“How can we make God laugh?” asks a joke and replies: “Tell Him your plans for the future.” This week’s prophetic reading and our Torah portion both deal about persons planning the future.
The parashah describes two lasting business deals: the acquisition of an allotment as a burial place and of a young woman to marry Abraham’s son. The haftarah relates King David’s chaotic succession story with lots of exciting power struggles and clever intrigues.
In both stories women serve as important literary side characters. In the parashah, Rebecca and Keturah, Abraham second wife; in the haftarah, Abishag the Shunammite, a young girl whose literary function is to reveal old David’s potency and power— or lack of both — and Bathsheba, a woman young David once raped, who is now fighting for her son’s rights. The Talmud seems to draw a parallel between Bathsheba and Sarah — first wives — and Abishag and Keturah — second wives — when it discusses divorce and the death of a wife on the basis of this week’s haftarah (Sanhedrin 22a).
The Torah clearly offers the more positive picture: Abraham begets five(!) sons with Keturah in what is now definitely extreme old age, but David does not even manage to get to “know” Abishag. The disastrous prophetic tale puts Abraham’s achievement in an even more favourable light.
What leads to such different outcomes? The parashah contains a long prayer, but the haftarah features at least a prophet, so God is involved here and there. But while the haftarah focuses on human kingship, the Torah does so on a people and on a servant who had lost any chance to inherit but knew in front of whom He stood.