Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Saturday 26 March 2011

King Solomon and the Eternity of Israel

Although this blog is primarily concerned with contemporary issues affecting Israel and the Jewish People, anyone who has read it regularly for a while will know that I love to delve into relevant historical archives, and that very occasionally Avraham Reiss of Jerusalem, who studied at the Mercaz HaRav Kook, provides a guest blog on aspects of Jewish thought.  Here's his latest contribution:

This article is a prequel to the article already published in Daphne’s Blog: The Secret of Israel's Eternity (, and should in fact have been published first (that it wasn’t, is the fault of the author). The two articles combine to examine the secret of Israel’s eternity throughout the ages

Whereas the second article discusses Israel’s activities while in exile, this article discusses the attempt to reach perfection and attain a promise of eternity whilst in the Land of Israel. Only upon the failure of this attempt did the second – exile – long sojourn outside of the Land of Israel become necessary, and we discuss here the reasons behind King Solomon’s attempt at attaining perfection and eternity, and for his subsequent failure.

1. The Jewish attitude towards materialism

Exodus chapter 35
4 And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel,
saying, This is the thing which the Lord commanded, saying,
5 Take ye from among you an offering unto the Lord: whosoever is of a
willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord; gold, and
silver, and brass,


21 And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one
whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord's offering to
the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service,
and for the holy garments.

22 And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted,
and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels
of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the Lord.

In verse 22, the name of the fourth item – tablets – is a poor translation, and gives no indication of its nature.

The commentator Rashi quotes the Talmudic explanation, which says that “tablets” refers to an item of jewellery that was used to cover the female genitals, and thus is of a negative connotation. The question immediately arises: how can such a negative item be used in the service of holy worship in the Temple?

The question possesses a wider relevance, since it characterizes all the problematica created by Israel’s living amongst gentiles for the larger part of our history as a nation, and goes even further in relating to Israel’s relationships with materialism in general.

What is allowed, what is forbidden, and under what circumstances – and limitations - can we adopt behavioral concepts and material objects from other nations?

The Ramban (Nachmanides) relates to the matter of introducing the tablets mentioned above into the service of the Temple:

“The tablet was regarded by our Sages as disgusting, but all the various contributions were mixed up (the tablet thus losing its individual identity – A.R.). It would have been forbidden to manufacture a special vessel from the tablet alone, whose purpose was connected with man’s evil inclinations.”

We are familiar with the concept of an item of negative content or value losing its identity when mixed up with larger quantities of positive items, from the law concerning a piece of un-kosher meat falling into a pile of pieces of kosher meat: in such a case, if the pile of kosher pieces of meat numbers at least sixty pieces, then we say that the negative attribute of the un-kosher piece has been “cancelled within the sixty”, and all sixty one pieces of meat may be eaten.

The difference between the two cases – the tablet and the meat – is that the un-kosher meat can only be ‘cancelled’ after the fact: a person holding a piece of un-kosher meat cannot go looking for sixty pieces of kosher meat, in order to throw it in and make it ‘eatable’. The law is only applicable if the un-kosher piece fell into the kosher pile by accident, with no prior intention to throw it in. The tablet, however, can be brought to the Temple a priori, knowing in advance that it will lose its negative value when mixed with ‘valid’ contributions.

A similar problem – introducing into Israel (out of necessity) something forbidden, we see early in Israel’s formation – several hundred years before it became a nation – when two of Jacob’s sons – Simeon and Levi – kill for the first time, in retaliation against the city where lived Shechem son of Hamor, who had defiled their sister Dinah.

They persuaded the citizens of Shechem’s city to circumcise themselves, and while the citizens were still suffering from the pains of circumcision, Simeon and Levi went in, slaughtered all the male inhabitants of the city, and rescued their sister Dinah from Shechem son of Hamor.

Many years later, on his death-bed, when blessing his sons, Jacob relates to Simeon and Levi as follows:

Genesis Chapter 49
5. Simeon and Levi are brothers; stolen instruments are their weapons
6. Let my soul not enter their counsel; my honor, you shall not join their assembly, for in their wrath they killed a man, and with their will they hamstrung a bull.
7. Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their anger because it is harsh. I will separate them throughout Jacob, and I will scatter them throughout Israel.

