(I Kings 5:26-6:13)
February 16, 2002
Solomon’s greatest endeavor as king was his commitment to build the Temple in Jerusalem. This effort, which spanned seven years, required great resources and manpower. It became a monument both to Solomon’s dedication to God and to the desire of the people to provide a permanent spiritual center for the nation. The focus of the haftarah is on this effort since it parallels the enthusiastic response to the call to build the divine sanctuary in the desert outlined in this week’s parashah. Similarly, the haftarah parallels the parashah in its detailed description of the building design of the Temple. The description includes the following dry architectural detail: “he [Solomon] had provided recesses around the outside of the House [the Temple] so as not to penetrate the walls of the House.” (1 Kings 6:6) This detail represents one of the wonders of the Temple’s structure as is indicated in next verse: “When the House was built (b’hebanuto), only finished stones cut at the quarry were used
(masa nivnah), so that no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in the House while it was being built.” (verse 7) These verses indicate that the outer walls were built in such a way that they supported themselves without the need to build supports which might ruin the beauty of the quarried stones of the Temple itself. This verse also informs us that the stones of the Temple were brought to the Temple site quarried, ready to be put in place.
The fact that the plain meaning of these verses presents no more than technical details of the building project did not preclude the rabbinic tradition from using certain literary elements found in it to paint a different picture of the Temple building project than that found in the Biblical story. They noted that the verse used passive verbs in dealing with building and quarrying. These peculiarities provided the impetus for the following midrash: Rabbi Berechiah taught with regard to the verse: “And the house, when it in building, was built of stone, made ready before being brought here (1 Kings 6:7). Note that it was not written “The house which they were building” but the house when it was in building (behibanuto), as if to say that the house built itself. [In the continuation of the verse it reads:] “The house was built of stone, made ready before being brought here.” The words “being brought here” (masa nivnah) imply that each stone brought itself here, moving up by itself and laying itself in position in the wall. (adapted from Midrash Tehillim 24:10 – Braude translation)
What are we to make of the disparity between the Biblical account of the efforts of Solomon and the people in building God’s House in comparison with the miraculous account found in this midrash. A possible message comes from the synthesis of their two messages. Only human effort will spark the miracle of divine assistance. Solomon’s enthusiastic effort to build the Temple provided the divine assistance which made building God’s House possible. This combination made the concluding verse of the haftarah a reality. “I [God] will abide among the children of Israel, and I will never forsake My people Israel” (verse 13)
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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