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The Politics of Wisdom (1 Kings 5:26 – 6:13)

This week’s parasha sets forth the plans for the mishkan — the sanctuary in the desert. The haftarah describes King Solomon’s parallel project – the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ostensibly, the first verse of the haftarah offers us a description of Solomon’s qualifications for this auspicious task and the means by which he was to carry it out: “And the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as He [God] promised him; and there was peace between Hiram [King of Tyre] and Solomon, and they made a brit [a treaty] between them.” (1 Kings 5:26) On the face of it, this verse appears to be no more than a description of the means Solomon used to procure the materials and the workers needed for building of the glorious house of God.

Rabbi Levi ben Gershom, the 14th century French commentator and philosopher, however, saw in this verse a description of Hiram’s rationale for making a treaty with Solomon. He asserted that Hiram’s interest in a treaty with Solomon was based on Hiram’s love for Solomon’s wisdom. Rabbi Joseph Kaspi (Provence 13-14th century), went one step further. He claimed that this verse meant to express that it was Solomon’s wisdom that led him to make peace with Hiram. Kaspi’s interpretation opened the door to the use of this verse as a source for shaping Jewish religious-political philosophy.

Rabbi Hayim Hirshensohn, one of the outstanding early 20th century religious Zionist authorities who also served as a congregational rabbi in Hobocken, New Jersey, met this challenge. In his religious-political manifesto, “Eleh Divrei Habrit”, he maintained that God gave Solomon the wisdom to make treaties, to form alliances and to make peace because these bring physical and economic well-being to the nation. In his discussion of these issues, he emphasized that these factors should be paramount considerations in the geopolitical decision making of leaders. Furthermore, he asserts that war and conquest (including religiously sanctioned conquest) should be carried out wisely and only when “intelligent” considerations warrant it, never frivolously. (pp. 111-5)

Hirshensohn obviously viewed this particular verse as a guide for the political leaders of the nascent Jewish state to form “grounded” policy. He saw reason and realpolitik rather than unwavering ideology as the God-given virtues necessary for the proper governance of the God-promised nation. Obviously, this message is important to all of us. It is perhaps the wisest gift that this unsung rabbinic thinker could possibly bequeath to the people of Israel.

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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