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Terumah 5769

Parshat Terumah
(1 Kings 5:26-6:13)
February 28, 2009
4 Adar 5769

There are many signs from the story of the building of Solomon\’s Temple that suggest that the author viewed its building to be parallel to God\’s creation of the world. In particular, one finds the word used in God\’s completion of the creation of the world, \”va-yakhulu – and He completed,\” also used to describe Solomon\’s completion of the Temple: \”va- yikhaleihu – and he [Solomon] completed it\”. (See 1 Kings 6:14) The impression given is that its building was miraculous in many ways just like the creation of the world. It was to be the microcosm parallel to God\’s macrocosm.

One gets this impression as well from a rather odd verse which describes the Temple\’s construction: \”When the House was built, only finished stone cut at the quarry was used, so that no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in the House while it was being built.\” (6:7) The pshat or plain meaning of this verse would seem to indicate that the Temple building site was intended to be a quiet and peaceful place. Solomon seems to have extended the stricture of using iron implements to build the altar to the building on the Temple Mount in its entirety. (See Y. Kil, Melachim, Daat Mikra p. 118-9)

Rabbinic legend extended this idea even further, suggesting that iron implements were not used in the building of the Temple at all! Alas, how can this miracle be explained? That is the place of the following rabbinic story about the miraculous \”Shamir\” –a worm which could miraculously cut and shape rock. I bring this story from the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 68a-b) in full for your enjoyment. (Excuse its length.)

For what did Solomon want them [male and female demons]? — As indicated in the verse, \’And the house when it was in building was made of stone made ready at the quarry, [there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building] (1 Kings 6:7); He said to the Rabbis, How shall I manage [without iron tools]? — They replied, There is the Shamir (a miraculous wormlike creature) which Moses brought for the stones of the ephod. He asked them, Where is it to be found? — They replied, Bring a male and a female demon and tie them together; perhaps they know and will tell you. So he brought a male and a female demon and tied them together. They said to him, We do not know, but perhaps Ashmedai the prince of the demons knows. He said to them, Where is he? — They answered, He is in such-and-such a mountain. He has dug a pit there, which he fills with water and covers with a stone, which he then seals with his seal. Every day he goes up to heaven and studies in the Academy of the sky and then he comes down to earth and studies in the Academy of the earth, and then he goes and examines his seal and opens [the pit] and drinks and then closes it and seals it again and goes away. Solomon thereupon sent there Benaiahu son of Jehoiada, giving him a chain on which was graven the [Divine] Name and a ring on which was graven the Name and fleeces of wool and bottles of wine. Benaiahu went and dug a pit lower down the hill and let the water flow into it and plugged up the hole with the fleeces of wool, and he then dug a pit higher up and poured the wine into it and then filled up the pits. He then went and sat on a tree. When Ashmedai came, he examined the seal, then opened the pit and found it full of wine. He said, it is written, \”Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whosoever errs thereby is not wise (Proverbs 20:1), and it is also written, \”Harlotry and wine and new wine take away the understanding\” (Hosea 4:11). I will not drink it. Growing thirsty, however, he could not resist, and he drank the wine until he became drunk, and fell asleep. Benaiahu then came down and threw the chain over him and fastened it. When he awoke he began to struggle, whereupon he [Benaiahu] said, The Name of thy Master (God) is upon you, the Name of thy Master is upon you. As he was bringing him along, he came to a palm tree and rubbed against it and down it came. He came to a house and knocked it down. He came to the hut of a certain widow. She came out and besought him, and he bent down so as not to touch it, thereby breaking a bone. He said, That bears out the verse, \”A soft tongue breaks the bone\” (Proverbs 25:15) He saw a blind man straying from his way and he put him on the right path. He saw a drunken man losing his way and he put him on his path. He saw a wedding procession making its way merrily and he wept. He heard a man say to a shoemaker, Make me a pair of shoes that will last seven years, and he laughed. He saw a diviner practicing divinations and he laughed. When they reached Jerusalem he was not taken to see Solomon for three days. On the first day he asked, Why doesn\’t the king want to see me? They replied, Because he has had too much to drink. So he took a brick and placed it on top of another. When they reported this to Solomon he said to them, What he meant to tell you was, Give him more to drink. On the next day he said to them, Why does the king not want to see me? They replied, Because he has over-eaten himself. He thereupon took one brick from off the other and placed it on the ground. When they reported this to Solomon, he said, He meant to tell you to keep food away from me. After three days he went in to see him. He took a reed and measured four cubits and threw it in front of him, saying, See now, when you die you will have no more than four cubits in this world. Now, however, you have subdued the whole world, yet you are not satisfied till you subdue me too. He replied: I want nothing of you. What I want is to build the Temple and I require the Shamir. He said: It is not in my hands, it is in the hands of the Prince of the Sea who gives it only to the woodpecker, to whom he trusts it on oath. What does the bird do with it? — He takes it to a mountain where there is no cultivation and puts it on the edge of the rock which thereupon splits, and he then takes seeds from trees and brings them and throws them into the opening and things grow there. So they found out a woodpecker\’s nest with young in it, and covered it over with white glass. When the bird came it wanted to get in but could not, so it went and brought the shamir and placed it on the glass. Benaiahu thereupon gave a shout, and it dropped [the shamir] and he took it, and the bird went and committed suicide on account of its oath.

Benaiahu said to Ashmedai, Why when you saw that blind man going out of his way did you put him right? He replied: It has been proclaimed of him in heaven that he is a wholly righteous man, and that whoever does him a kindness will be worthy of the future world. And why when you saw the drunken man going out of his way did you put him right? He replied, They have proclaimed concerning him in heaven that he is wholly wicked, and I conferred a boon on him in order that he may consume [here] his share [in the future]. Why when you saw the wedding procession did you weep? He said: The husband will die within thirty days, and she will have to wait for the brother-in-law who is still a child of thirteen years. Why, when you heard a man say to the shoemaker, Make me shoes to last seven years, did you laugh? He replied: That man has not seven days to live, and he wants shoes for seven years! Why when you saw that diviner divining did you laugh? He said: He was sitting on a royal treasure: he should have divined what was beneath him.

Solomon kept him with him until he had built the Temple. One day when he was alone with him, he said, it is written, He hath as it were to\’afoth and re\’em, and we explain that to\’afoth means the ministering angels and re\’em means the demons. What is your superiority over us? He said to him, Take the chain off me and give me your ring, and I will show you. So he took the chain off him and gave him the ring. He then swallowed him, and placing one wing on the earth and one on the sky he hurled him four hundred parasangs. In reference to that incident Solomon said, What profit is there to a man in all his labour wherein he labors under the sun.

About This Commentary

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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