Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

In an odd bit of synchronicity, our haftara begins with the introduction of Avishag the Shunamite, while the leading character in the previous haftara was the Shunamite woman. The Midrash teaches (Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer) that these two women were sisters; however, this is problematic because the events are separated by a significant amount of time. There are various attempts to reconcile this discrepancy but none of this has anything to do with the parsha. There is a connection with regard to Avishag, about whom we are told, as with Sara Imeinu, that she was extraordinarily beautiful (Melachim I 1:4). Nevertheless, according to R’ Chanina Bar Papa, she was not even half as beautiful as Sara (Sanhedrin 39b).

The more obvious connection between our parsha and the haftara is that Avraham Avinu and David HaMelech are each at the end of their lives. Each is also confronted with a crisis of leadership with regard to succession. In Avraham’s case he has two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael, who have a claim to inherit. Probably as a testament to Avraham’s good parenting, Yishmael acknowledges the primacy of Yitzchak’s claim and the two brothers are reconciled.


Things don’t go as smoothly for David. Much of the end of David’s life is marred by battle between the brothers and even occasionally between the brothers and their father over who will rule once David is gone. Previously David had promised Shlomo’s mother, BatSheva, that Shlomo would be king – in fact Radak (Melachim I 1:11) says this was not just a promise but prophecy. Not everybody is impressed with David’s prophecy. David’s son Adoniya commands the loyalty of most of the powerful people in the nation and the military as well as a good chunk of the spiritual leadership of Israel. He controls the media and he’s very much beloved by the people.

Adoniya holds a grand convention with much fanfare and spectacle to celebrate his ascendance to the throne. Every important person is invited to the affair, except for a few holdouts who are known to still be loyal to David. As these events are unfolding, the prophet Natan approaches BatSheva to say that Adoniya has become king without King David’s knowledge or consent. His plan, of course, is to work with BatSheva to intervene before this reality becomes irreversible. But the phrasing is intriguing. Natan is expressing that by assuming the appearance of kingship – if unopposed by the only individual with the authority to stop it – Adoniya has effectively made himself king. When they confront David with this news, again BatSheva expresses that Adoniya has become king. Natan suggests that he must have done so with David’s approval because without this approval it is an act of rebellion.

In fact, the Malbim points out that if David didn’t wish for Adoniya to reign, even after his death it would be an act of rebellion for Adoniya to presume to rule. From this we learn, along with David and Natan and BatSheva, a cardinal rule of politics: The one who holds the power and commands the institutions of the state is the leader, whether or not he is held to be legitimate. In the case of the kings of Israel, however, their legitimacy derives from divine ordination – the will of G-d as prophesied by David and by the decree of David himself. The Abarbanel, who was himself a political operative and one of the most knowledgeable of our sages in affairs of state, notes that in acting the way he has done, Adoniya indeed has become king and that this act of rebellion is only resolved by his death, upon which Shlomo at last can become king.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at