This too is pursuit of wind . . .

Saturday, July 6, 2013

This too is pursuit of wind . . .

We met in Santa Monica in the shade of the awning, to continue our study of the transition of the throne from David to Solomon. 

Proverbs 1:1: The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel  . . .
1:8 My son, heed the discipline of your father,
                 And do not forsake the instruction of your mother;
            For they are a graceful wreath upon your head,
A necklace about your throat.”

Kings I: 2:1  “. . . be strong, and become a man”
David gives his deathbed instructions to the youthful king Solomon.  His words are clearly designed to build backbone into Solomon to allow him to face the lifetime of challenges that lay ahead, particularly in the immediate future to consolidate his fragile hold on the throne.   David’s instructions are very Gevurah in nature – be strong, become a holy man, follow and guard the ways of YHVH, and be sure to lead your people in those ways in order to fulfill the promise that the kingship will not be cut off from the Davidic line.  After these general instructions. David gets down to realpolitik, brass tacks on how to deal with those remaining who would undermine and usurp the leadership from Solomon (Joav and Shimei – “do not allow his white hair to go to the grave in peace”) as well as those who will support him (the Barzillai clan – “they shall be among those who eat at your table”).   These are huge responsibilities put on the young king, as the Talmud tells us the importance of government is to keep the people from being at each others’ throats.  But the early passages of this chapter only begin to raise the question of how do we reconcile David’s counsel to seek vengeance on his enemies with those of a moral justice found in the Torah of Moses?  These questions grew more urgent as we proceded into the text.

Kings I: 2:13.  “Adonijah, son of Haggith, came to Bat-Sheva, Solomon’s mother.”
Adonijah, half-brother of Solomon, his earlier coup attempt thwarted, now asks Bat-Sheva to ask Solomon to give him Abishag, David’s former young concubine, for a wife.  When Bat-sheva requests that Solomon give Abishag to Adonijay, Solomon immediately sees this as a renewed first step of a new attempt by Adonijah to reclaim legitimacy to the throne for himself.  While Solomon spared his life the first time around, this time he quickly dispatches his “hit man” Benaiah, who quickly kills Adonijah.

We begin to sense we are smack in the middle of an episode of “Game of Thrones” or “The Godfather”. 

We wonder at Bat-sheva’s motivations for relaying Adonijah’s request to Solomon, in what was a not so subtle move to undermine her son.  Is she so politically naïve?  But we remember the power she held – the prophet Nathan had come to her to inform David of Adonijah’s initial coup attempt.  And she stood to the right of Solomon in offering her suggestion, the place of the advisor to the king.  And we wonder: was it her conscious intent to communicate the subterfuge of Adonijah in such a way that Solomon would clearly see through her words?  What was her body language? The tone of voice?  Whereas David was very Gevurah and clear in his instructions, are the ways of the feminine advisor more fluid, more contained within the lovingkindness of Hesed (on the right side of the Tree)?  We have a new picture of Bat-sheva and how she acts very consciously to advise her son and lead him to his decision. 

Spirited discussion on major themes brought up by this scene.  Here are some brief selected commentaries from the group:
·      David’s role is as “Don Corleone” – “I promised I would not make war, and (to Michael Corleone/Solomon) here’s how to do it”
·      Patience and ruthlessness
·      Discipline of the father
·      Wisdom confounds us – here it leads to murder
·      This book is history, not moral guidance in how to act
·      Loyalty is the guiding force
·      How do leaders prevent self-serving subterfuge from undermining the greater good?
·      Why does our tradition hold David up so high?
o   David was a Master of Teshuvah
o   He had a rare warrior-poet duality
·      What ever happened to the 10 Commandments?  How is this acting like the “Chosen” ones?
o   We are “chosen” as a people to serve humanity in a certain way (by carrying Torah and Shabbat), the way each other people is chosen in their way, the way each organ in the body serves the body as a whole
o   The idea of “chosen” meaning “superior” is not how it is meant, but is rather a distortion caused by the oppression of the Jews over millennia leading to a reactive defense to maintain our unity (e.g. the way an abused child might develop a defense mechanism to survive), combined with the Christianization of the concept to justify colonization and oppression  by “The Church” over the course of history – e.g our way to God is the only way.
·      Are there examples of leadership that does not rely on these power-plays?  How would Ghandi have led if given the chance?  What does the example of Mandela have to teach us?
·      There are many examples in our tradition where to obey God means to kill: after the golden calf; the destruction of Amalek; the slaughter of Midian
·      There is a legacy of violence in our tradition that we really don’t deal with – the genocide of the Book of Joshua.  Was this reflected in other genocides of history?  The slaughter and colonizataion of indigenous tribes by the Christian Europeans?  The history of Native Americans in this country?  The Holocaust?  Current genocidal thoughts about Israel in parts of the Middle East?
·      The IDF is always struggling with maintaining morality in its actions.  There will be war – so how do we conduct a just war?  Given the geography of the location of Israel, history has taught us there will be war at that crossroads.  So how are we to be a holy people and deal with all of the violence around us?

 Are you disturbed yet?  If not, read on.

Kings I:2:28: “Joav fled . . . and took hold of the horns of the Altar”
Having gotten rid of Adonijah, Solomon moves on the others who followed him in his coup.  He exiles the High Priest Abiathar, sparing his life because of his past actions in suffering with David in his struggles, and in carrying the Ark when David brought it to Jerusalem.  He sends Benaiah to kill the great warrior, David’s former general, Joav, who flees into the Mishkan seeking refuge, grabbing onto the horns of the Altar and refusing to leave.  Benaiah, after getting the OK from Solomon, kills him on that spot, and sends him to his house to be buried.  We wonder about the issues of lack of safe haven from punishment, and at how receiving the body of Joav, the great warrior, would have affected the minds and hearts of his clansmen, perhaps setting them up forever against Solomon, as was/is the way of tribal and clan justice and retribution that we still see to this day in the Middle East, as well as in the gangs of the inner cities of America.  Death leads to death.  Finally Shimei is put in house arrest in Jerusalem, but after 3 years leaves Jerusalem briefly only to be executed upon his return for having broken the terms of his life-sparing internal exile.

So, Solomon has consolidated his hold on the throne by handling his enemies in 3 ways: death, exile, and internal exile.  And he appoints others, Benaiah as his general and Tzadok as High Priest, to watch his back.  Leaving us with many questions. How does a leader maintain a bearable order?  Is it the case that sometimes you just don’t have a choice of being moral?  A lesson in power politics worthy of SunTzu, Machiavelli, and Don Corleone.

This is our mythology.  These are our wisdom teachings.  Checkouts mostly revolved around feelings of varying degrees of discomfort, unease, anger, sadness – all feelings stirred up by today’s readings.  We signed off with the words from the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), written by Solomon:

Kohelet 1:1.  The words of Kohelet son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Kohelet 1:17-18: So I set my mind to appraise wisdom and to appraise madness and folly.  And I learned – that this too was pursuit of wind/spirit (Ruach). 
For as wisdom grows, vexation grows;
To increase learning is to increase heartache.

Next Meeting: Saturday, August 10, 10 AM (prompt!) – noon, Location to be announced

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