This Weeks Haftorah
Rabbi Levi Langer

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Haftorah Miketz

This haftorah is almost never read, since Miketz nearly always coincides with the festival of Chanukah. If you have a very good memory, you might remember it from the last time it was read, in 1977. If not, listen up. You won't hear it next until 2001, and then again in 2021.

The haftorah tells the well-known story of King Solomon's judgement in the case of two harlots who appeared before him. Both of the women had given birth to infants. One of the babies had died in the night, and each woman claimed that the living one was hers. Solomon ordered that the infant be cut in half. Upon hearing this, the true mother pleaded with him to give the baby to the other woman instead, while the other woman calmly accepted the verdict. This proved to everyone the identity of the true mother. The commentators explain that Solomon's wisdom was not demonstrated by the verdict itself, which appears quite startling. Rather, based upon particulars of the story and of Solomon's own words, they show that he had already succeeded in identifying the imposter, whose arguments had betrayed her as a jealous person whose real objective was to deprive her friend of that which she herself could not have. Having identified the villain and her motives, Solomon set out a trap to snare her. It was in this that Solomon's uncanny understanding of human nature was made visible to all.

Dr. Mendel Hirsch, eldest son of Samson Raphael Hirsch, finds an important lesson in this story. The story begins by setting out the background: "He [the king] made a feast for all of his servants. Thereupon two harlots came ..." It appears that they came at the time of Solomon's great feast. These women certainly did not belong to the highest stratum of society, and we would have expected that Solomon would send them to a lower court, or at least tell them to come back another time. Instead, he promptly dropped everything that he was doing and devoted all of the formidible powers of his intellect to deciding their case. For all that he was one of the most powerful monarchs of his time, for all of his great achievements in Torah and wisdom, Slomon remained devoted heart and soul to the people he ruled. Their problems and their difficulties were his own concerns.

This trait was not limited to Solomon alone. The Talmud (Berachos 4a) records how Solomon's great father, David, described the difference between himself and the other monarchs of his time. All the other kings put on airs and parade their riches ostentatiously, said David, but I "soil my hands" and work to better the spiritual and material lot of my people. And this concern for the plight of each and every individual has been the hallmark of the great Jewish leaders though all time.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer

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