(I Kings 7:51-8:21)
March 8, 2003
Human beings are often uncertain of the significance of their actions. How can the human spirit triumph when all human endeavors are ephemeral? How can there ever be a sense of accomplishment when even the greatest achievement seems so small in the relative scheme of things? Who among us has not contemplated these questions at one time or another. The sages also posed these monumental questions with regard to the building of the Temple. In light of these questions even the building of the Temple might seem a relatively minor act.
The following midrash on the first verse of the haftarah contends with these questions: ‘“When all of the work that King Solomon had done in the House of the Lord was completed.” (1 Kings 7:51) Since this verse does not use the expression – “the work”, instead saying: “all the work” – [the use of the word \”all\”] infers that by building the Temple, Solomon completed the “the work of the six days of creation.“ [In the book of Genesis when it describes how God completed the creation of the world, it states:] “for on it [the seventh day] God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done (la’asot)” (Genesis 2:3) [The Torah does not express this phrase in the past tense – “asah”, rather it uses the infinitive form of the verb – “la’asot” to indicate continuous action.] This infers that God’s work was intentionally left incomplete, leaving “creative” work still to be done. When King Solomon came along and built the Holy Temple, the Holy One Blessed be He said to him: “Now the work of creation is completed (shelemah) [This being a word play on Solomon’s name – “Shelomo”]: as the opening verse of the Haftarah states: “When all the work that King Solomon had done in the House of the Lord was completed…” This explains King Solomon’s name “Shelomo”, for the Holy One Blessed be He completed (heshleem) the work of the six days of creation through the work of Solomon’s hands.” (adapted from Pesikta Rabatti Parasha 6 – Ish Shalom edition 25a)
The Jewish tradition does not underestimate the significance of the labors of human beings. This midrash states explicitly that Solomon’s efforts to build the Temple were tantamount to the completion of the creation of the world. All human creative efforts which enhance God’s creation also merit this distinction. This makes all positive human endeavors into religious acts which enhance the human partnership with God.
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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