(1 Kings 5:26 – 6:13)
3 Adar I 5768
February 9, 2008
Solomon was renowned for his God-endowed wisdom: \”The Lord had given Solomon wisdom, as He had promised.\” (verse 26) His incredible building projects, which required great logistical mastery, were the most tangible evidence of the breadth of this wisdom, marking him as a celebrated world figure. His wisdom was virtually without bounds: \”And God endowed Solomon with wisdom and discernment in great measure, with understanding as vast as the sands of the seashore…He was the wisest of all men.\” (5:9-10)
For this reason, the sages were confounded by Solomon\’s insecurity over his ability to judge his people. In the following dialogue, the sages examine what they thought were the roots of Solomon\’s anxiety:
Solomon said: \’Grant your servant [Solomon], an understanding mind to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and bad.\’ (1 Kings 3:9) Is it possible that Solomon was not capable of judging Israel – a man of whom it is written: \’The Lord had given wisdom to Solomon\’ (5:26) – [is it possible that] such a man was incapable of judging them? Rather, it must mean that he said to them: \’I am different from the judges found in other societies. Those judges sit in the docket and sentence people to death or pervert their sentences or judge corruptly without any sense of personal responsibility. Their sentences have no bearing upon them nor do they suffer any consequences. I, on the other hand, if my judgments are incorrect, I bear the consequences, as it is written: \’Do not rob the poor because he is poor, nor oppress the poor in your gate, for the Lord will take up their cause.\’ (Proverbs 22:22-3)\” (based on Sifre Deut. 9; Finkelstein ed. pp. 16-17 as interpreted by Rashi on Deut. 1:9)
Solomon\’s wisdom, then, entailed much more than just technical mastery and intelligence. It involved moral, God-given insight and a sense of responsibility for his actions. The sages thought that anyone who wields power must have great depth of conscience that must weigh upon them constantly They could not imagine a Solomon or a Moses who did not feel an enormous burden on their shoulders, not because they were incapable but because the true mantle of leadership required it. That, for the sages, was the true indicator that God has placed the responsibility on them.
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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