Vayechi – From Inside Out

The Yalkut Shimone says that Hashem gave three things  on condition: Eretz Yisrael, the Beis HaMikdash, and the kingship of the Davidic dynasty. The Torah and the covenant with Aharon, that his genealogy will always be Kohanim, were given as pure gifts, with no strings attached (Yalkut Shimone Melachim Alef, perek 2, paragraph 170.)
This week’s Torah portion of Vayechi concludes Sefer Breishis. We find Yaakov gathering together and giving blessings to all his children at the end of his life. In correlation, the Haftorah is read from Melachim Alef, perek 2, which discusses King David’s charge to his son Shlomo at the end of his life: “And the days of David drew near that he should die; and he charged Shlomo, his son, saying: ‘I go the way of all the earth; you shall be strong, and you shall be a man. And keep the charge of Hashem your G-D to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, and His mitzvos, His law, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Torah of Moshe, that you may be more intelligent in all that you do, and wherever you turn. That Hashem may continue His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your children take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you,’ said He, ‘a man on the throne of Israel” (Melachim Alef 2:1-4).

Shlomo was 12 years of age when his father, King David, anointed him king. The Ralbag says that when King David charged Shlomo with “you shall be strong and you shall be a man,” he meant that “your actions should not be actions of a young lad but should be actions of a great man. But this would only happen if he sought out advice.” King David was giving a very important lesson to his son Shlomo; that no matter how powerful you are or how smart you are you should always seek advice, which is the key to greatness.

Then the Ralbag explains King David’s next charge: “That [Shlomo] should safeguard with his heart that which Hashem commands him to keep, however this is only possible through learning the Torah. This learning should be with focus for the purpose of walking in the ways of Hashem from that which is mentioned in the Torah and to keep all the statutes and mitzvos and laws and testimonies that are written in the Torah of Moshe. For with this learning you will become more intelligent and you will know all that you are supposed to do in all circumstances that come your way. You will also become more intelligent and you will know all that is befitting wherever you turn. A parable [to understand this] is if a person does not know that he is obligated to sit in a sukkah on Sukkos he will turn from putting any effort in making one, and this will be a reason to not fulfill this mitzvah.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Shlomo was a child prodigy chosen by Hashem through the prophet Nosson to inherit the throne from his father, King David. The continuation of the throne through the Davidic line is contingent on the devotion King David’s lineage has for Hashem. One would think King David would give more specific advice similar to “always seek advice from others,” instead of just the generic “if you learn Torah and abide by the Torah you will be successful.” Is that all he was saying in his second piece of advice? And if that was all that King David was saying, why does the Ralbag need a parable to explain the lesson? Furthermore, isn’t it obvious that if one does not know he has to sit in the sukkah then he won’t fulfill the mitzvah? What does it mean “this will be a reason to not fulfill this mitzvah?” That implies that there could be other reasons why the mitzvah would not be fulfilled; isn’t the fact that he does not know what the mitzvah is is the greatest reason not to fulfill it?

If you look closely into what the Ralbag says you’ll see an incredibly deep message King David was delivering to Shlomo. He knew that Shlomo was highly intelligent even before Shlomo was given the gift from Hashem of becoming the smartest person in the world. He also knew the power Shlomo would be getting himself into. It is very easy to use one’s intellect and power to manipulate decisions, and even such a great person like Shlomo, who was destined to write Koheles and Mishlei, might potentially succumb to his own great power and intellect, claiming that he was simply serving Hashem with a full heart, whereas in actuality he would be doing his own thing. To this King David said: “However this is only possible through learning the Torah.” King David was telling Shlomo that he must first delve into the depth of Torah with the attitude and focus of trying to figure out what Hashem wants him to do now, applying his in-depth Torah-analysis to fulfilling mitzvos, applying it to everyday life and to the outside world, instead of applying the outside world to understanding the Torah. In this way, King David assured Shlomo that he won’t have any hesitations and that he will have the resolve to figure out any situations that comes his way, as long as that is the way he approaches the situation. By applying the Torah to life and not applying the outside world to his understanding of the Torah, he will become the perfect servant of Hashem, and a successful monarch.

Now we can understand the need for the parable and what the parable was saying. Imagine if Shlomo, with his intellect and power, got together the greatest architects in the world and told them he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah on Sukkos but he did not know he is supposed to sit inside it. So they build this marvelous edifice for him which is gorgeous and he is excited to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah but he doesn’t know that he’s supposed to sit inside it; as much as he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah and as beautiful of a creation he has built  for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah, he still can’t do it if he does not realize he was supposed to make something to sit in.

People today are looking to become more spiritual, to get closer to G-D, but in their own way. However, that is missing the point. Hashem gave us an instruction booklet on how to get close to him with very fine details. Why don’t we learn it, examine it, and get clarity in it. But don’t try to apply other philosophies or sciences to the Torah; rather, use the Torah to try to understand the world around you. If one does that, it is guaranteed that his or her decisions in life will be made easier.