Avraham ben Yaakov


Although the Book of Kings is divided for convenience into I Kings and II Kings, it is really all one book spanning a period of over four hundred years from the last days of David and the golden age of Solomon's glory through the split of his kingdom into two and the succeeding eras of decline, revival and further decline leading eventually to the exile of the Ten Tribes, the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to Babylon. The simple moral of the Book of Kings is that only through faithful obedience to the Torah of Moses can the people of Israel survive and flourish in their Land.


David never had a moment of rest and tranquility from the beginning of his career until the very end of his life, when new troubles broke out with the attempted seizure of the throne by Adoniyahu. Old age had jumped upon David - he was only seventy years old - because of the long series of exhausting wars he endured. The coldness from which he suffered is said to have resulted from his having been chilled by the specter of the sword-wielding angel he had seen in Jerusalem at the time of the plague, while his inability to be warmed even when covered with garments is attributed to his having shown disrespect for clothes when he tore the corner of King Saul's garment (I Chronicles 21:30; Talmud Berachos 62b). David's "coldness" also signifies his ascent to a supreme level of contemplative understanding, for "Cold of spirit is the man of understanding" (Proverbs 14:27).

Our text attributes Adoniahu's rebellion to a pedagogical failure by David, who never properly disciplined his handsome, personable son, who went in the ways of Absalom (v 6). David's commander-in-chief Joab supported Adoniahu's bid for the throne because he knew that David was angry with him for having killed Avner, Amasa and Absalom and would make sure that Solomon took revenge on him if he ever came to the throne. Eviatar the Priest had taken refuge with David when Saul killed the priests of Nov and had served as High Priest thereafter until the time of Abasolom's rebellion, when he failed to elicit an answer from the Urim Ve-Thumim and was deposed in favor of Tzadok. Eviatar was from the ill-fated house of Eli the Priest who had been rejected from serving in the Temple that Solomon was to build, and thus Eviatar had an interest in siding with Adoniahu.

The reason why Nathan the Prophet rather than Gad intervened on behalf of Solomon was because Nathan himself had prophesied to David that Solomon would reign (II Samuel 7:12; I Chronicles 22:9). It is said that when Batsheva's first child from David died, she refused to agree to any further relations with David unless he swore to her that her child would reign - in order to dispel the aura of scandal that surrounded David's marriage with her (II Samuel 12:24; I Kings 1:17).

Batsheva concluded her demand to David to fulfill his oath to her by pointing out that if he failed to assert Solomon's rights to the throne and Adoniahu reigned, "I and my son Solomon will be LACKING". The use here of the Hebrew word HATA'IM, which in other contexts is translated as "sinning", throws considerable light on the Torah concept of HEIT, "sin". The root HATA is explained by Rashi (on v 21) as "missing the mark", as when an archer misses his target. In other words, if we "sin", we FALL SHORT of what we could and should have attained.


God had given the kingship over Israel to David AND HIS SEED forever, and according to the Torah law of kings, a son who succeeds his father as king is not normally anointed because the kingship is his by inheritance (Talmud Shekalim 16a). However, David saw that it was necessary to have Solomon ceremonially anointed in the presence of the High Priest together with the Urim Ve-Thumim as well as the prophet Nathan and David's new Commander-in-Chief Benaya ben Yehoyada in order to publicly reject Adoniahu's counterclaim to the kingship.

Riding on David's own mule was itself a sign that Solomon was king, since nobody but a new king is permitted to use any of the appurtenances of the previous king. (Since a mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey, it would normally be forbidden to ride on one because of the prohibition of KIL'AYIM, "forbidden mixed species", but there is a tradition that David's PERED was a unique animal dating from the six days of creation, Yerushalmi Kil'ayim 8:2). Solomon was anointed with the anointing oil prepared by Moses in the Wilderness. The ceremony took place at the spring of Shilo'ah, which is also called Ha-Gihon from the Hebrew root GI-AH meaning "to flow, be drawn", signifying that Solomon's kingship would continue forever. Benaya was not afraid even in David's presence to bless Solomon that he should be even greater than his father, because Benaya knew that "a man is not jealous of his son's success" (Rashi on v 37). Thus David gave over the throne to Solomon in his own lifetime with great joy (compare the opening section of Rabbi Nachman's Story of the Seven Beggars), and Adoniahu was put under house arrest.

* * * The passage in I Kings vv. 1-31 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Chayey Sarah Gen. 23:1-25:18 * * *



David called Solomon and reminded him of the inevitability of death: "I am going the way of all the earth." (v 2). In his final will and testament to his son, David instructed him to follow the essential formula for all Israelite success: to go in the ways of God and guard His statutes and commandments "as written in the Torah of Moses" (v 3).


