no mention is made of his debilitating infirmity. Similarly, the parallel section of Divrei Hayamim I (chapters 28-29) portrays David's active involvement in the selection, coronation and direction of Shlomo without reference to his illness. David dies with a sense of tranquility, knowing that his life's work will be carried on by his chosen son. In Divrei Hayamim, David's death is recorded in much the same way as was Avraham's in Parshat Chaye Sarah:

"וימת בשיבה טובה שבע ימים עשר וכבוד וימלך שלמה בנו תחתיו." (דברי הימים א כט:כח)

“And he died in a good old age, full of days, riches and honor, and Shlomo his son reigned in his stead.”(Divrei Hayamim I 29:28)  

The above image originally appeared on the jacket of the Nehama Leibowitz printed series © WZO/JAFI and is reproduced here with permission from the online series © The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, JAFI.