Friday, January 2, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayekhi 5775–Which Last Words?

The haftarah for parashat Vayekhi is taken from I Kings 2:1-12. It contains the words of a dying King David to his son Shlomo (Solomon.) They are, no surprise here, somewhat troubling words. He asks him to exact revenge upon one commander who did wrong, to extend courtesy to another commander who aided him. Then there is the third commander, who at first cursed Shlomo, but then later joined him, and to whom David promised he would not kill him. David tells Shlomo to kill him. Hereditary vengeance, How lovely.

The tenuous connection to the parasha is that both speak of a father’s last words to his children, Of both Jacob’s last charge to his sons, and David’s last charge to Shlomo, much has been written (mostly in the way of apologetics.) Some say David wasn’t telling Shlomo to kill Shim’i outright, but to wait for him to commit some offense for which no pretext would be needed to have him killed. Others say it was just David’s way of warning Shlomo to be on the lookout for  Shim’i and others who might challenge him. Yet others call it a “preemptive strike” to eliminate someone who was sure to oppose and threaten Shlomo as he did David.

Do we need the apologetics for David (or even for Yaakov?) Must we sanitize everything? I, frankly, love the fact that the Torah portrays our heroes as far from perfect, and doesn’t shy away from showing us their faults. [As an aside, I’ve heard some parents talk about how disappointed they were after taking their kids to see “Into the Woods” – but it makes me wonder how many of them are actually familiar with the fairy tales in their original forms, warts and all. The Brothers Grimm made no such pretense – their collection was actually intended to be a scholarly collection of folklore, and not at all for children, though they themselves edited out some of the more sexual, grittier, and gorier stuff. Even though nowadays we use the term “Disneyfied” to mean sanitized, even the Disney versions of tales contain more adult content that often gets unnoticed by the younger viewers. Let’s not forget, Bambi’s mother dies. It’s not all fluff and rainbows and happy endings. Nevertheless, somewhere along the line our society developed a superficial disdain for the uglier parts of our fables and stories. I just participated in an extended online debate about when and how and where we teach our children the “true” story of Hanukkah.]

While I am not at all uncomfortable with the grittier and seamier side of Torah, I am glad that there is a balance, and we can find more uplifting things as well. The same David written about in I Kings 2 is also the subject of the earlier (theoretically) II Samuel 23, source of the well known last words of David:

These are the last words of David: the word of David, son of Jesse, the word of the man raised high, the anointed one of the G”d of Jacob, the sweet singer of songs in Israel: The spirit of The L”rd has spoken through me, G”d’s message is on my tongue, the G”d of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me: He that rules over men shall be just, such that he rules in awe of G”d, he is like the light of morning at sunrise, a morning without clouds, when, through clear shining after rain, the grass springs forth from the earth…

Yeah, that David. That’s the one we always want to hear, but the truth is, we also have to hear the David who said, speaking of Shim’i “send his grey hair down to Sheol in blood.”

The redactors of the Tanakh knew full well that they were ordering David’s words in this way, so that his poetic last words came before his grittier last words. What message were they trying to send to us? (Those who consider the Tanakh as dictated as is in toto by G”d have no less a dilemma – though they also have that “ineffable” thing to fall back upon in their puzzlement.)

Jacob got slightly better treatment. Jacob gets to give his oracles (call it a living will if you must, but that’s such a whitewash. In truth it was a frank assessment by a father of his children and what their futures were likely to hold.) After the oracles, Jacob gets to have simple last words:”Bury me with my father…in the cave…at Machpelah…which Abraham purchased…”

Maybe, when we figure out why David’s meaner last words come after his nicer last words, we’ll be ready for the messianic age? Or does that simple fact explain why it hasn’t come yet?

In Egypt.

Khazak, khazak, v’nitkhazeik.

Shabbat Shalom,

© 2015 by Adrian A. Dulester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vay'khi 5774 - The Puppet's Unritten Lament
Vayekhi 5773 - The Wrong Good (Redux and Updated 5762)
Vayekhi 5772 - A Different HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayekhi 5771-Trading Places (Redux & Updated from 5759)
Vayekhi 5770 - Musing Block?
Vayekhi 5769 - Enough With the Hereditary Payback Already!
Vayekhi 5767-HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayechi 5766-Thresholds (Redux 5764 with Reflections
Vayechi 5761/5-Unethical Wills
Vayechi 5764-Thresholds
Vayechi 5763 - I Got it Good and That Ain't Bad (Redux 5760)
Vayechi 5759-Trading Places
Vayechi 5762-The Wrong Good

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