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   by Jacob Solomon

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PARASHAT VAYAKHEL (HAFTARA) 5771


All the vessels… that Hiram made for King Solomon [when building] G-d's Temple were of… bronze. The king had them cast in clay molds on the Jordan Plain. (Kings I 7:45-6)

Guided Tour...

The setting of the Haftara (Kings I 40-50) 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 - achieved by means of the political, marriage, and trade alliances characteristic of his reign.

Like the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the building of the Temple was for 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 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 foreign craftsmen who also supplied some of the construction materials - turning them into an edifice designed by the Divinely-inspired (per. Chronicles I 29:19) wisdom of Solomon.

The actual text of the Haftara concludes the long and detailed description of the various vessels and artifacts in Solomon's Temple, made by Hiram of Tyre (Kings I 7:13) the Craftsman.

Many of these items were new to Israelite worship - they did not have parallels in the Tabernacle. These include the elaborate copper capitals to the columns at the entrance to the Temple (Jachin and Boaz), which were adorned by numerous copper pomegranates - very possibly symbols of fertility. Large and unbudgeted quantities of copper were also used to make the enormous water container - 'the Sea' of Solomon (7:23) - elaborately borne on the backs of twelve copper oxen, and the ten smaller trollies (7:43). They emphasize the importance of water in the Temple - for both various aspects of Divine Service and general Temple cleanliness.

Whereas Hiram's name is linked to the making of the copper artifacts, the text attributes the golden items - the Ten Candelabra, the Table, the Inner Altar, the associated vessels, and the door mechanisms - to Solomon himself.

D'var Torah

The content of the Haftara forms the final section relating the construction of the First Temple and its artifacts. However the details of the building of the Temple raise the following issues:

(a) Why did Solomon engage Hiram the King of Tyre beyond the task of supplying the necessary cedar wood for the Temple? Instead of a mere import business agreement, he also asked him to recruit a person who was 'wise' in intricate crafts (Chron. II 2:6) to work together with his own skilled artisans in Jerusalem. Was there not enough talent within his own people? Why did he have to look abroad?

(b) The culture of Phoenicia is recorded to have supplied a further leader of the Israelites - in the form of the highly influential Queen Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, some sixty years after the death of Solomon. Through her the particularly insidious paganism of Baal and Ashera made its way into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Kings I 16:31-32). Why did King Solomon employ Hiram the Craftsman - albeit an Israelite - from the seafaring city Tyre: which was actually inside Phoenicia?

(c) Many items made by Hiram the Craftsman were new to Israelite worship - they did not have any parallels in the Tabernacle, nor did they serve any obvious function in the Temple beyond decoration. They were not within the plans that David gave to Solomon (Chron. I 28:19) for the Temple construction after his death. These include the two pillars, Yachin and Boaz (7:15-22), and its elaborate decorative pomegranates and meshwork described in the Haftara (7:41-2).

(d) Why were the artifacts made in the Jordan Valley (7:45) rather than in the City of Jerusalem itself? Why were the raw materials not brought to Jerusalem for construction?

A clue to approaching these issues may be found in comparing the different ways David and Solomon saw the roles of the Temple.

King David's vision of the Temple was a place where G-d would rest His Presence in the world (Chron. I 28:2), where His Name would be 'great… over Israel' (Sam. II 7:26). There is no thought of the Temple serving a wider society, outside the Israelite world. Solomon, in contrast, envisaged a Temple with spiritual potential of a much larger scope: including not just Israelites, but others as well: 'As to the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel, who comes from a distant land for Your name's sake… he too may come and pray towards this House… and fulfill the foreigner's prayer to you… Thus all the peoples of the earth will acknowledge Your Name and fear You, like Your people Israel, and they will realize that Your Name rests upon this House which I have built.' (Kings I 8:41-3)

King David was a particularist - the Temple was for his people. King Solomon was a universalist - the Temple was to establish the One G-d amongst the nations, as well as his own people. As mentioned in the Guided Tour, 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.

Being a universalist was no fault in itself. More than two centuries later, Isaiah would bring the word of G-d that the Temple would be 'a House of Prayer for All Nations' (Isaiah 56:7). But Solomon's ideals of universalism were too wide for his time - the monarchy was barely established under King David, and the time for the Israelites to be a light unto the nations was not yet ripe. Though Solomon marshaled his people into a structured and well-organized unified nation free of tribal loyalties, he did so in a hurry, and the nation had not yet settled down. Jerusalem was ready to be capital of the United Kingdom of Israel, but socially and religiously too immature and inexperienced to be the spiritual capital of the world. As such, it was not successful. Indeed, Solomon's universalism is recorded as having brought a multitude of foreign women to the Holy Land, and with them, various compromises, no doubt enabling them to feel more at home. The final result, as recorded in Kings I 11-12, universalizing of the Israelite kingdom to an unacceptable extent, (including passive connivance in pagan worship) leading to the Division of the Kingdom after his death.

That universalism was encapsulated in the form and procedure of Temple construction. King Solomon's addition of the two pillars, and its elaborate decorative pomegranates and meshwork were unknown to the Israelites, but well-exemplified in the archaeological record of Phoenicia and other nearby pagan nations. Indeed, examples of their extremely high quality have been found in other nations to whom Phoenicia exported - such as its characteristic ivories, gold jewelry, and bronze bowls found at Nimrud, Assyria. Similar twin pillars were discovered in Egypt (Heliopolis), and Assyria (Khorsabad). The pomegranates design, mentioned in the Haftara, has been found on near-contemporary Phoenician sarcophagi. Not only does it appear that King Solomon sent abroad as there was the best that money could buy, but the characteristic ornaments, beautiful in themselves, were best manufactured out of sight of the traditionalists of Jerusalem lest they bring accusations of imitating paganism.

Thus King Solomon's ideal of a Temple for G-d to serve the Israelites and attract all nations was inherent in his - and not his father's - plans for the Temple, which he executed with international human resources. However, he was walking a tightrope - between pleasing all peoples, and letting pagans impose - however subtly - their own will on the Temple, and ultimately his kingdom… And it was that

Being able to influence others is for those who are secure and practiced in their own beliefs and practices. In modern terms, Kiruv work (bringing people close to Torah values) is a task and challenge for the learned and the experienced…

For the archaeological records, I have referred to Rosenberg S.G. 'The Haftara Cycle' (2000), pp.83-94.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il 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

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers

e-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il

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