Wednesday, 23 November, 2016 - 5:00 pm

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Woody Allen said, "Someone once asked me if my dream was to live on, after I die, in the hearts of people, and I said I would prefer to live on in my own apartment."

In the Haftarah for this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, which means The Life of Sarah, the Book of Kings tells us the story of the Jewish people from the time of King Solomon’s reign, until well into the division of the Jewish Kingdom, and the exile of the Northern Kingdom. It follows the Book of Samuel, and its account of the beginning of monarchy in the Land of Israel, of King Saul, and later, the ascension and rule of King David. As such, its opening provides a link between these two periods, when thoughts must turn to David’s succession.

And king David was old, he came into his old age, and they covered him with clothes, but he was not warmed.

King David, no doubt one of the most vivacious, passionate, lively of all the Biblical personalities, was finally slowing down, and growing old. The ravages of time and age had taken on David, and the once dynamic leader seemed reduced to a picture of passivity.

But before he even passed on, thoughts about what would be once he was gone were heard around his court and family. These thoughts became murmurs, then talk, and just a couple verses later, they developed into action.

King David’s son Adoniya, from his wife Chagit, was the brother of Abshalom, David’s charismatic son who led a rebellion against his father and was ultimately killed. Now Adoniya, who was handsome and striking, believed the throne belonged to him. He decided to take a similarly proactive approach to succession.

Adoniya declared himself to be the future king, and moved to cement his claim. He formed a personal guard, complete with chariots, horsemen, and 50 servants to run in front of him. Meanwhile, he began testing the waters in the royal court, where he attempted to garner support for his bid for the throne. Aviasar, a prominent member of the priesthood, offered his loyalty, and, in an enormous coup for the young Adoniya, so did Yoav, David’s nephew and long-time military commander. (Both were upset at David and felt that under Adoniya they would retain their full power). They advised him, and together, they formed the nucleus of his royal campaign. There were still a few notable loyalist holdouts, like the High Priest Tzadok, the prophets Nathan and Shimi, and the royal guard, but Adoniya’s campaign quickly took on a life of if its own.

Then, Adoniya decided to go public and take his royal candidacy to the people. By bringing his contention for the throne into the open, he could begin gathering the popular support he would need to become king, and preempt, or even intimidate any potential opponents. He prepared an enormous feast, slaughtered many animals to serve, and invited all of his supporters, as well as his brothers—and potential rivals—for the throne. The king’s loyalists were not invited. The king himself, in the meantime, was oblivious of the feast altogether.

But there was one major problem—apart from the fact that King David still hadn’t actually passed away: Years earlier, a prophet of the time, Nathan, declared that the future king would be Solomon. David had then promised his wife Batsheva that her son Solomon would inherit him as king.

Nathan understood that once Adoniya seized the throne, he would want to purge the royal court of any potential rivals. Batsheva and Solomon's lives were in danger. The time had come to recall the promise David had made to his wife.

Once Nathan the prophet had informed Batsheva of what was now more or less a coup, and of the grave threat she was under, they formed a plan of action.

First, Batsheva entered the king’s chamber, in order to make her case. Then Nathan came in to tell the king about the coup of Adoniya.

Then king David answered and said, As G-d lives, who has redeemed my soul out of all distress, As I have sworn to you by the Lord G-d of Israel, saying, Solomon your son will reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne in my stead; so will I do this day.

Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the earth, and said: May my master king David live forever.

And so it was. The appropriate steps were immediately made to establish Solomon’s rightful claim to the throne, and as word of King David’s decision reached Adoniya’s banquet, Adoniya himself quickly surrendered his claim, and for his loyalty, Solomon promised not to touch a hair on his head.

What seems so strange and somewhat manipulative was what Batsheva said once King David had reassured her that Solomon would be his successor:

May my master king David live forever!

After all of her fears about Adoniya, and her desperate bid to secure the throne for her son, how could she mean that? Everything she did makes this sentiment look like an obvious lie! If she really thought David might live forever, or even had many good years ahead of him, then why was she urgently maneuvering her son to take his place? She could have said: May the king live. Why add “forever” when just moments before she asked David to prepare for his own demise?!

Moreover, just a few lines later, once Solomon was anointed and officially approved for succession, his supporters announced, while David was still alive:

And Tzadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon, and they blew the horn, and all the people said, "Long live king Solomon."

There is a subtle but clear message here. Batsheva was not flattering or manipulating at all. She was telling her husband something very powerful: Once you have declared Solomon to be the next king, you have ensured that you will live on even after your passing.

Solomon was the child who most embodied David's values, ideals and virtues. Thus, Solomon's leadership would essentially be perpetuating that of his father David. The people might have changed, their personalities may have varied, but the monarchy would have the same mission statement and belief system. David was a servant of G-d and understood that his mission as king was to fulfill his duties to G-d, and to inspire his subjects to live up to their full G-d given dignity and potential, and so would it be with Solomon.

When the people declared “Long live Solomon the king,” this was not a contradiction of Batsheva’s proclamation: “Let my master King David live forever!” It was one and the same. Solomon saw himself as an extension of David. When Solomon became king, he prayed to G-d that he would merit to follow the path of his father David. In the life of Solomon, David, too, would live.

Leo Tolstoy famously called the Jewish people, “the embodiment of eternity.” Many great thinkers and writers, from Mark Twain to Blaise Pascal, have marveled at the Jewish people’s extraordinary longevity, and wondered what its secret was. The Jewish people have always known that the secret to our immortality lies with our children, and specifically, the transmission of our values and practices to the next generation.

That is why the name of this portion is “The Life of Sarah,” though it is focused on events after her demise. Together with Abraham, Sarah pioneered the Jewish settlement of the Land of Canaan, and as described in the opening chapter of Chayei Sarah, her burial in the Cave of Machpeilah achieved the first actual Jewish ownership of a piece of land in the Holy Land. Sarah devoted her life to the creation of the first Jewish family, and indeed the story of Rebecca's selection demonstrates how Sarah's successor embodied the ideals upon which Sarah founded the Jewish home. 

How do we know the depth and longevity of our lives? When we look at our children, our students, our disciples, and the people we touched. King David, and Sarah, continue to live and inspire us because they understood that the positive influence we have on our children, loved ones, and friends can never die.

This is the truth of life: A portion of our parents is implanted within us. Unbeknownst to them, they made indelible impressions on us that have been permanently recorded into our very beings. We eat their tears and their laughs. We drink their smiles or their anger. We consume their joys and frustrations. They are recorded and alive in our hearts and souls.

There is something each of us can implant in the souls of those we have influence on... and that lives on. 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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