Haftaras Vayechi

This week’s haftarah records David HaMelech’s last words before his death, including a final charge to his son and successor Shlomo. One of these charges runs as follows (Melachim Alef 2:7): “And be gracious to the sons of Barzilai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for they drew close to me when I fled your brother Avshalom.” With this charge, David was seeking to repay the sons of Barzilai for the favorable reception they extended him. Why, then, asks the Maggid, does David frame the matter in terms of “being gracious” when apparently he was merely telling Shlomo to return the favor that the sons of Barzilai had done for him?
The key to understanding David’s intent, the Maggid explains, is the phrasing he chose in describing what the sons of Barzilai had done: David did not say that they had drawn him close, but rather that they drew close to him. The difference between the two phrasings can be explained as follows. A person who draws close to a great man gains honor thereby, but the great man himself gains much more honor – the fact that someone else sought a connection with him demonstrates his greatness. Now, through that reception that the sons of Barzilai gave David, they extended him two benefits. First, they gave him food and drink, and supplied him with his other needs. Second, in the way they acted toward him, they demonstrated that they did not view him as an ordinary person, but still regarded him as the king. The proof was that they drew themselves close to him, thereby showing him special honor. David’s choice of words in describing their actions stresses this point.
David did not regard the food and drink that the sons of Barzilai gave him as a notable kindness, for it is basic human decency to provide food and drink to a person in need, even if the person is lowly. But he did regard as a notable kindness their maintaining allegiance to him as king. He therefore commanded his Shlomo to reciprocate and show them special graciousness and honor, going beyond simple compensation for their hospitality.
Specifically, David told Shlomo that they should be “among those who eat at your table.” Here again we have a careful choice of phrasing: “eat at your table” rather than “eat from your table.” Had David said that they should eat “from your table,” the message would have been that Shlomo should provide them food, which would have been really no more than simple compensation. But instead he said that they should eat “at your table” – that they should be made part of the esteemed inner circle of men who dine with the king himself. In granting this special honor, Shlomo would be extending them a considerable kindness. True, the sons of Barzilai had previously honored David, but the honor that David told Shlomo to show them went go well beyond the honor they showed him. In the reception the sons of Barzilai gave David, they did not really grant him added honor – they simply took care to show him the honor he was rightfully due as king, rather than rebelling against him or impugning his position as others were doing. By contrast, they would now be receiving a great boost of honor – originally they were ordinary citizens, and now they would become members of the king’s inner circle. Such a boost of honor is truly an act of graciousness.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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