Haftara for Haye Sarah 5777: See the Future
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
and don’t criticise what you can’t understand
your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
your old road is rapidly agin’
please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
Oh the times they are a changin’
— Bob Dylan
Synopsis – I Kings 1:1-31
An ageing and ailing King David, suffers from chills and can only find warmth by the presence of a beautiful virgin named Abishag of Shunem. He is not intimate with her. Meanwhile, as the king is removed from daily goings-on, his oldest living son, Adoniya actively lays claim to the throne without his father’s knowledge or permission. Upon hearing this, Batsheba, the mother of Solomon together with the prophet Natan, plan to bring the matter to the king so that he might thwart Adoniya’s efforts and officially select Solomon as successor to the throne. Upon hearing both Bathsheba and Natan’s urgent plea the king swears by God’s name that he will name Solomon as the next king of Israel.
Endings and beginnings are the tenor of this week’s readings. A life-long loving relationship ends with Sarah’s death, and Abraham sets his affairs in order before his own. At the twilight of his reign, King David is called to name his successor and definitively establish the future of his kingdom. Generations pass as old leaders are replaced with new ones.
The role and actions of the older generations are the main feature in our stories, and we find significant contrasts between Abraham in the parasha and King David in the haftara.
Abraham reaches old age whole and complete, whilst David reaches old age and is lacking.
Now Abraham was old, advanced in days, and God blessed Abraham in everything. (24:1)
Now the King, David, was old, advanced in days, and they covered him in clothes and it did not warm him. (I Kings, 1:1)
Recognising that his days are coming to an end, Abraham is active, and calls his butler to manage the plans for the marriage of his son Isaac. Specific instructions are given, a pact is made, and the job is successfully accomplished. Abraham has secured his future through his children and household.
Unlike Abraham, David is passive. He has resigned to his chambers and is removed from court life. As he rests, havoc unfolds in his kingdom. Although he had promised the throne to his youngest son Solomon, his oldest living son, Adoniya, was hastily moving to usurp it. Adoniya sidelines David’s advisors and prepares for his own coronation.
David’s passivity and near failure to actively pass the baton at the end of his life have significant precursors, two of which are explicitly mentioned to us. The first is that Natan bluntly tells him that he isn’t focused.
‘Yet now Adoniya has become king, and you my lord the king, know nothing about it!’ (1:18)
Second, David’s relationship with his son Adoniya, itself was passive. He had not concentrated on disciplining and teaching him.
His father had never saddened him saying ‘Why have you done that?’ (1:6)
In contrast, Abraham was invested in Yitzhak’s life. The Torah describes him as ‘your son, your unique one, whom you love’. Abraham was focused on his son’s growth, development and future. We find that Abraham threw a great celebration when Yitzhak came of age, and later gave him all that he had.
The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Yitzhak was weaned. (21:8)
Abraham gave over all that was his to Yitzhak. (25:5)
Abraham was ‘tuned-in’ to Yitzhak’s world and experiences and he made sure to equip him with precious gifts and teachings, that only a father can. These were the values that Yitzhak took into the future with him.
David did not pay proper attention to Adoniya, and in the end, not minding his own kingdom threatened to destroy it. With the gentle chastisement of those who loved him, David came to recognise that he had to act in order to secure the future of his kingdom and progeny before he passed on.
It is not easy to live in the current events of a new generation as all that is familiar to us is replaced with new elements and devices. When this happens gaps develop between parent and child, between old and new and between one generation and the next, causing two things to occur. The elders lose touch with the world before they leave it and the young ones miss out on precious learning and perspective from their forebears.
When the elders refrain from walking upon the new roads they also refrain from lending the hand of experience to the future. The precious and experienced ‘days that they come with’ are lost in irrelevance. It is difficult to find a time in history when the changes between the generation of the parent and that of the child were so vastly different from one another, as today’s. The world is accelerating at blinding speeds. The lesson of our haftara, encourages us to actively engage with our children in the ‘here and now’ as we offer them our contributions for their future.
Abraham did this from the time Yitzhak was born, whilst David taught us that it is never too late. He did this through listening, showing us that when we tune in to what is happening in the world of our children and we care to learn about their reality and how they live, we solidify our place in history whilst blessing and empowering theirs.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck
 Ironically, it was Solomon’s son Rehobam who, in his great need to step out from under the great and imposing shadow of his father refused to take with him any of his father’s legendary wisdom. Instead, he listened only to his childhood friends and thus cut ties with his past. That very act tore the kingdom of Israel asunder and led to its ultimate destruction and exile, an exile from which, to this day, we have not recovered.
V Chaye Sarah
23a Death and burial of Sara (23:1-20)
23b Servant sent to find Yitzchak a wife (24:1-67)
Avraham instructs servant (24:1-9);
Servant invents a plan (24:10-27);
Servant meets Rivka’s family (24:28-41);
Servant tells them what happened (24:42-49);
Finally, servant takes her home (24:50-58);
Rivka meets Yitzchak (24:59-67)
24 Death and progeny of Avraham (25:1-11)
25 Death and progeny of Yishmael (25:12-18)
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS