Mordechai Silverstein

Death May Be a Blessing (1 Kings 1:1-31)

The book of Kings opens with a description of a once powerful king whose life is ebbing away: “King David was now old, advanced in years…” (1:1) Even though he was no longer a powerful warrior nor strong leader, those around him still maintained an interest in preserving what little strength and power remained in his weary body but even they knew his days were numbered.

And yet, death is a mysterious thing. No one has a handle on when it will come and no one can stem its coming. The following midrash, in its deliberations on David’s weakened state make this message clear: “’King David was now old’ This verse should be understood with the following verse in mind: ‘No man has authority over the life breath – to hold back the life breath; there is no authority over the day of death.’ (Ecclesiastes 8:8) There is no one in the world who, when death comes, can say: ‘I will close my mouth and not let the breath of life depart from me, nor from his ears, nor from his nose. He cannot control when death will come because he does not know from where his breath of life will depart. Rather when his death comes, his life force will simply up and depart.” (Agadat Bereishit 35:1 Buber ed.)

The message of this midrash seems terribly fatalistic. Under normal circumstances, no human being, no matter what his or her station in life, has control over his or her day of death. Not even King David, in all of his glory, could forstall his end. What is gained by such a seemingly disparaging message? Perhaps the stern reality reflected in this midrash is really a positive message if we take it to be a call for each of us to ration the time we are allotted wisely – to make each moment count – to do important things with the fleeting moments that we do have – to make our relationships with others really count.

We all must battle the human tendency to think that we have all of the time in the world to make our mark. Time passes rapidly and life is ephemeral. It may be a good thing to be reminded that our lives are finite. Even King David had to face this terrible truth.

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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