PARSHA HAFTORA AND SUCCESSION

As  a recovering pulpit rabbi, I have not yet outgrown the temptation to look towards the week’s Parsha for insight into current events.  In that light I looked to this week’s Parsha, Chayei Sara, and the Haftora selected from the first chapter of the Book of Kings, to shed light on current events in Washington. To my mind the lesson taught by both the Parsha and Haftora is how to ensure a proper transition of power.

The current occupant of the Oval Office has great difficulty accepting the election results and beginning the process of transitioning himself and our entire nation to the next stage.  Many in the Orthodox community cognitively feel similarly challenged to accept the results of the recent election.  Difficulty transitioning, cognitively and in the world of  action, is a known fact of life.  Many people, myself included, delay making changes, even when we know that they need to be made.  We don’t prepare early enough.  Too often we are left rushing in the last minute to complete a change that could have been done better and far more easily with some advanced planning.

A related lesson can be seen from Chayei Sara and its Haftora.   The Haftora deals with the intrigue related to Solomon succeeding his father David as king.  It is not entirely clear what the link between this chapter and our parsha which deals with the purchase of Mearat HaMachpela and the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivka is.  In fact, the Levush (Orach Chayim 669) suggests that the link is linguistic rather than thematic. There is similarity in the language of the opening  pasuk of the Haftora והמלך דוד זקן בא בימים  and a pasuk found in Chayei Sara בראשיתכ”ד:א)  ואברהם זקן בא בימים) .  While this linguistic similarity is clear, it does not adequately explain why this chapter was chosen as the Haftora.  Why choose a Haftora for a single verse of seemingly minor consequence rather than choose a section that thematically links to a central episode in the Parsha?

I believe that the choice of the Haftora is deeply thematically linked to the Parsha.  Both the Haftora and Parsha accent the lesson of the proper way to transfer power and ensure continuity.  Chayei Sara is really about the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak.  Rashi (Bereishit 22:20) notes that immediately after the Akeida, Avraham recognized the need to marry his son off.  In all likelihood, he could have made plans for Yitzchak’s marriage much earlier, especially considering the opinions that Yitzchak was thirty seven years old at the time of the Akeida.  Yet he didn’t.  He left it for later.  Only after the death of Sarah did Avraham genuinely recognize the need for Yitzchak to marry and ensure a continuation of the family line.  Of course, Avraham was not to blame for delaying the search for a marriage partner for Yitzchak.  There was a Divine promise that the  covenant will be carried on permanently through Yitzchak (Bereishit 17:19).  Avraham likely thought, why should I expend energy to do something that has already been guaranteed by a Divine promise?  Armed with this promise Avraham could have delayed seeking a marriage partner for Yitzchak even longer.  Yet after the death of Sarah, Avraham recognized the urgency and actively sought a partner for his son.  He did not relinquish his responsibility to ensure the family continuity even though he was equipped with a  Divine promise.  He didn’t just let the transition happen.  He played an active role in ensuring that the transition would go as smoothly as possible.

The episode regarding David may be understood in a similar vein.   David was prophetically foretold that his son Shlomo would enjoy peace from enemies, would build a home for Hashem and would permanently sit on the throne (Divrei haYamim 1:22: 9-10).  Armed with this Divine guarantee, it is easy to understand why David , like Avraham, saw no need to actively ensure the continuation of his legacy.  It would happen no matter what.  However, as in the case of Avraham, David faced a cataclysmic event in the family, the rebellion of Adoniahu.  The rebellion of Adoniahu forced David to not rely on the Divine promise alone, but to actively work to ensure proper succession and guarantee that Solomon would succeed him on the throne.

The takeaway lesson of both the Parsha and the Haftora is that even if one is armed with a Divine promise that guarantees succession,  appropriate plans must be made to ensure that the transition happens smoothly.  Absent a Divine promise, active effort to ensure a seamless transition is even more important.  Passing the baton to the next leader actually ensures that the legacy of the previous leader is maintained.  This was the case when Yitzchak carried out the legacy of Avraham and Shlomo carried out the legacy of David.  The truth of this idea has only been reinforced by history.  Genuine leadership requires passing the baton to the next leader.

About the Author
Rabbi Ezra Schwartz is a Rosh Yeshiva and Associate Director of the Semikha Program at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York
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