(1 Kings 5:26-6:13)
February 12, 2005
Human beings mark their bearings in the world both in space and in time. Solomon is generally renowned for establishing the Jewish people\’s most sacred place – the Temple in Jerusalem. What is less well known is that Solomon\’s establishment of this holy place was also instrumental in how Jews reckoned time: \”In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites left the land of Egypt, in the month of Ziv, that is, the second month, in the fourth year of his reign over Israel, Solomon began to build the house of the Lord.\” (1 Kings 6:1)
Rabbinic sages found the dates in this verse anomalous. Rabbi Yitzchak Abrabanel (Spain 15th century) cited a number of these difficulties. He raised the questions: \”Why did the prophet refer to the redemption from Egypt and not to the creation of the world or to the covenant between God and Abraham (brit bein habitarim) which prophesied about future events in the history of Abraham\’s progeny. (See Genesis 15) Similarly, why didn\’t the book of Kings make reference exclusively to the year of Solomon\’s reign as king instead of to the redemption from Egypt?\” Other sages also note that this verse makes mention of the pre-exilic month name – \”Ziv\” which later fell out of use in favor of month names which were brought back to the land of Israel by those returning from Babylonian exile.
Abrabanel explained the reference to the redemption from Egypt from a citation from the famous book of rabbinic chronology – Seder Olam Rabbah (chapter 15). He asserts that the prophet wanted to make note of the chronological symmetry between the amount of time that the Sanctuary established in the desert exited (according to Seder Olam – 480 years) and the period of time from the beginning of Solomon\’s building of the Temple to the beginning of Zerubavel\’s building of the Second Temple (also 480 years). Abrabanel saw in this verse\’s manner of expressing time an opportunity to teach about divine providence and history. He felt that God expressed Himself in history by making events happen in symmetrical patterns of time.
Other sages found meaning in the name of the second month – Ziv, which corresponds to the month of Iyar. Rabbi Joshua, the Tannaitic sage (2rd century Eretz Yisrael), learned from this name, that the patriarchs and matriarchs were born in the month of Nisan (the first month of the Hebrew year). He learns from the name, \”Ziv\” that Solomon started to build the Temple \”in the month when the radiant ones – \”zivtanim\” (the patriarchs) were born.\” Since the verse says that Solomon started in the second month, this must mean that the patriarchs were born in Nisan. (See Rosh Hashanah 11a) Rabbi Joshua, who held that the world was created in Nisan, was interested in establishing the preeminence of Nisan.*
These interpretations of this verse make it obvious that the sages put great emphasis on how time is organized and defined. Their search to lend significance to time sent them to Biblical stories for authenticity. By linking the sacred history of the Bible with the continuity of time, every moment became something to cherish.
*The accepted view follows Rabbi Eliezer who said the world was created in Tishrei on Rosh Hashanah.
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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