Chayei Sarah – Let Him Know Who’s Boss

This week’s Haftorah for parshas Chayei Sarah takes place in the very beginning of Melachim Alef. King David is about to pass away, and he has already promises his wife Batsheva that Shlomo will become king. However, the pesukim say: “And Adoniahu the son of Hagit exalted himself saying; ‘I will be king,’ and he made for himself chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. And his father had not angered him all his days saying, ‘Why have you done so?’ And he too was of very handsome appearance, and she bore him after Avshalom” (Melachim Alef 1:5, 6).
The pasuk seems to give three reasons why Adoniahu decided to declare himself king. The Radak elaborates on each one. The first one is that King David never angered Adoniahu when he did anything bad; King David would never reprimand or rebuked him, saying: ‘Why did you do this?’ Therefore he went on a bad path and rebelled against his father; for Adoniahu knew that King David said he was going to anoint Shlomo king. So even though King David did not officially proclaim an order of succession,  Adoniahu thought in his heart: ‘My father loves me, and never scolded me once in my life, I will announce my kingship while he is alive and if it doesn’t bother him I will know that I was destined to be king.’ The second reason Adoniahu declared himself king was because he was good looking just like Avshalom. He even put together a legion of chariots and horsemen just like Avshalom did, because he also wanted to be king. Their beauty caused both of them to be haughty and to rebel. The third reason was that his mother, Hagit, gave birth to him right after Avshalom was born to Ma’acha, making Avshalom  his older brother, as it is written: the third [son of King David] was Avshalom and the fourth was Adoniahu. Amnon, who was the first born, had already died, so maybe Daniel who was the second had also died, even though his death was never recorded. Therefore Adoniahu thought that he was next in line for the kingship. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It seems from the Radak that Adoniahu’s motivation which caused him to declare himself king was his haughtiness, but his excuse was that he was  next in the royal line of succession, and therefore  deserved to be king. However, it would seem that he would not have been so brazen to pronounce himself king if he knew his father would have stopped him and reprimanded him for trying to start a rebellion. One lesson that can be gleaned from here is that a trick to subdue one’s haughtiness is to always feel one has a boss that he has to answer to at all times.

If you think about it, this is quite amazing! Adoniahu saw Avshalom’s rebellion against his father squelched and he himself was killed. Also, one would think that if his father never rebuked him and showered him with so much love, then how could the  son rebel against such a father? Furthermore, what caused him to be haughty was his comeliness; what does that have to do with being a monarch or a leader? It didn’t say Adoniahu was haughty because he was intelligent, wealthy, or influential – all character traits of a potential leader ! We see from here the power of haughtiness; as illogical as it might seem, it can  still grab hold of you and cause you to make the most outlandish decisions.Yet this whole incident could have been stopped if King David would simply have raised him properly and rebuked him once in a while for his wrongdoings throughout his life. We see from this an incredible lesson  in parenting, that one should not pamper their children too much, because not only won’t they appreciate it, they might even one day rebel.

The Cheshbon Hanefesh by Rav Mendel from Satanov has a famous parable in the introduction of his sefer comparing one’s animal spirit to an elephant. One of the unique qualities of a human being is the ability to control nature and animals in order to use them for our own benefit. So too, we have animalistic instincts in our own body, that of eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. which we must control, in order not have our physical drives control us. The Cheshbon Hanefesh does say that we cannot be overly controlling. If a person overworks the elephant and deprives it of adequate sustenance then it will rise up and rebel against its master, trying to kill him, and the master would be forced to defend himself. So too if one deprives himself too much of food and sleep he can become sick.

Then the Cheshbon Hanefesh says the opposite is also true: “Some foolish masters go to the opposite extreme. They pamper their animals by underworking and overfeeding them. They demean themselves by playing with them and condition the animal to kick at their generosity. In the end, the animal subjugates it master to fill its stomach.” The same is true about our physical desires. If we overindulge in our eating or drinking habits, or are too lazy to get out of bed, this can control our lives –  instead of us controlling how we eat, drink, sleep, etc. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

I believe this can also be extended to our scenario in Melachim, and to parenting in general. Parents must strike a healthy balance of love and admonition with their children. If they go to one extreme of abuse and power or the other extreme of always looking the other way and letting their children do whatever they desire, it is very possible the child will rebel against their parents one day. We must achieve  a healthy median!