As we have discussed in this series, the journey of the “firstborn child” is to lead to the birth of the messianic age, when we and all peoples will experience enlightenment and true “shalom” – harmony, wholeness, and peace. We were reminded of this goal on this past Shabbos, when we chanted the following words of comfort from the Book of Isaiah:
“How pleasant are the footsteps of the herald upon the mountains announcing shalom, heralding good tidings, announcing salvation, saying unto Zion, “Your God has reigned!’ ” (Isaiah 52:7)
While our spiritual tradition stresses the goal of shalom, it also recognizes that we have not yet arrived at this goal. The world has not yet achieved the universal enlightenment which leads to universal shalom; thus, the world is still a dangerous “neighborhood” which requires that we be streetwise and strong. Our wise and practical spiritual tradition recognizes that there are evil people engaged in destruction who reject all overtures of peace, and who view ongoing concessions to their demands as a sign of weakness; thus, there are occasions when good people must be prepared to go to war. In this spirit, the wise King Solomon wrote that there is “a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). If acts of peace strengthen the ability of evil people to cause death and destruction in the world, then these were not truly acts of shalom, for true shalom leads to life. We are therefore to be wary of naive advocates of peace who urge passivity when we are confronted with the messengers of death. Regarding these naive individuals who mislead our people, the Compassionate One proclaimed, “They attempted to relieve the impending disaster of My people by making light of it, saying, ‘Shalom! Shalom!’ - But there is no shalom!” (Jeremiah 6:14).
The same King Solomon who proclaimed that there “a time for war and a time for peace” merited to have shalom during his reign. In fact, his Hebrew name - “Shlomo” - is an indication that his mission on earth is to bring shalom. In the following letter, we will discuss aspects of the peaceful era that we experienced under the rule of King Shlomo:
King Shlomo, the son of King David, was also a great sage and a prophet. In his era, there was shalom in our land, as it is written: “And he had shalom with the lands on all sides…Judah and Israel dwelt in security, each person under his grapevine and under his fig tree” (I Kings 5:4.5). This shalom extended over a large area, as our Scriptures mention that his kingdom extended from the Euphrates River to the border of Egypt (ibid 5:1).
How did he merit to achieve this era of shalom? We may find the beginning of an answer in the following story which took place when he started his reign. The Compassionate One appeared to the young Shlomo in a dream of the night and said to him, “Request what I should give you” (I Kings 3:5). Shlomo replied:
“You have done a great kindness with Your servant, David my father, because he walked before You with truth, justice, and with uprightness of heart with you; and You have preserved for him this great kindness and have granted him a son who sits on his throne this very day. And now, O Compassionate One, my God, You have crowned Your servant in place of David my father, but I am a young lad; I do not know how to go out and come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a large nation that can neither be counted or numbered because of its abundance. May you grant your servant an understanding heart, to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and evil; for who can judge this formidable people of Yours?” (Ibid 3:6-9).
The king who merited to have shalom did not ask for great wealth or great military power; instead, he remembered the “truth and justice” of his father, David, and he asked for an understanding heart in order to distinguish between good and evil. He wanted the wisdom to rule with justice, and our Scriptures record that his altruistic prayer was answered:
“The Just One gave wisdom and considerable understanding to Shlomo, and breadth of heart as the sand which is upon the seashore. Shlomo’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than all human beings... He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. He spoke of the trees, from the cedar which is in Lebanon down to the hyssop which grows out of the wall; he spoke of animal, of fowl, and crawling creature, and of fish. They came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Shlomo, from all the sovereigns of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.” (Ibid 5:9-14).
Our Scriptures also tell the story of a wise queen who came to visit King Shlomo: “The Queen of Sheba heard of Shlomo’s fame, that it was for the Name of the Compassionate One, and she came to test him with riddles” (ibid 10:1). After Shlomo gave her the solutions to all her questions, she said:
“True was the word that I had heard in my country about your words and your wisdom! I had not believed the words until I came and my own eyes saw; and behold - even the half of it was not told to me! You have surpassed in wisdom and goodness the report that I had heard” (10:6,7).
She was particularly impressed by his just and righteous reign which included a concern for “tzedakah” - the sharing of resources with those in need; and she therefore said the following blessing:
“May the Compassionate One, your God, be blessed, Who has chosen you, to place you upon the throne of Israel: in the everlasting love of the Compassionate One for Israel He has established you as king, to do justice and tzedakah.” (ibid 10:9).
Shlomo understood that his peaceful relations with the nations and their rulers had a universal and spiritual goal, for the Temple that he built was destined to become a unifying spiritual center for all the peoples. In this spirit, he offered the following prayer to the Compassionate One after he built the Temple:
“Also a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land for Your Name's sake...May You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act accordingly to all that the gentile calls out to You, so that all the peoples of the world may know Your Name, to revere You as Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built” (ibid 8:41-43).
The Prophet Isaiah would later convey the Divine promise that the Temple would become "a house of prayer for all the peoples" (Isaiah 56:7). Shlomo’s prayer indicates that he was already aware of this messianic vision. It also indicates that after he built the Temple, he hoped that this vision would begin to become a reality during his reign.
The commentary of the Netziv, a noted 19th century sage, cites the tradition that during the reign of King Shlomo, representatives from all the nations would come to Jerusalem during the Festival of Succos, when Israel offered seventy offerings on behalf of the seventy primary nations of the earth. (The offerings are listed in Numbers 29:12-34). The Netziv writes that during the intermediate days of the Festival of Succos, the sages of the nations who were in Jerusalem would hear King Shlomo share his teachings from the Book of Ecclessiastes. (Herchav Davar on Numbers 29:12)
King Shlomo, however, did not succeed in leading our nation and all the nations into the messianic age, and our Scriptures record the spiritual failings which prevented him from achieving this goal. We therefore are still awaiting the fulfillment of the following prophecy concerning the era when “Torah will go forth Zion and the Word of the Compassionate from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3), and as a result, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare” (Isaiah 2:4).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen