Be Strong and Be a Mensch (1 Kings 2:2-12)

The transfer of power in a hereditary monarchy was a critical event at the beginning of the Davidic house. David sought to ensure that his son Solomon would properly fulfill his role, offering him these words of blessing: “I am going the way of all the earth; be strong and be a man (v’hayita l’ish).” (2:2)

The intention of the blessing “be a man” is difficult to ascertain, but it does offer us a window into what commentators discern to be requisite personality traits for a king. Targum Yonatan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, renders it as “a man who fears sin”. He probably presumed that since leaders have few limits on their behavior, it is necessary for them to be able to police their own behavior. Rabbi David Kimche, (12th century Provence) expands on this idea: “zealous and in control of yourself, and in control of your impulses (yitzrot).” Both of these commentators stress the need for self- control.

Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag – 13th century France) asserts that the word “ish” connotes maturity: “that your deeds should not be those of one who is young in years nor adolescent, but rather they should be the deeds of an important person – but still they should be done with considered consultation.” The concern here is that Solomon should act as a strong responsible adult. Ralbag, however, also knows that strong leaders often act capriciously. This explains why he wants to temper the strong leader’s power with the advice of others.

These commentators are profoundly aware that power can easily be corrupted. The leader must be strong, but must also have a built-in sense of self-control. He or she must have a strong sense of right and wrong as well as the ability to curb the appetites which power might induce. There is also a strong awareness that a leader who conducts him or herself without consultation is likely to do harm since they might lack adequate perspective to make the right decision.

Ultimately, it seems that David probably wanted to give his son Solomon the benefit of his life experiences. The commentators on this passage spelled out exactly what that might mean given the added perspective of generations of history.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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