Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

But Did I Do the Right Thing? (1 Kings 8:54-66)

With the completion of the building of the First Temple, King Solomon offered a prayer of thanksgiving before God and prayers on behalf of the people and the nation. This ceremonial dedication occurred, according to the biblical account, during the season of Sukkot: “So Solomon held the feast at that time, and all of Israel with him, a great congregation, [including all of the people] from the entrance to Hamath [in the north] unto the brook of Egypt [in the south], before the Lord, seven days and seven days, even fourteen days. On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king. And they went to their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David His servant and to Israel His people.” (1 Kings 8:65-66) The final day of this fourteen-day festival fell on the last day of the Sukkot festival, Shemini Atzeret, which meant that the festivities began seven days before Sukkot and included Yom Kippur.

If this event occurred according to the biblical account, then what did the people do on Yom Kippur? It seems that the dedication of the Temple was so important that it was one of the rare instances in the Jewish tradition which superseded the normal observance of Yom Kippur (and perhaps Shabbat as well). Nevertheless, this approach was not without its problems as we find recorded in the following midrash: “Rabbi Levi said: As it is written: ‘for they kept the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days.” (2 Chronicles 7:9). There cannot be seven days before Sukkot where there will not be Yom Kippur and Shabbat and during those seven days, the people of Israel were eating and drinking, rejoicing and lighting candles. In the end, the people regretted this behavior and said: ‘You might say that we have sinned for we have profaned Shabbat and did not fast on Yom Kippur.’ God wanted to assuage their guilt since He was pleased with their deeds, so a heavenly voice called out and said: ‘All of you merit the world to come and warrant a blessing, as it says: ‘And they went to their tents happy and good heartedly’ (1 Kings 8:66)” (adapted from Genesis Rabbah 35:3)

This midrash contends with a dilemma which confronts each of us at one time or another. There are times when we are faced with situations where a choice must be prioritized and, on the one hand, we know we made the right decision and did the right things and yet we equivocate over our decision. In the situation mentioned in the midrash, the people celebrated and rejoiced over the building of the Temple even though it coincided with Yom Kippur, as God wanted. Still, it did not feel right. God’s answer to the people was a confirmation that they had acted properly and were worthy of being blessed despite feeling conflicted.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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