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The Word of G-d came to Solomon, saying: 'This Temple that you build - if you… observe all My commandments… then I shall dwell among the Israelites, and I shall not forsake My people Israel.' (Kings I 6:11-13)
The setting of the Haftara is the Holy City of Jerusalem, The events described take place in a rare era of peace and prosperity. That was characteristic of all but the later years of King Solomon's reign (approx. 970-930 BCE) over the United Kingdom of Israel. During much of his sovereignty, Jerusalem was not only the fully functioning capital city of the Israelites, but it took on international dimensions as a center of both Divine Worship and trade, open to all peoples and nations.
Solomon had the good fortune of ruling at a time that the great powers of the Middle East had neither the will, nor the means to challenge his international policies. Throughout the period that the Israelites were in the Holy Land until the Destruction of the First Temple, they were living in an area that functioned as a geographical buffer zone between two great powers: Egypt to the west, and Mesopotamia to the East. Egypt had too many domestic issues to challenge Solomon - though it recovered sufficiently to launch a successful invasion after the kingdom was divided during the reign of his son, Rehaboam. Mesopotamia, unlike Egypt, was a region that oscillated between periods of stability and power, and instability and disorder. The great power of Mesopotamia in the form of the Assyrian Empire was not yet on the horizon during the reign of King Solomon.
Thus there were few barriers to the growth and increasing importance of the Israelite Kingdom. They were both achieved by means of the political, marriage, and trade alliances characteristic of his reign.
The common theme of the Parasha and the Haftara is the building of a residence for G-d's most intense Divine Presence on Earth. As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, they made a home for Him in the form of the moveable Tabernacle. And after many years of conquering and settling Holy Land, they constructed a new permanent abode - the Temple.
Both structures served the same function, and were constructed on broadly similar lines. However, the circumstances in which they were built were different. All the materials used for building the Tabernacle were donated generously and enthusiastically - to such an extent that Moses had to intervene personally to limit the number of gifts. With the Temple, however, everything was planned beforehand. Whole armies of porters and craftsmen were engaged, together with tens of thousands of men that Solomon sent to Lebanon to cut the best quality durable softwoods available - to the continued profit of Hiram, King of Tyre. The Hebrew word use for the labor is 'mas' - a word used to describe the oppression of the Egyptian bondage (Ex. 1:10). Whereas the Tabernacle was built from the free-will offerings of the entire people, the Temple was a product of a huge labor force specifically conscripted for that purpose.
In addition, the Tabernacle was built through the sole efforts of the Israelites people, according to the architectural plans of the Almighty. The Temple construction, in contrast, employed Phoenicians and other employee foreign craftsmen who also supplied some of the construction materials - turning them into an edifice designed by the wisdom of Solomon.
Thus Solomon's statesmanship and his negotiations with Hiram King of Tyre made the building of the First Temple possible. What was lacking was the enthusiasm and devotion of his own people that was so apparent in all stages of the Tabernacle's construction.
The Haftara concludes with G-d's promise that so long as G-d's laws are kept, He will 'dwell among the Israelites' and 'not forsake… Israel'. That parallels the verse in the Parasha: 'They shall make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.' (Ex. 25:18) In comparison with the permanent and magnificent Temple, the Tabernacle was a portable and relatively simple structure. The purpose of the Haftara's conclusion is to warn King Solomon not to overvalue the Temple's external beauty, and to remind him that its continued existence depends solely on the fulfilling of G-d's teachings. However fitting a beautiful building is for the service of the Almighty, its significance depends solely in the spirituality and devotion it engenders in those who worship within its walls. Buildings are a means to an end; people are an end in themselves.
The creation of the Universe - from distant galaxies, though plants and animal life, and up unto Mankind, occupy only thirty-four verses in the Torah. By contrast, the construction of the Tabernacle gets most of the last half of the entire Book of Exodus, and the account of the building of the Temple extends to four chapters of the Book of Kings. It is not as if the Tabernacle had a lasting significance in the history of Israel or mankind: it was a relatively fragile structure, made of beams, hangings, and moveable objects. It was eventually replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem, and then, when that was destroyed, by an initially less elaborate structure that was ultimately replaced by the synagogue. What is special about both the Tabernacle and the Temple that gives them so much space in the sacred texts?
A two year old daughter comes home from kindergarten with two candies - one for mother, and one for father. She presents her surprise gifts with gleaming eyes and a deep loving smile…
Parents spend endless hours looking after their children - from before the time they are born up to when they leave home and even afterwards. They arrange their lives around their children, and seek to provide their needs and wants (within reason) within a loving, caring, and positively nurturing environment. They are - or should be - the prime concern of every parent.
Children however, tend to take things for granted. Gratitude and reciprocating do not usually come naturally - youngsters have to be trained to say 'please' and 'thank you'.
It can easily cost a quarter of million dollars or more to bring up a child from birth to maturity. But mother and father will always remember the things which cost nothing - or next to nothing: namely the two candies, the gleaming eyes, and that deep, loving smile. For that was how they knew that they had not just made a home for their daughter. Their daughter had made a home for them - in her own heart.
The Psalmist writes that G-d gave the World to Man (Psalms 115:16). His entire creation and work is for Mankind - for His children, especially those that recognize Him. And Man's task is to serve as a partner in the Creation, working towards perfecting living on this planet according to the principles revealed in the Torah.
The Torah states that the Israelites are G-d's children (Deut. 14:1). As the parent, He takes His requirement to supply His children with their needs for granted. But He does not take their thanks for granted. His great happiness, as it were, comes out of their intense joy in their giving Him a home from their resources (like the candy), and from within their hearts (like the genuine smile). What is most important is that the present came out of real love rather from than a sense of obligation… That is what makes Him feel most welcome. That is what makes the Creation worthwhile.
That home - be it the Tabernacle or the Temple, or for that matter the synagogue, can only be a home for G-d if He feels the 'smile'. The 'smile' He yearns for from His people takes the form of willing and enthusiastic observance of His commandments, sensibly applied to working towards perfecting living on this planet according to the principles He revealed in the Torah.
Some material was based on Jacobs J: A Haftara Companion (1998), pp. 107-8.
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.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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