Chayei Sarah

Dedicated in memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l: A giant without whom Haftarah Helper would not exist

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The Book of Samuel presents David’s extraordinary life in rich detail. The Book of Kings opens when King David is very old, recounting the rise of his heir, Solomon, to the throne. Solomon’s rise features prominently in the Haftarot for Genesis. Just as God’s covenant with Abraham passes to Isaac in the Parashah, God’s covenant with King David passes to Solomon in the Haftarah. Both transmissions require third parties to surmount challenges. The Parashah tells how Abraham sends his servant to find Isaac a wife, while the Haftarah describes how David’s prophet and wife secure Solomon’s place on his father’s throne. Also, both texts include a single story (Rebecca at the well; Adonijah’s rebellion) that is restated, each time with different emphases.

The Haftarah opens as David’s servants, unable to warm their ailing king, provide him with the kingdom’s most beautiful young woman, Avishag of Shunem . Meanwhile, outside the palace, David’s oldest surviving son, Adonijah, escalates royal behavior that David had not previously stopped, now declaring himself king. Gathering support from David’s other sons as well as powerful religious and military leaders, some of whom previously clashed with David, Adonijah makes dramatic, public displays of his rule. Adonijah does not seek support from David’s loyalists and excludes his far younger brother and likely royal heir, Solomon, as well as the prophet, Nathan. As king, he would likely put Solomon and his mother, Batsheva, to death.

Previously, God told David that Solomon would succeed him; David swore the same to Batsheva; and God told Nathan of His love for Solomon. The Haftarah recounts Nathan’s politically savvy plan for him and Batsheva to persuade David to put down the rebellion, secure the throne for Solomon, and save their lives. Batsheva enters the royal chambers where Avishag attends to her husband. She reminds David of his oath to her that her son, Solomon, will succeed him. She tells him that, without his knowledge, Adonijah is instead assembling David’s son and others and acting as king; highlights that her and Solomon’s lives are on the line; and urges him to publicly declare Solomon as his legitimate heir. Nathan then enters, confirming Adonijah’s actions and expressing surprise that David hadn’t informed him of this major decision. David rallies, swearing to Batsheva to install Solomon as king.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 1-4: The ailing and dying King David is cold and cannot be warmed. His servants bring the most beautiful young woman in his kingdom, Avishag, to serve and lie with him, but he does not have relations with her.

I Kings 1:1

King David was old, advanced in years. They covered him with garments, but he did not become warm.

וְהַמֶּ֤לֶךְ דָּוִד֙ זָקֵ֔ן בָּ֖א בַּיָּמִ֑ים וַיְכַסֻּ֙הוּ֙ בַּבְּגָדִ֔ים וְלֹ֥א יִחַ֖ם לֽוֹ׃

Verses 5-10: In a coup, David’s son, Adonijah, declares his ascension to the throne with supporters from the royal family and court. His celebration excludes the prophet, Nathan, heir designate Solomon, and others loyal to David.

I Kings 1:5

Adonijah the son of [David’s wife] Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I shall be king!” He set up chariots and horsemen for himself, and fifty men to run before him.

וַאֲדֹנִיָּ֧ה בֶן־חַגִּ֛ית מִתְנַשֵּׂ֥א לֵאמֹ֖ר אֲנִ֣י אֶמְלֹ֑ךְ וַיַּ֣עַשׂ ל֗וֹ רֶ֚כֶב וּפָ֣רָשִׁ֔ים וַחֲמִשִּׁ֥ים אִ֖ישׁ רָצִ֥ים לְפָנָֽיו׃

Verses 11-14: Nathan informs Solomon’s mother, Batsheva, of the coup and the resulting threat to their lives.  Nathan proposes a plan to help her, with his assistance, foil the coup and save their lives.

I Kings 1:13

[Nathan tells Batsheva] “Go, and enter unto King David. Say to him, ‘Didn’t you, my lord the king, swear to your maidservant [me] saying, “Your son, Solomon, will reign after me, He shall sit upon my throne”? Why[, then,] does Adonijah reign?’”

