Melakhim Alef Chapter 5
This chapter begins with a description of the vastness of Shelomo’s kingdom, which extended far beyond the conventional borders of the land of Israel. Shelomo not only ruled over an enormous swath of territory, he also enjoyed remarkable prosperity and luxury on a daily basis. The gourmet feasts served at the palace each day were unequaled in quantity and quality. Shelomo’s subjects also benefited from the unprecedented peace, tranquility and opulence of his kingdom as they achieved economic success in their personal lives as well.
Shelomo maintained a formidable standing army that included forty thousand stables of horses. His magnificent regime was fully supported by the tax revenue collected from the citizens of Israel, as described in the previous chapter.
Shelomo became internationally known for his outstanding intelligence, which surpassed that of his wisest contemporaries. He composed thousands of parables and songs of an ostensibly educational and instructional character, and acquired an expertise in the natural sciences including knowledge of the plant world and of the animal kingdom. People from all over the world flocked to Shelomo to marvel at his legendary brilliance.
Shelomo contacts Hiram, King of Tzor, who had been a close friend and devotee of his father, David. He requests Hiram’s assistance in carrying out David’s “dream project” of constructing a house dedicated to the name of Hashem. David was unable to fulfill this aspiration because of his constant involvement in battle; therefore, the Almighty had delegated responsibility for this sacred task to his son, Shelomo.
Shelomo specifically requested that Hiram provide him with lumber for the project; he offered to send some of his own servants to apprentice with Hiram’s expert woodcutters and promised to pay Hiram’s laborers for their time.
Hiram blesses Hashem for having granted David such a wise son as heir to his throne. He agrees to provide lumber for the Holy Temple and transport it to Israel, where it will be carried by Shelomo’s servants to the construction site. In exchange for this service, Hiram asks that Shelomo provide his household with an annual gift of fine wheat and oil. A peace treaty is established between Shelomo and Hiram.
Shelomo drafts thirty thousand workers to construct the Temple. These laborers would serve in shifts; each month, ten thousand would be on active duty, and then would be replaced by another ten thousand, so that each person spent two months at home and one month in national service. Shelomo also hired eighty thousand stone hewers to extract and prepare stonework for the Temple and three thousand three hundred supervisors over the project.
We see in this chapter an elaboration of the theme we touched upon in the previous one: namely, the realization in Israel of the blessings foretold in the Torah, and how this paves the way for the establishment of the Temple. The description of Shelomo’s fame is particularly reminiscent of the promise of the Torah that the nations of the world will declare “surely this great people is a wise and understanding nation – for what great nation is there that has God close to it, like Hashem, our God, in all of our calling to Him?”
The operation of Divine providence in Israel is made manifest to all as a result of its material success and the tremendous wisdom of its leaders. This qualifies the Jewish people to serve as the representatives of the Almighty on the international stage and to build His Temple.
There is another nuance worth highlighting here. In the account of the intellectual attainments of Shelomo, we are told that “Elokim” gave wisdom to Shelomo. Elokim is the universal, generic name for the Almighty that is not uniquely Jewish. This makes sense since the text is emphasizing the idea that Shelomo’s knowledge achieved international recognition and that citizens of all nations attributed it to the hand of God. In the verses of Deuteronomy cited above, wherein the gentiles perceive the Divine providence in Israel, the term “Elokim” is used as well. However, I believe there is another significant allusion being made in the narrative that explains the unusual use of the term “Elokim”.
One of the remarkable aspects of the story of Yosef as presented in the Torah is the shift to the appellation “Elokim” to refer to Hashem. As long as Yosef is in Egypt, and especially when he is in the employ of the Egyptian government, this is the word for the deity that is utilized. In the dramatic moment when Pharaoh initially perceives the genius of Yosef and is inspired to promote him to the position of viceroy, he exclaims “Has one ever been found like this – a man that has the spirit of God [Elokim] within him?…Now that God [Elokim] has made all of this known to you, there is no wise and understanding person like you!” These declarations by Pharaoh about Yosef are clearly foreshadowing the declaration that will one day be made on a national level about the Jewish people “surely this people is a wise and understanding nation.”
The connection does not end here. Not long ago we read about the decision of Shelomo to marry the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt. We then read about his kingdom, which extends to the border of Egypt. When Shelomo’s wisdom is compared to that of his contemporaries, we are told that it outshines the wisdom of all of the scholars of Egypt.
All of these elements emphasize the link between Shelomo, representative of Torah and Divine wisdom to the nations of the world and particularly to the Egyptians, and Yosef, who was the first to serve in this capacity. The point is that Shelomo, like Yosef, was able to make the profound wisdom of Judaism accessible and comprehensible not only to his own subjects but to citizens of other nations who did not have a “Torah framework” through which to perceive it.
This emphasis on “Elokim” and on “Egypt” provides an enlightening contrast with Hiram, the close friend of David. Hiram explicitly references “Hashem”, using the uniquely “Jewish” name of God that expresses His Unity and transcendence. This suggests that, unlike other gentiles who related only to the superior political, scientific and technological knowledge of Shelomo and were impressed by those universally attractive intellectual achievements, Hiram had an insight into the religious message and principles of Torah that he had learned from David.
Like Akhish, the King of Gat who provided David with refuge when he was on the run from Shaul, Hiram was exposed to and embraced the concept of the God of Israel. This may explain why Shelomo was so comfortable enlisting Hiram in a partnership to build the House that would make Hashem’s name known in the world.