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All Israel heard the judgment that the king (Solomon) rendered, and they felt awe for the king, for they saw that the wisdom of G-d was within in him, to dispense justice (Kings 1 3:28).
The matter was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants. Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can there be found such a man (i.e. Joseph) who has the spirit of G-d in him?" (Gen. 41:37-8)
Dreams and wisdom form a vital part of both Parashat Miketz and its accompanying Haftara (on the rare occasions that it does not fall on Hanukah). Both Joseph and Solomon were involved in dreams. Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh's dream, as referring to the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. Whereupon Pharaoh exclaims, "Can there be found such a man who has the spirit of G-d in him" (supra).
King Solomon's dream (whose ending only forms part of the Haftara) took place at the very beginning of his career. There, G-d appeared to him, saying that he could ask for one thing only, and He would grant it. Instead of making a personal request, Solomon asked G-d to be granted the necessary wisdom to judge the nation. As a result of Solomon's selflessness, He said that in addition to wisdom he would grant him the other things that he could have asked for - namely wealth and honor (Kings 1 3:5-15).
Solomon woke up and behold it was a dream! But he woke up a wiser man. For the new wisdom G-d gave him to judge His 'heavy difficult people' (3:9) was immediately put to the test when two prostitutes appeared before him. The plaintiff claimed that she gave birth to a child and three days later the defendant also gave birth to a child. She claimed that the defendant had accidentally lain on her own child and killed him, and then she exchanged the dead baby for the plaintiff's living baby. The defendant's response was, "No! The living one is mine!" (3:22). Seeing that he had no choice but to intervene, he ordered, "Fetch me a sword! … Cut the living child into two, and give a half to each mother" (3:24-5). The defendant pleaded to give the child to the plaintiff so long as he would remain alive, even though she would lose him. The plaintiff insisted on letting the sword do its grisly work. Whereupon Solomon ordered the baby to be given to the defendant, as she was the true mother.
Thus the story ends with Israelites feeling 'awe for king, for they saw that the 'wisdom of G-d was within him, to dispense justice' (above). This one act of clear divinely-inspired justice convinced the 'heavy and difficult people' that the youthful king not only possessed the means to execute justice, but could also apply the law convincingly and effectively to prevent any future factionalism in his kingdom.
Before Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, he declared that the wisdom to interpret dreams came from G-d: "It is not in me! G-d shall answer for the welfare of Pharaoh" (41:16), and in the actual interpretation he says, "what G-d is about to do, He has shown to Pharaoh" (41:28). Similarly, it was clear to the Israelites that the case of the two women had not been decided by Solomon's own wisdom, but G-d's - through the medium of Solomon
A footnote: the plaintiff and the defendant are referred to in the text as zonot - prostitutes. Hirsch interprets that detail to Solomon's credit, as a sign of the open nature of his regime. All had access, when necessary, to even the sovereign himself. For prostitutes were scarcely society ladies…
Solomon's 'Fetch me a sword' is certainly an intelligent and even brilliant solution to the quarrel between the two prostitutes, but it seems hard to grasp why this demonstrated the 'spirit of G-d' - superhuman intelligence. After all many people get sudden brilliant flashes of inspiration without having being told by G-d in a dream that they will be granted wisdom to judge the nation… And similarly, what special, supernatural wisdom did Joseph demonstrate? After all, the interpretation of the seven fat cows and the seven lean cows as referring to seven years of plenty and seven years of famine respectively appears correct, but hardly evidence of brilliance or more - especially as the events referred to were then in the future. What moved Pharaoh to see Joseph as being divinely inspired?
On the above incident of 'the justice of Solomon', Abarbanel brings the following suggestion. The real 'wisdom of G-d' was not to order the sword, but to read a person correctly and understand their true thoughts - as King David put it, "He (G-d) …creates their hearts and understands all their deeds" (Psalms 33:15). That was the wisdom G-d granted to Solomon - it was a skill not normally given to human beings. Long before the women opened their case, Solomon knew who the real mother was - just by looking at the faces of the women, he could tell whose child was who. As Abarbanel explains, the real wisdom of G-d is not that He can decode people's words to uncover their intentions, but that He can see into a person's heart and know the truth about what that person thinks and feels, even before the person speaks.