Joab had been David's loyal commander-in-chief almost to the very end, staying with him even during the supreme challenge of Absalom's rebellion (though it is said that Joab very nearly went after Absalom). Nevertheless, David was unable to forgive Joab for having assassinated Saul's commander-in-chief Avner precisely when David wanted to bring an end to the civil war with the House of Saul, and also for having killed his own beloved son Absalom contrary to his specific orders as well as assassinating Absalom's commander-in-chief Amasa. Yet despite the fact that Joab had wielded the sword of Judgment even more implacably than David, he was head of the Sanhedrin and a most formidable Torah sage as well as a man of kindness who made his home like a wilderness in that it was constantly open to all the poor people (see Rashi on v 34). Thus David did not want to wreak vengeance on Joab forever. When he told Solomon, "Do not bring his hoary old age down to She'ol=Hell", what he meant was that Solomon should ensure that Joab would not die a natural death in order that his being killed in this world should atone for him, save him from hell and bring him to the life of the world to come (Rashi on v 6).

While Barzilai the Giladite and his sons had supported David when he fled from Absalom and were to be rewarded, Shimi ben Gera - head of the Sanhedrin and a leading member of the tribe of Benjamin - had come out cursing and stoning David in his flight. His curse is described as NIMRETZETH ("extremely strong"): the letters that make up this Hebrew word are the initial letters of all the unpleasant names that Shimi ben Gera called David: NO'EF ("adulterer"), MOAVI ("Moabite", i.e. a "sheigitz"), ROTZEAH ("murderer"), TZORER ("persecutor"), THO'EYVA ("abomination"). David said to Solomon that Shimi is "WITH YOU" (v 8), because - paradoxically - Shimi, an outstanding Torah sage, was actually Solomon's TEACHER (Talmud Berachos 8a).


It is said that David never had relations with Avishag the Shunamite (I Kings 1:4), and accordingly she was not technically forbidden to Adoniahu as his father's concubine. Nevertheless it was seditious of Adoniahu to ask Batsheva to intercede with her son Solomon to give him Avishag, because "a private individual is forbidden to have any benefit from the scepter of the king". By requesting Avishag, Adoniahu was plotting to get his foot inside the door of the kingship.

Solomon displayed all the proper KAVOD ("honor") to his mother Batsheva when she innocently went in to put this request to him (v 19). The Midrash states that when Solomon "placed a chair for the mother of the king", this was actually for "the mother of the kingship", i.e. David's great grandmother Ruth who was still alive (Bava Basra 91b; Rashi on v 19). Yet with all his show of maternal respect, the young Solomon (who was only 12 years old at the time, Rashi on I Kings 3:7) was far from being a tender softie and understood much more clearly than his own mother the real implications of Adoniahu's little request, sending his commander-in-chief Benaya to dispatch him as a traitor.


As indicated in the commentary on the previous chapter, Eviatar the former High Priest was "sent home" by Solomon (v 26) not only because he had joined Adoniahu's rebellion but also because the time had come to build God's eternal House in Jerusalem, while the line of priests descending from Eli (who traced their lineage to Aaron's fourth son Ithamar), had because of their corruption been deposed from serving in the Temple in favor of the priests who came from the line of Aaron's third son, Elazar, and his son Pinchas.


On hearing the reports of how Solomon was settling scores with those who had fallen foul of his father David, Joab fled to the Sanctuary Altar, whose power to give succor to unwitting killers is learned from the verse in Exodus 21:14: "When a man intentionally plots against his neighbor to kill him craftily, even from My altar shall you take him to die". This verse indicates that the Altar has the same power as the Cities of Refuge to give succor to unwitting killers.

Joab's killing of Avner, Amasa and Absalom had in fact been intentional and Solomon would have been permitted to have him taken from the Altar and killed. The rabbis discussed at length what Joab had to gain from being killed at the Altar rather than being executed after due trial as a traitor. They answered that while those executed by the court are buried in a special "criminals" section of the cemetery, by being killed at the Altar Joab could be buried in his family plot together with his ancestors. Although the text states that he was buried in his home "in the wilderness", it would be ridiculous to take this literally, and the phrase is darshened as explained above - that Joab's house was open to the poor like a wilderness - and also as indicating that after his death Israel was left like a barren wilderness (RaDaK on v 34).

By putting Shimi ben Gera under permanent house arrest and making him swear to remain there, Solomon craftily contrived to ensure that Shimi would be responsible for his own death when circumstances would arise - as they surely would - to induce him to leave his home. Despite Solomon's having sent Benaya to perform yet another in his series of bloody executions of David's foes, the text states that "the kingship was established in the hand of Solomon" (v 46) in order to indicate that he was not punished for this and that his kingship was ordained by God.

* * * I Kings 2:1-12 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Vayechi, Genesis 47:28-50:26 * * *



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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