לְכִ֞י וּבֹ֣אִי ׀ אֶל־הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ דָּוִ֗ד וְאָמַ֤רְתְּ אֵלָיו֙ הֲלֹֽא־אַתָּ֞ה אֲדֹנִ֣י הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ נִשְׁבַּ֤עְתָּ לַאֲמָֽתְךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר כִּֽי־שְׁלֹמֹ֤ה בְנֵךְ֙ יִמְלֹ֣ךְ אַחֲרַ֔י וְה֖וּא יֵשֵׁ֣ב עַל־כִּסְאִ֑י וּמַדּ֖וּעַ מָלַ֥ךְ אֲדֹנִיָֽהוּ׃

Verses 15-21: Batsheva follows Nathan’s plan, visiting David as Avishag tends to him. She rouses him to act, stating that Adonijah is acting as king, that David swore that her son would succeed him, and that their lives are in danger.

I Kings 1:20

[Now] you, my lord the king - the eyes of all Israel are upon you to tell them who shall succeed my lord the king on the throne.

וְאַתָּה֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ עֵינֵ֥י כׇל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עָלֶ֑יךָ לְהַגִּ֣יד לָהֶ֔ם מִ֗י יֵשֵׁ֛ב עַל־כִּסֵּ֥א אֲדֹנִֽי־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ אַחֲרָֽיו׃

Verses 22-27: As Batsheva completes her audience with David, Nathan arrives. He supports her account of Adonijah’s rebellion and asks how David could have withheld from him the identity of David’s successor.

I Kings 1:27

Can this decision have come from my lord the king, without your telling your servant who is to succeed to the throne of my lord the king?

אִ֗ם מֵאֵת֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ נִֽהְיָ֖ה הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה וְלֹ֤א הוֹדַ֙עְתָּ֙ אֶֽת־[עַבְדְּךָ֔] (עבדיך) מִ֗י יֵשֵׁ֛ב עַל־כִּסֵּ֥א אֲדֹנִֽי־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ אַחֲרָֽיו

Verses 28-31: David reaffirms his divine vow to Batsheva, confirming that Solomon will become king.

I Kings 1:30

Indeed, as I [David] swore to you [Batsheva] by the Lord, God of Israel saying, “Surely Solomon, your son, shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my stead,” surely, so will I do this day.

כִּ֡י כַּאֲשֶׁר֩ נִשְׁבַּ֨עְתִּי לָ֜ךְ בַּה' אֱלֹקי יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר כִּֽי־שְׁלֹמֹ֤ה בְנֵךְ֙ יִמְלֹ֣ךְ אַחֲרַ֔י וְה֛וּא יֵשֵׁ֥ב עַל־כִּסְאִ֖י תַּחְתָּ֑י כִּ֛י כֵּ֥ן אֶעֱשֶׂ֖ה הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃

Connections

Maimonides derives the halachically required respect for Jewish kings, even by prophets, from the Haftarah.

Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 2:5

The king sits on a throne in his palace and places a crown on his head. The entire nation comes to him when he wants, stands before him, and prostrates on the ground. Even a prophet standing before the king prostrates to the ground, as [I Kings 1:23] says, “…behold, Nathan the Prophet. He entered before the king and prostrated to the king.”

וְיוֹשֵׁב עַל כִּסֵּא מַלְכוּתוֹ בַּפַּלְטֵרִין שֶׁלּוֹ. וּמֵשִׂים כֶּתֶר בְּרֹאשׁוֹ. וְכָל הָעָם בָּאִין אֵלָיו בְּעֵת שֶׁיִּרְצֶה. וְעוֹמְדִין לְפָנָיו וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים אַרְצָה. אֲפִלּוּ נָבִיא עוֹמֵד לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אַרְצָה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלכים א א כג) "הִנֵּה נָתָן הַנָּבִיא וַיָּבֹא לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לַמֶּלֶךְ".

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email haftarahhelper@gmail.com.