Class 7: Temptations
As we approach the later part of the narrative about Solomon, we begin to feel farther away from the enthusiastic king that asked God for wisdom to judge his people well, and built a magnificent Temple for all to worship at. We hear the temptations that this very wise and talented king faced. Why are they considered wrong? At least in part because of the Law of the King in the Torah:
The Law of the King – Deut. 17:14-20:
טז רַק לֹא-יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ סוּסִים וְלֹא-יָשִׁיב אֶת-הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס,
וַה’ אָמַר לָכֶם לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה עוֹד.
יז וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ נָשִׁים וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ,
וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ מְאֹד.
לְבִלְתִּי רוּם-לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן-הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול,
לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל-מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל.
16 Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, so not to cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses;
forasmuch as the LORD has said to you: ‘Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.’
17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away;
neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
20 that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left;
to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.
Gold and Silver: 10:14-25
What was the source of the gold in Solomons kingdom?
Some seems to come from trade with the Horn of Africa (9:28, 10:22) some from tributes and gifts that various nations brought. Are we to assume, based on the story of the Queen of Sheba that not only gold arrived from those places, but also ideas and contacts with other cultures?
What was the problem with accumulating gold?
This is the only restriction from those mentioned in the Torah section above for which no reason is given. We might have a hint of the answer that the narrator would provide in the end of v.21: silver counted as nothing in the days of Solomon. What is the danger of the king coming to lose respect for the value of things in the general population?
This is the most concentrated description of Solomons horses (and horse-business.) We have already been told that there were chariots and horsemen, now we find out how the horses got to Solomons kingdom.
מלבי”ם מלכים א פרק י פסוק כחMalbim I Kings 10:28
(כח) ומוצא הסוסים. הסוסים של שלמה היה מוצאם ממצרים, שם היו הסוסים המובחרים, וגם היה לו מקוה, הוא מקום שמגדלים שם את הסוסים ונקוים שם סוסים רבים. ומפרש כי סוחרי המלך יקחו מקוה במחיר שלא קנו סוסים לאחדים רק קנו כל הסוסים שבמצרים כל המקוה והאוסף של הסוסים היו שייכים לסוחרי שלמה, וכל הסוסים הנולדים שם במקוה ההוא היה שלהם והיה בידם להרבות המקח.
And the source of the horses: Solomons horses came out of Egypt, there were the finest horses. He also had a Mikveh that is a place where they raise the horses and many horses are gathered (Nikvim) to there. It explains that the kings merchants would buy a Mikveh
at a price, for they would not buy individual horses, rather they bought all the horses in Egypt, the whole Mikveh, and the collection of horses belonged to the merchants of Solomon, and all the horses born there in that Mikveh would be theirs, and they were able to increase the demanded price.
(Note: The term Mikveh for a ritual bath also means a place where something gathers into. In that case it is water.)
Reading this explanation (similar ones are offered by medieval commentators,) what was wrong with having many horses? You may want to glance again at the reason offered by the Torah in the Law of the King.
In order to have a large quantity of the best horses, it is not enough to send a few merchants to Egypt once in a while. It becomes necessary to keep some merchants there all the time. Actually, if you are the biggest exporter of horses, why not become the exporter to the entire region? It requires merchants relocating to Egypt to handle the business. They will bring their families with them, start a small colony
Women and Temples: 11:1-10
מלכים א’ פרק יא פסוק אI Kings 11:1
וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה אָהַב נָשִׁים נָכְרִיּוֹת רַבּוֹת…
And king Solomon loved many foreign women
Lets pay some attention to biblical Hebrew grammar. The verb אהב (loved, appears in bold letters) is in an unusual form for biblical Hebrew. It is a simple past tense, not the normal form ויאהב. What does it mean? Rashi explains it in the first instance of such a structure in Gen. 4:1:
וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת קַיִן…
And the human/Adam knew Eve his wife and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain…
רש”י בראשית פרק ד פסוק א Rashi Genesis 4:1
והאדם ידע – כבר קודם הענין של מעלה, קודם שחטא ונטרד מגן עדן, וכן ההריון והלידה, שאם כתב ‘וידע אדם’ נשמע שלאחר שנטרד היו לו בנים:
And the human/Adam knew – prior to the episode told above [the banishing from the Garden of Eden.] Prior to his sin and the banishing from the garden of Eden; so too the pregnancy and the birth. If it would have been written “וידע אדם” [as is the normal verbal form] it would suggest that he had children after he was banished.
