Mordechai Silverstein

What’s a Jew without ‘Sekhel’ (1 Kings 2:1-12)

Before he dies, David wants to ensure that his son, Shlomo, will be successful as king. He counsels him: “[to] be strong and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and following His laws, His commandments, His rules, and His admonitions as recorded in the teachings of Moshe, in order to succeed (taskil) in whatever you undertake and wherever you turn.” (2:2-3)

What will be the key to Shlomo’s success? The answer to this question depends on the meaning of a single word – “taskil”. According to Targum Yonatan, the Aramaic translation of the Prophets, “taskil” means to “succeed”. This definition, however, fails to inform us whether David intended to teach his son that success was a reward for following God’s laws or whether his intention was to advise Shlomo that God’s ways would provide him with the proper guidance necessary for his success.

Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (Ralbag), a philosopher and exegete (Provence 14th century), sided with the latter approach: “a person should preserve in his heart what God commands him to observe, through the study of Torah, since by studying Torah, one discerns God’s purpose and will follow God’s ways… and then he will know what to do in every situation and will be ready to govern according to Torah.” (adapted translation) Rabbi Meir Malbim (Poland 19th century) also followed this approach. He distinguished between success (hatzlahah) which he declared to be a matter of chance and “sekhel – discernment (taskil). The ways of Torah will train a person to discern the right action and will ensure that when he does err, he will be able to rectify his ways.

Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (Spain 15th century) sees in David’s charge both a promise of reward and guide to proper action: “The commandments, by their very nature, are beneficial. Also, for the performance of the commandments, God grants reward to those whom He loves and who perform His commandments… The performance of the commandments enables a person to acquire wisdom, knowledge and discernment so that they will succeed in all they do since the Torah teaches these qualities. This is the meaning of the word “taskil”. The Torah includes lessons in all of the things a person needs to know. Furthermore, we benefit from doing the things that God commanded us to do.” (adapted and abridged)

Abrabanel sees David’s admonition as “holistic”. David wanted to give Shlomo guidance as a leader and king. He had an appreciation that people need incentive for doing the right thing and in this sense need to know that there is reward for doing what is right, but what is really needed is guidance in knowing what is right and good, to know the parameters of how to lead the life of a king, of how to lead a good life. Shlomo needed to know how not to veer from the right path and how to refrain from wrong doing. He needed “sekhel – discernment”, a quality essential for being a good Jew and a good person as much as for being a king.

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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