(I Kings 5:26-6:13)
February 24, 2007
In the verses preceding this week\’s haftarah, Solomon is described as the wisest of kings: \”Solomon\’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the Kedemites and than all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was the wisest of all men…He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered one thousand and five. He discoursed about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; and he discoursed about beasts, birds, creeping things, and fishes. Men of all peoples came to hear Solomon\’s wisdom, [sent] by all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.\” (1 Kings 5:9-14)
This description seem at odds with what we read surprisingly at the end of this week\’s haftarah: \”Then the word of the Lord came to Solomon, \’With regard to this House you are building – if you follow My laws and observe My rules and faithfully keep My commandments I will fulfill for you the promise that I gave to your father David: I will abide among the children of Israel and I will never forsake My people Israel.\’\” (6:12-13)
Why would someone as wise as Solomon need to be reminded of a message that should have been self-evident to someone as discerning as he? The following midrash attends to this question by filling in where these verses leave off: \”Why all of these conditions? So that you will know the consequences of not listening to Me. What did Solomon do? He gathered many wives and horses. What happened to him? \”In his old age, his wives turned away Solomon\’s heart after other gods.\” (11:4) God said to him: \’I gave you the Torah to fulfill its commandments and you were aware of the conditions I made in it and as a consequence your kingdom was lost.\’ (Adapted from Tanhuma Behukotai 5)
Solomon lost his kingdom on account of the very wisdom and discernment he was so well endowed with. He, like many with his talents and position, thought himself above God\’s conditions. He thought the fact that he was wise made him immune to the consequences of the actions that the Torah was trying to protect him from. Instead his transgressions led him on to bigger sins and further alienation from God until he no longer had a place for God and God had no place for him. Ultimately, he proved too \”wise\” for his own good.
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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