Haftarah: Vayechi: Be A Man
Kings 1, Chapter 2:1-12:
We can listen in to the final words of King David to his young son, Solomon, who will become
king upon his father’s passing. What would I expect from the man who began his life hated and resented by his father and brothers and then rose to battle and kill Goliath when everyone else was too intimidated to confront the giant? I would imagine that the composer of the majority of the Psalms would have great wisdom and spiritual insight to share with his twelve year old son, soon to be faced with overwhelming responsibilities. This man, one of the most beloved and confusing of the Bible would be expected to make his finals words timeless, priceless, moving and historic. There is no one else similar to David. He asserted tremendous self-control when he rejected his opportunities to kill Saul who was hunting him, and yet he failed to use that self-control with Bathsheba. He was a loving father, yet remarkably removed. He survived rebellions, uprisings, unyielding criticism, and questions about his legitimacy as a Jew. He had fought many battles so his son could have the necessary peace to build the Temple. The battles disqualified him from building the Temple he was so desperate to build as an expression of his passionate love for God. David’s life has filled volumes of thought, and yet, his final words seem so basic: “Be a man!” “Serve God!” “Punish my enemies!” “Avenge my insult at the hands of Shimi!”
We can study his words and discover the deeper message in each instruction. We can look to the numerous Midrashim and commentaries to figure out the final words of guidance from father to son, from one king to the next. But, I do not imagine Solomon, even in his unparalleled wisdom answering his summons to David’s deathbed with his mind, but his heart. Solomon was about to rise to greatness. He was probably chomping at the bit to get started and complete his father’s work, but he could not forget that his father was dying. He, better than anyone else, could appreciate his father’s greatness in all its aspects. The man who credits his father for his own ability to write the Book of Proverbs, surely expected poetic words of wisdom to flow from his father’s mouth together with his final breath.
The deathbed scene we would expect to be one of the most intense and powerful in history seems so basic and simple. It is not what we expect from David. It is not what we expect for the young Solomon. Even if King David chose not to use this powerful opportunity to be the remarkable human being he was, did Solomon, gifted with incredible wisdom and greatness not deserve more than “Be a man”?
I repeatedly rewound the scene in my mind trying to understand David and attempting to empathize with Solomon. And then I understood; everyone would expect this final talk between these two giants to soar into the highest realms, but David purposely held it back. The father understood that his great son would be vulnerable precisely because of his greatness. King David foresaw that Solomon would have to retain some element of being a simple human being in order to survive his greatness!
David meant exactly what he said; “be a man”. He had the same intention that Hanna, at the very beginning of the book of David’s life, had when she prayed that her Samuel would be a “man”. Hanna requested that her son be average. She wanted a normal son. Of course she dreamed of her son accomplishing great things, as he certainly did, but she wanted Samuel to achieve his greatness without the burden of being an entirely different level of human being.
Solomon was already different. He was not usual in any manner or form. He was, at twelve years old, extraordinary, exactly what we would expect from the man who would build the Temple and raise Israel to its greatest strength and glory in its history before and after. David wanted Solomon to be a ”man”, a normal person. The father understood that his great son would marry a thousand wives in his conviction that his gifts would protect him. Solomon’s greatness would help him gather riches beyond imagination, something that no ordinary man could do. Solomon’s astonishing gifts would protect him from any of the potential problems predicted in the Torah. The exceptional Solomon would not need to maintain the type of basic human connection with his subjects that King David treasured. The father understood that someone with such remarkable gifts would always be driven to accomplish the amazing, just as everyone expected their final words, spoken as King David lay on his deathbed would be so significant and noteworthy.
David used this ultimate meeting to urge his son to live as a man, a normal man, not to constantly strive for the unusual and great. He wanted his son to retain some basic sense of being a human being. Only then would the wisdom he would need to fulfill all his father’s requests to reflect his humanity and win the respect and love of his people.
Jacob too, understood when he spoke to Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt, the man who saved and fed numerous countries; that he was speaking to an extraordinary human being. Jacob knew that he was bidding farewell to twelve remarkable human beings who were different from absolutely everyone else. He recognized how their sense of being special had clouded their lives, whether it was Joseph and his dreams, or the brothers’ willingness to sell a brother into slavery and never be able to accept responsibility. Jacob wanted his sons and all his descendants to always remember that, no matter how special, a person must always remain a person. No one can afford to live with the constant conviction that he or she is so special that the normal rules of life do not apply. Jacob addressed the extraordinary qualities of each of his sons, but he also spoke to the humanity of each. Jacob too wished that each of his sons would “Be A Man!”