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Parashat Vayehi: We All Need to Put in Effort

The Haftara read on Shabbat Parashat Vayehi is King David’s final words to his son and successor, Shlomo, before his passing (Melachim I, chapter 2). Parashat Vayehi tells of Yaakob Abinu’s final messages to his children before he died, and thus, appropriately, we read as the Haftara the story of King David’s final instructions to his son before his death.

King David begins his series of instructions by saying, "Anochi Holech Be’derech Kol Ha’aretz, Ve’hazakta Ve’hayita Le’ish" – "I am going in the way of all the earth; you shall be strong, and be a man" (2:2). He informs Shlomo that he would soon pass away ("going in the way of all the earth"), and he urges him to be an "Ish" ("man"), which Targum Yonatan explains to mean that he should be G-d-fearing.

The Rabbis of the Mussar movement added a deeper interpretation of this verse.

The child of an especially righteous person might assume that he does not need to struggle to build his relationship with Hashem, to avoid wrongdoing, and to live a life of piety. After all, he might think, having been born to and raised by an outstanding Sadik, he will naturally be drawn toward spiritual greatness. But this is not correct. Three times a day, we introduce the Amida prayer by describing G-d as "our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers – the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Yishak, and the G-d of Yaakob." Instead of describing Hashem simply as "the G-d of Abraham, Yishak and Yaakob," we say that He is "the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Yishak, and the G-d of Yaakob." Each of the three patriarchs worked and exerted effort to build his unique relationship with G-d. Yishak did not rely on Abraham’s piety, and Yaakob did not rely on Yishak and Abraham’s piety. They each struggled and worked very hard to build a special, meaningful connection with his Creator.

This, then, might be the meaning of King David’s introductory exhortation to Shlomo. He was telling Shlomo how he – Shlomo – must view himself: "I am going in the way of all the earth" – he should see himself as just an ordinary person, not as the son of a great Sadik. And thus, "you shall be strong and be a man" – he needs to exert great effort in becoming a G-d-fearing person, and not rely on the fact that he is the son of King David.

No matter who we are and what kind of background we come from, we will need to always work hard in order to achieve and be the people who we are supposed to be. Even if we’ve been raised in strong religious homes and received an outstanding Torah education, and even if we are blessed to live in a strong Torah community among likeminded Torah Jews, we must remember that "Ve’hazakta Ve’hayita Le’ish" – it will take effort to be spiritually accomplished. We are to strive to build our unique relationship with Hashem through hard work and devotion, just like Abraham, Yishak and Yaakobn did, fully trusting that every ounce of hard work and effort is the greatest investment we could make.

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