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King David was old, advanced in years… Adonijah, son of Hagith raised himself saying, 'I will become King'. He provided for himself a chariot and cavalry, and fifty men running before him. All his life his father had never saddened him by saying, 'Why do you do this?' Moreover he was very handsome and he was born after Absalom… (Kings I 1:1, 5-7).
Like that of the Parasha, the theme of the Haftara deals with succession. Father Abraham sought to find a woman worthy of marriage to his heir, Isaac. King David found himself having to choose a suitable successor from his children, to lead Israel and ultimately the world along the path of G-d's Divine Plan as revealed in the Torah. The events of the Haftara appear to have taken place at about 966 BCE.
On his deathbed at the age of seventy, David confirms to his wife Bathsheba that Solomon, her own son, would be his heir to the throne. It seems that the succession was by no means a foregone conclusion even after Absalom, David's third son, failed to seize the crown earlier during his own father's lifetime (Sam. II 15-18). After Absalom's death at the hand of David's general, Joab, Adonijah considered himself next in line to the throne.
Taking advantage of David's confinement to his sickbed, Adonijah assembled his followers and bodyguards, who proclaimed him as King Adonijah at one of Jersusalem' sources of water - Ein Rogel. Many of the court dignitaries refused to attend while others, including the main prophet, Nathan, and his own half-brother, Solomon, were not even invited. Thus Adonijah's claim obviously lacked legitimacy, and Nathan the Prophet, the spiritual leader of the establishment, moved at once to install Solomon on the throne. Working together with Bathsheba, David recognized the emergency, and in their presence he confirmed Solomon as his successor. That was the decisive move that was to lead to the failure of Adonijah's rebellion and Solomon's ascent to the throne after his father's death.
In all fairness, Adonijah's claim to the throne did not seem to be entirely unreasonable. David's first and third sons were already dead. Kilav, his second son, is never recorded as showing any interest, putting in any claim, or having any connection with the intrigues at the royal court. As fourth son, he could claim to be the next interested person in line to the throne. Solomon, by contrast, was born much later - and from a woman with whom David's first union is described by the text as 'bad in the eyes of G-d' (Sam. II 11:27). And although Bathsheba did claim that David promised the succession to Solomon, no such promise is actually found in any account of David's life. It is only hinted at where David commands Solomon to 'build a house to G-d' (Chron. I 22:6).
Ginsberg I. L. (Mussar Haneviim, Kings p.168) suggests the following explanation. In the story of Phineas's appointment to the priesthood, Rashi (to Num. 25:13) maintains that it was necessary to anoint him even though he was a descendant of Aaron the High Priest. That is because Aaron's own anointment served only those of his descendants born afterwards. However, those already born had to be anointed for acceptance into the priesthood. Phineas was born before Aaron was anointed, and according to the Talmudic tradition (Zevachim 100b), he did not enter the priesthood until he killed Zimri. Following this line, the children born to a king before he was anointed are considered commoners. They will not ascend the throne unless they themselves are anointed. True, David had been already been anointed by Samuel 'in the midst of his brothers' (Sam. I 16:13), but that was only fully effective when he became and was recognized as King over Israel. That was after the birth of Adonijah (Sam. II 5:3; 3:4), but long before Solomon.
This seems to be a rather technical explanation, and something that could have been put right if Adonijah was indeed suitable. However, his personal unsuitability for the throne of Israel seems to be hinted at in the following sentence in the Haftara:
All his life his father had never saddened him by saying, 'Why did you do this'? (Kings I 1:6)
There is a story of a young man who was a compulsive gambler. He issued bad checks and had been charged for fraudulent use credit cards. Rejecting a therapist's advice, his father did not let him face the charges. He also covered the son's bad checks. Several years later, the son was still a compulsive gambler, but the situation was worse. He and his family were penniless and homeless. The father's 'kindness' had not helped the son; rather it enabled him son to continue his destructive habit and eventually dealt the innocent wife and children a very cruel blow. Had the father accepted the advice of his therapist, he would have let the son experience the bitter consequences of his crimes. That may have weaned him away from his destructive habit. (Recounted by R. Abraham Twerski, Jewish Action, Summer 1993, pp. 57-59).
Indeed, the Radak makes a similar comment on David's relationship with his son, Adonijah. Adonijah's previous experience throughout his life showed that no matter whatever he did, his father would not censure or chastise him. No matter how wrong he had been in the past, 'his father had never saddened him'. Adonijah felt that this was surely a sign that his father really loved him and that he would not thwart his plans for succession. As the narrative shows, his plans were the cause of his eventual untimely death (ibid. 2:25).
As both Rashi and the Radak write, this episode teaches us that 'he who refrains from rebuking his child brings him to his death'.
Rashi continues to develop this theme in his comment on the next words of the text: 'and he (Adonijah) was born after Absalom'. He explains the words 'after Absalom' means that he was brought up in the same way as Absalom. Rashi brings the tradition that his mother reared him in the same spoiled manner that Absalom's mother reared her own son. This was reflected by each insisting upon chariots and horsemen as well as fifty men to run before him, and each caused great strife and dissention.
We learn from here that Adonijah's rebellion, like Absalom's, caused much grief to David and may be held up as a lesson as to the consequences of overindulgent behavior on the part of parents. True, David was told by Nathan the Prophet that, as a result of his sin involved in his union with Bathsheba, 'the sword shall never depart from your house' (Sam. II 12:10), but nevertheless, his lack of firmness in dealing with his own children brought trouble to his reign not from his external enemies, but from his own children…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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