Haftarah Parashat Terumah
February 17, 2018 | 2 Adar 5778
1 Kings 5:26-6:13
King Solomon set about the practical work of building the Temple that his father, David, had dreamed of. The biblical storyteller gives us an elaborate description of the work detail Solomon sent to Lebanon to gather the lumber required for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem: “King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel; the levy came to 30,000 men. He sent them to Lebanon in shifts of 10,000 a month: they would spend one month in the Lebanon and two months at home.” (1 Kings 5:13-14)
The rabbinic sages wondered about the necessity of including these particular details in telling the story of the building of the Temple. But as we have seen, their keen eye and powerful imagination enabled them tease out significant messages from seemingly extraneous material found in the Tanakh.
In the version of the Talmud redacted in Eretz Yisrael, a sage named Rabbi Avin finds in the passage quoted above an important teaching about the divine hierarchy of values: “Said Rabbi Avin: The commandment of ‘peru ur’vu – be fruitful and multiply’ is more beloved on the Holy One Blessed be He than the building of the Temple. How do we know? [For it is written:] ‘they would spend one month in the Lebanon and two months at home.'” (Yerushalmi Ketubot 5:6 30b)
It is not hard to follow Rabbi Avin’s reasoning. He deduces from the fact that one spends only one month away from home for the sake of building the Temple, while spending two months at home, that marital relations and procreation take precedence over something as vitally important as building of the Temple. While it is impossible to know whether this is really what King Solomon had in mind, Rabbi Avin’s interpretation gives us a window into his, and much of Rabbinic Judaism’s value system.
The significance of the Temple is apparent to all. It was the focal point of Jewish worship. Still, important as it was, it was a building of wood and stones. Rabbi Avin is expressing here his opinion that human relations and the proliferation of the Jewish people, and through it God’s message, take precedence in God’s eyes even over the building of the Temple.
Obviously, this is hyperbole but it expresses something important which is often forgotten. Where should Jewish priorities rest? Should we focus on material things and grand projects? Or should we focus on people, building strong families and thriving communities? Rabbi Avin’s preference is clear.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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