From various calculations made possible both by Biblical statements and Rabbinic determinations, we know that at the time of the Shechem incident, Levi was thirteen years old. When Jacob was on his death-bed and blessed his sons (excluding Simeon and Levi, as above), Levi was then 67 years old, i.e. Jacob had waited 54 years (!) to scold them. We offer a reason for this, which is the subject of another article. But here, we home in on verse 5 as quoted above, and concentrate on the word “stolen”.

The commentator Rashi relates to this word, and in one sentence says four different things, which are in fact four facets of one truth:

“ ‘stolen instruments’: this ‘profession’ of murder was stolen by you; it belongs to the Blessing of Esau (given by Isaac – A. Reiss); it is his profession; and you stole it from him”

Rashi is pointing out – in explanation of Jacob’s utterance in verse 5 above, that until the Shechem incident the ‘profession’ of murder was unknown to Israel, and that Simeon and Levi had stolen it from Esau, and thus introduced it into Israel.

A negative item has now been introduced into Israel.

But how negative was it? Without the capability of killing at time of war, the nation that is Israel would have ceased to exist thousands of years ago. It had to be ‘introduced’ somehow, some time. And so it later was. Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given to Moses, has seventy names in Jewish tradition; one of them is ‘Horev’. (Exodus, 33,6). Our Sages point out the similarity between the Hebrew words Horev and Herev – meaning ‘sword’ – and say that from Mount Sinai/Horev the Sanhedrin was given permission to authorize death sentences by the sword.

At this point, we are now examining how Israel should relate to the material aspects of the world in which we live, in general.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel (he passed away in 1935), in his book Orot HaKodesh (‘Lights of Holiness’), divides mankind into four sections regarding the way it relates to our material world.

1. Total Evil.
The viewing of materialism as covering everything. The desire for evil to gain control of all facets of life on earth. Dictator no. 2 of the previous century defined it well in just seven words: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”.

2. Total Despair
After viewing evil controlling the world, is born the desire to escape to nothingness from the material point of view. This is regarded as idol-worship, because it contains the assumption that the controlling force in the world is evil - and not G-d. This is Buddhism.

3. Semi Despair
After viewing evil controlling the world, out of desperation and despair is born the desire to vacate materialism and concentrate on the internal, spiritual aspects of life. This is Christianity.

[We add that from here is born the idea of “Separation of Church and State” – an inherently Christian idea, which has no place in Judaism – as the following paragraph shows]

4. Facing the challenges of materialism, the desire to save everything, to sanctify materialism together with the spirit. And from here it evolves that Judaism has mitzvot – commandments, precepts, instructions – regarding all practical aspects of material life: commerce and finance, labourers wages, agriculture, food, male-female relationships and many other aspects. Even behaviour regarding speech, and as far as thought, are covered by Jewish Law.

The Torah divides material matters into a number of categories, depending upon the various forms they take. Following is a representative – but by no means complete – selection of such categories:

• Spiritually clean or unclean
• Kosher or un-kosher
• Chametz - bread and related products are forbidden to be eaten or even found in one’s possession during Passover
• Disqualified (Heb: Pasul) – for a certain purpose only, such as a citrus (etrog) being disqualified for ceremonial use on the festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot), but being ‘kosher’ for use in making jam, drinks etc. Also, a person can be disqualified from giving testimony in court
Pigul – the classic translation terms this ‘abomination’. It refers to a Temple sacrifice that has been rendered invalid for sacrifice or eating by impure thoughts or invalid intentions. One who intentionally eats such a sacrifice invokes upon himself a celestial (i.e. not imposed by man) death sentence. The subject - and influence - of mind (thought) over matter in Judaism, is worthy of a separate essay, if not an entire book.
• And above all of these – Holy. And this also contains degrees. There are, for example, 10 degree of holiness in the Land of Israel, the highest being inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.

