Melakhim Alef Chapter 6
This chapter and the one that follows detail the major construction projects undertaken by King Shelomo, beginning with the Holy Temple and including his own palace and summer home as well as the residence of the Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had married. Both chapters contain incredibly detailed descriptions of the architectural design, wood work, stone work, and measurements of these structures.
In addition to the sheer quantity of specifications included here, we are also faced with the difficulty that the meaning of many of the architectural terms is no longer clear and has been the subject of much debate among the commentaries. Each interpreter, therefore, emerges with his own vision of what these buildings looked like. This makes summarizing these chapters quite a challenge; the best way to develop a sense for the grandeur of these projects is to read the text itself. Instead, I will touch upon a few of the highlights.
Shelomo’s Temple is clearly inspired by the layout of the original Tabernacle of the times of Moshe but surpasses it in its majesty, elegance and extravagance. It took Shelomo’s enormous team of architects and laborers a full seven years to complete. Like the Mishkan, the Temple was divided into “inner” and “outer” sections; the inner, roofed structure contained the “Ulam” or antechamber (an additional ten cubit section added by Shelomo that did not exist in the Mishkan), the “Holy” (here called “Hekhal”) and the “Holy of Holies” (here called the “Devir”) while the outer, unroofed area was known as the Courtyard.
Once the construction project has begun, Shelomo receives word from Hashem. Hashem promises to consecrate and cause His presence to dwell in the Temple, provided the nation continue to adhere to the laws and principles of the Torah.
The dimensions of the Temple were significantly greater than those of the Mishkan – the area of each section was twice as large as the corresponding section of the Mishkan, and the ceiling was three times as high. Another noteworthy difference is that wood and stone replace cloth and curtains throughout. The “inner” section’s walls are covered by ornately decorated cedar (engravings of cherubim, palms and flowers are found everywhere) that is overlaid with gold, and its floor is likewise overlaid with gold.
The Devir and Hekhal are divided from one another, as the inner section is divided from the courtyard, by beautifully crafted wooden doors overlaid with gold and across which golden chains are drawn.Various storage and work rooms, complete with doors and staircases, are built along the two sides and the rear walls of the Hekhal. The walls of the inner section of the Temple also have windows which seem to be decorative rather than functional in nature.
The contents of the inner sanctum of the Temple differed to some degree from that of the Mishkan. In the Mishkan, only the Ark of the Covenant resided in the Holy of Holies; in the Devir of the Temple, however, there were two tall cherubim who stood on the floor and whose wings spread out such that the edge of their outer wings touched the walls of the building and the edges of their inner wings touched one another. These figures were also made of cedar wood overlaid with fine gold. When the Ark is placed in the Devir, these statues will be standing directly behind it.
It is noteworthy that, when assigning a date to this project, reference is made to the Exodus from Egypt (namely, it begins 480 years from the time the Jews left Egypt). The creation of a sanctuary for the Divine Presence was the objective of the Jewish people from the very moment of their departure from the house of bondage, as they declared in the Song at the Sea, “You will bring them and plant them upon Your holy mountain; a place for Your dwelling have You created, Hashem – Your hands have established the sanctuary of Hashem.”
The Almighty brought the Jews out of Egypt not simply to restore to them their freedom, rights and dignity, but so they could follow in the footsteps of the Patriarchs in representing Hashem to all of mankind. On a national level, we first proclaimed the existence, unity and providence of the Creator through the erection of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, which served as testimony to our relationship with Him.
Now that a monarchy and stable government has been established in Israel, it is necessary once again to refocus on the true purpose of Jewish political success and prosperity. The King of Israel is charged with constructing an edifice that will outshine the most impressive royal palace in order to demonstrate that his power and authority are merely instrumental to the mission of sanctifying God’s name in the world.
Hashem has blessed the kingdom of Shelomo with a degree of sovereignty and independence that would have been unimaginable in earlier years, when Jewish existence in the Holy Land was always precarious and seemed to teeter on the verge of chaos or self-destruction. The achievement of lasting stability, then, completed the process of the Exodus from Egypt, finally providing the nation of Israel with a sense of security in their freedom, their land and their future.
As such, it necessitated another building project – the construction of a Temple that would accurately reflect the new realities, the political, economic and social growth that had been achieved. This Temple would have to be grander, stronger, and more impressive than previous sanctuaries, a proper house of worship for the people of Hashem who had finally reached the stage of development as a nation that they had dreamt of for centuries.
It is also interesting that Shelomo starts building the Temple of his own accord and only then receives a Divine message blessing the project. This prophecy is recorded in the text after Shelomo has already erected the basic structure of the inner section of the Temple. Shelomo then proceeds to add the ornate decorations, paneling and gold that beautify that structure.
I would infer from this that Shelomo began working on the Temple and then halted the labor, waiting for a heavenly “stamp of approval” for the initiative before moving forward. Unlike Moshe, Shelomo had not been officially commanded or directed to build the Bet Hamiqdash; he undertook the project independently, based on his own understanding of the responsibilities of the king.
At the same time, he recognized that the Sanctuary could only be selected and consecrated by the decree of the Almighty – “Your hands have established the sanctuary of Hashem” – no human being could establish the home of the Divine Presence unilaterally. Once Hashem authorized and granted legitimacy to the undertaking, Shelomo was able to invest himself fully in the project, now a “partner” with the Almighty in creating a house that would represent His Name.