Without going in depth into what Rashi is saying about the story of the Garden of Eden, his grammatical rule is correct and holds throughout Tanakh: This verb form indicates that the event that is currently being told, took place alongside another event that we have already read about. Prof. Ed Greenstein calls this meanwhile back on the ranch.
So, how do we understand v.11:1?
Solomon did not marry his many wives at the end of his life. If we think about it, it is unreasonable to assume that. The marriages took place throughout his reign. The consequences may have become more pronounced in his later days, as we see in 11:4. The narrator chose to arrange Solomons story thematically, placing great emphasis on the building of the great Temple in Jerusalem. The blatant criticism is saved for the end as an explanation for the great breakup of the kingdom, but the problems were ongoing for a long time.
What were the disastrous consequences of Solomons marriages with many foreign women?
A single foreign woman might integrate into the Israelite society (see the story of Ruth) but what happens when there are several women who keep to their own tradition? Solomon, probably in a mixture of keeping his wives happy and having developed a cosmopolitan world view, allows worship areas for other gods to be built in Jerusalem. Solomon might have viewed this as tolerance, prophets viewed it as breaking the covenant with God.
How did the wisest king of all fail so miserably?! Now the man knew: [This took place], prior to the above episode, before he sinned and was banished from the Garden of Eden. Also the conception and the birth [took place before], for if it were written: וַיֵּדַע אָדָם it would mean that after he had been banished, he had sons. [from Sanh. 38b] Now the man knew: [This took place], prior to the above episode, before he sinned and was banished from the Garden of Eden. Also the conception and the birth [took place before], for if it were written: וַיֵּדַע אָדָם it would mean that after he had been banished, he had sons. [from Sanh. 38b]Now the man knew: [This took place], prior to the above episode, before he sinned and was banished from the Garden of Eden. Also the conception and the birth [took place before], for if it were written: וַיֵּדַע אָדָם it would mean that after he had been banished, he had sons. [from Sanh. 38b]
This question has always been troubling readers.
Before proceeding, what is your answer?
Now lets take a look at an attempt by the rabbis to address this issue:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף כא עמוד ב Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 21b
ואמר רבי יצחק: מפני מה לא נתגלו טעמי תורה? שהרי שתי מקראות נתגלו טעמן, נכשל בהן גדול העולם. כתיב (דברים י”ז) “לא ירבה לו נשים”, אמר שלמה: אני ארבה ולא אסור! וכתיב (מלכים א’ י”א) “ויהי לעת זקנת שלמה נשיו הטו את לבבו”.
וכתיב (דברים י”ז) “לא ירבה לו סוסים”, ואמר שלמה: אני ארבה ולא אשיב! וכתיב (מלכים א’ י’) “ותצא מרכבה ממצרים בשש” וגו’.
R. Isaac said: Why were the reasons for the Law not revealed? Since two [law] texts for which the reasons were revealed, the greatest in the world was tripped up by them. It says (Deut. 17) he shall not multiply wives for himself [that his heart not turn-aside], so Solomon said: I will multiply and not turn aside! But it says: (I Kings 11:4) and so it was that in the time of Solomons old age his wives turned his heart.
And it says he shall not multiply horses
[not to cause the people to return to Egypt,] and Solomon said I will multiply but not [cause the people to] return! But it says (I Kings 10:29) and a chariot coming out of Egypt would be 600 [silver].
To what does R. Isaac attribute Solomons failure?
As in many rabbinic/midrashic texts, the issue being discussed is greater than the specific situation being considered. In other words: Solomons case raises a human issue, that of the double edged sword of having information. Solomon failed to comply with laws that the Torah, in an unusual step, gives a specific reason for. (And his failure brought about the result predicted by the Torah.) What might we learn about human nature?