2. King Solomon and His Many Wives

Having related in general to the material aspects of the physical world in which we live, we now ‘home in’ to address specific aspects, the sum of which lead to the attainment of perfection.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, in his book Orot (‘Lights’), says as follows:

“G-d performed a kindness with his world, in that he did not place all its talents in one location, not in one person and not in one nation, not in one land, not in one generation and not in one world; rather, the talents are scattered around …”.
In the preceding sentence, ‘talents’ can also mean ‘resources’.

Israel, during its existence has related to the material world and its varying and various talents and resources in two ways, in order to attain perfection.

In the first way, King Solomon tried to attract all the goodness and talent within Mankind in this world, and to subjugate it for Israel. When he failed, Israel scattered amongst the nations and exiled to all corners of the earth in order to gather these talents and resources, whose combined sum represents one completeness, perfection.

The second way, through exile, is discussed in part two of this article, The Secret of Israel's Eternity, which can also be found in Daphne’s blog (see the link in the top paragraph).

King Solomon
As already stated here, the concept of gathering the various talents scattered around the world, and introducing them into the holiness that is Israel’s service to its G-d, appears during the reign of King Solomon. It is in fact only through understanding this concept that it is possible to fully appreciate an amazing event which occurred as one episode – albeit an outstandingly influential episode - of Israel’s history.

Kings I, Chapter 3, Verses 1-2:
1 And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took
Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had
made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and
the wall of Jerusalem round about.
2 Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house
built unto the name of the Lord, until those days.

Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter to Jerusalem, where she remained until Solomon completed the building of the First Temple, upon which occasion he married her.

The Midrash tells us as follows:

“Rabbi Yishmael says that on the night that King Solomon completed building (the First – A.R.) Temple, he married Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, and there was great rejoicing over the completion of the building of the Temple, and there was great rejoicing over (the marriage to) Pharaoh’s daughter, and the noise of the rejoicing over (the marriage to) Pharaoh’s daughter was greater than the rejoicing over the completion of the building of the Temple.”
The Talmud comments on this:

“Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: At the same hour that Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, (the Angel) Gabriel descended and stuck a stick in the sea, and a rock arose above it, and on this was built the large city of Rome.”
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who translated the entire Babylonian Talmud from Aramaic into Hebrew, adding his own commentary, comments on the preceding Talmudic quotation:

“… and on this was built the large city of Rome: which was the instrument of punishment for Israel at the end of time”.
In other words, King Solomon’s marrying the daughter of Pharaoh – Egypt being considered by the Torah as the source of the world’s heaviest idol-worship – instigated the creation of the chain of events that led to the destruction of the Second Temple, on the very night that Solomon inaugurated the First Temple!

Cause and Effect: Why did King Solomon marry Pharaoh’s daughter – and many other women – and why did he fail?

We bring here three biblical commentaries which attempt to explain why King Solomon married so many wives. All three of these commentaries are based upon the principle of introducing various foreign talents into Israel, and employing them in the service of Israel’s inherent holiness. The idea being that these talents bring Israel nearer a completion that is perfection. What has yet to be explained – and the explanation is forthcoming - is why this route towards attaining perfection expressed itself specifically in the marriage of many women.

(1) Alshich

From Wikipedia: Moshe Alshich, also spelled Alshech, (1508-1593), known as the Alshich Hakadosh (the Holy), was a prominent Jewish rabbi and biblical commentator in the latter part of the 16th century. He lived in Safed, Israel. He was a student of Rabbi Joseph Caro, famous writer of the Shulchan Aruch, the basic book of Jewish Law.

“… know, therefore, that Solomon converted Pharaoh’s daughter to Judaism, and the Sages of the Truth (a reference to Cabbalistic matters – A.R.) said that this was done in the name of Heaven (i.e. with worthy intent – A.R.) to draw external (materialistic) matters near to holiness, but in the end, his many women ‘turned his heart’ …”

(2) The book Mei Shiloach, Kings I

“… and King Solomon loved many foreign women, and Pharaoh’s daughter, for all the strength of the nations of the world is found greatest in their females, and particularly (i.e. most of all – A.R.) in their princesses, which is why he took princesses in order to subjugate all their strengths to the (service of the) Holiness (of Israel), Moabites having the power of eating and drinking, Ammonites the power of passion, Siddonites’ power is in money, Hittites’ in strength and bravery …”

(3) The book Machshavot Charutz, letter Kaf

“… and this is the reason why Solomon married the daughter of (Egyptian King) Pharaoh, he thought to subjugate forces of evil and introduce them into (the service of) Holiness. And by doing this, all evil would neutralized (and removed from the world).”