Similarly, Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams showed this type of 'wisdom of G-d'. For in comparing the Torah's narrative of Pharaoh's dreams (41:2-7) with Pharaoh's recounting them to Joseph 41:17-32), there are several differences. One of them is that in Pharaoh's dream the seven healthy cows stood next to the seven lean cows (41:3). Pharaoh did not mention this detail to Joseph. Nevertheless, as the Meshech Chochma points out, this detail was the essential fundamental in Joseph's interpretation: 'Behold - seven years are coming - there will be great satisfaction… then seven years of famine will rise after them' (41:29-30) - straight afterwards, signified by the two groups of cows standing together. Thus, Joseph was also able to see beyond Pharaoh's words to get to the truth. Pharaoh recognized Joseph's being guided by G-d, and that he could read his own mind, when he interpreted details he himself had withheld from Joseph. And such wisdom could be applied to the solution of his problems: 'Could we find another like him - a man who has the spirit of G-d in him?'
This divine wisdom guiding great personalities to correctly assess and judge a situation may be seen in the following story which took place a little more than two hundred years ago.
It was quite common during this period for a husband to leave his family for an extended period of time for better job opportunities - sometimes even overseas. Thus he may be away from his family for several years. One such family man left his home in Vilna soon after his marriage, and nothing was heard from him as the years rolled on.
One day, however, without any warning, her husband returned home. Because many years passed, he appeared to have somewhat aged and it was not surprising that people did not recognize him. There was much disbelief, but in the end he convinced everyone that he was indeed the husband. He was able to repeat to them trivial details of his wedding day, he would recall conversations that he had with people, and he was able to confirm many personal details. It was a real day of celebration in Vilna - one aguna (halachically chained woman) Everyone seemed relieved, especially the wife's parents. Everyone - except the wife herself. She was adamant: "That man is not my husband!"
The young woman's parents approached the leading local Torah personality - the Gaon of Vilna himself. The Gaon listened attentively to the whole story. He enquired as to whether they had asked the supposed husband this or that question, and whether he had known the answers. The question was always in the affirmative.
Then the Gaon said, "On Shabbat, when you accompany your supposed son-in-law to shul, ask him to show you which seat he occupied on the very first Shabbat after his wedding-day. Since he remembers many other details, he will surely remember that important fact."
The parents followed the Gaon's instructions. But as soon as they asked the man to direct them to the place where he sat on the very first Shabbat after he married their daughter, he did not know where to head for, and he said in trembling tones: "I do not know".
Now a further cross-examination began. Soon he found himself forced to own up to the fact that he was not the real husband. It transpired that the true husband had been prepared to sell his wife to this unscrupulous character for a substantial sum of money. But if he was so well-prepared, how did it occur to the Gaon that he would not know the husband's place in shul?
The Gaon explained: 'An individual who could stoop so low that he can pretend to be the husband of another and then commit the grave transgression of living with another man's wife must have no feelings of divrei kedusha (holiness) at all. It simply would not occur to such a character to enquire about the husband's place in shul…
[The Gaon is recorded to have stated that he applied the Midrashic account of where Jacob, on the run from the murderous Esau, hid in the Beth Hamidrash of Shem and Ever. That, said the Gaon, was not the sort of place where the spiritually-deficient would think of coming to look, so Jacob was safest there. Notwithstanding, one can hardly fail to see the Hand of G-d guiding the Gaon of Vilna…]
'The secrets of G-d come to those who fear Him (Psalms 25:14)
The story is recorded in Dansky M.: As heard from Rabbi Wagschal (1997), pp. 9-10
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Also by Jacob Solomon: Between the Fish and the Soup
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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