Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayechi
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

The Power of Chesed


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

16 Tevet 5767
Let us discuss our haftara, which deals with King David’s final instructions to his son, Shlomo, before his death. It is parallel to the parasha, which deals with the final messages that Yaakov transmitted to his sons before his death.

One of David’s requests was: "To the sons of Barzilai Hagiladi do chesed (acts of kindness), and they should be from those who eat on your table, for they drew close to me when I was fleeing from your brother, Avshalom" (Melachim I, 2:7). Indeed, Barzilai had brought David’s fleeing encampment provisions at a time that their situation was extremely tenuous (Shmuel II, 17: 27-29). David was under tremendous emotional strain as well, as he was very attached to Avshalom (see the strong language of longing for him in Shmuel II, 15:30). An additional blow came from the participation of David’s close advisor, Achitofel. Chazal identify him as the subject of the pasuk written by David: "That together we would make sweet secret plans, in the House of Hashem we would walk with feeling" (Tehillim 55:15; see Sanhedrin 106b).

At such a low point, Barzilai’s and his associates’ chesed was uplifting both physically and emotionally. Chazal also praise this family. "The sons of Barzilai are mentioned five times to teach you that whoever feeds a tzaddik is as if he fulfilled the whole Torah" (Bereishit Rabba 58). (The names of those who brought food to David suggest that at least some were or descended from converts).

Shlomo gave the sons of Barzilai, headed by Kimham, an estate close to Yerushalayim, which sustained them nicely. In this way, David appropriately returned a favor for a favor. This type of behavior showed its signs even far into the future. After the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed and the community’s provisional leader, Gedalyah ben Ahikam, was killed, much hope was lost. The ragged remainder of the Jewish community of Israel had embarked on their journey to Egypt. Along the way, the sad procession had respite in a place near Beit Lechem named Gerut Kimham (Yirmiyah 41:17). Rashi, based on the Targum, identifies Gerut Kimham as the estate that Shlomo gave to Barzilai’s sons, including Kimham.

Consider the following situation. The Land of Judea was so desolate in those days that Chazal tell us that, for 52 years, no one passed through (see the derivation in Shabbat 145b). It appears that even the birds changed their migratory routes to avoid the area. How was it that, of all places, Geirut Kimham was still inhabited and offered some consolation to the haggard wayfarers? The answer is simple: the power of chesed! This place had been founded on the idea of "the world shall be built on chesed" (Tehillim 89:3). Even more than 400 years later, the strength of chesed prevailed and withstood the fury of the time of destruction.

Let us internalize this message and promote and practice chesed in both our private and public lives.

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