This final commentary presents us with a very logical reason why the noise from the party of the marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter would be far louder than the noise from the rejoicing over the completion of the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem: the festivity concerning the Temple would concern only Jews, but the removal of all traces of evil from the world would concern all of Mankind, which numerically would involve a far greater number of celebrants.

The coinsequences of King Solomon marrying Pharoah's daughter

As is known, King Solomon married many women, and as we have shown, all of them princesses. Pharaoh’s daughter is singled out as representative of the negative aspects of King Solomon’s behavior, coming from the country – Egypt - which was regarded by Judaism as the world’s heaviest idol-worshippers, with specific and explicit Toranic bans on renewal of varying types of connections with Egypt, this quite apart from a specific Toranic limitation on the number of women a King of Israel is permitted to marry. (The Talmud determines that a King of Israel can marry a maximum of 18 women).

We quoted earlier the verse:

Kings I, Chapter 3, Verse 1:
1 And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took
Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David ……

This is a problematic translation: The original Hebrew, in a very literal translation (mine – A. R.) says of Solomon:

“And Solomon married Pharaoh King of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter …”

The accepted version - “And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt” -

does in fact represent the reality of the time; King Solomon reached an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt, for purposes of state – but the original Hebrew word ‘marriage’ (vayitchaten) defines a relationship that was negative from the point of view of Israel’s wider interests.

As we have noted above:

The Talmud comments on this:

“Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: At the same hour that Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, (the Angel) Gabriel descended and stuck a stick in the sea, and a rock arose above it, and on this was built the large city of Rome.”
- with the resulting creation of the tool (Rome) of the 2nd Temple’s future destruction.

The Maharal of Prague

It is the alliance with Egypt that the Maharal of Prague – 16th century Cabbalist, reputed creator of the famous Golem – finds as the great fault in King Solomon’s behaviour.

The Maharal explains the entire subject by saying that Solomon’s error was that he belittled the honour of Israel. He does so by making 3 points.

1. At the time of King Solomon’s reign, Israel was at its greatest, Solomon ruled over heaven and earth and Israel was receiving the benefits of all the promises ever promised it by G-d.
2. When Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter and connected Israel to the nations of the world, he thus empowered the nations of the world. How so?
For when there exist two opposing factors, as are Israel and the nations of the world opposing factors, and one requests something from the other, as Solomon requested Pharaoh’s daughter, he thus reveals that he is dependant upon the second factor, and in doing so he belittles himself and increases the power of a factor to which he is opposed, until control of his kingdom passes entirely into the hands of the opposing factor.
And thus was besmirched the monarchy of Israel in general, and the power of the nations of the world was increased.
3. As quoted above, “and stuck a stick in the sea, and a rock arose above it, and on this was built the large city of Rome”. This means that the power of Rome was increased, until something of which they (Rome) had not previously been worthy was now given to them, for the sea is unfitting for living in, and was now made fitting.
To summarize the Maharal’s understanding and explanation of the results of King Solomon’s marrying ‘foreign’ women, he says:
1. “And when Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh he (thus) connected himself with the nations (of the world)”
2. “Thus was the monarchy of Israel besmirched and the power of the nations (of the world) was enhanced”
The final result of King Solomon’s failure to attain perfection by gathering together the various positive qualities and characteristics that are spread out amongst the nations of the world, was that the only alternative left for Israel to attain perfection was the second way, i.e to go into exile, to scatter and mingle amongst the nations of the world, and from there to gather the required resources.

That is the subject of our second part of this essay – The Secret of Israel's Eternity – but we finish here by pointing out that what we have now suggested was not the only reason for Israel’s exile. That also, is the subject for another essay.

(Avraham Reiss blogs at

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