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Wisdom and Human Pretention: The Riddle of Shlomo and its Resolution

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Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch

Editor’s Note: This chapter was translated by Elli Fischer for the forthcoming translation of Rav Rabinovitch’s book, Mesilot Bilvavam. Special thanks to Koren for permission to publish.

  1. Introduction
  2. A Sin Commensurate with his Greatness
  3. The Text of the Aggada
  4. The Conduct of Ashmedai after his Capture
  5. Shlomo’s Proverbs in Ashmedai’s Mouth
  6. The Conduct of Ashmedai before his Capture
  7. The Meaning of the Aggada
  8. The Mitzvot and Human Pretension

 

A. Introduction

Much ink has been spilt in the attempt to reconcile the description of King Shlomo that appears in the Book of Melakhim with the description of Divrei Hayamim. It emerges even from a cursory reading that Shlomo of Divrei Hayamim is the paradigmatic king of the yearned-for kingdom. A prophecy proclaims the main features of his reign even before his birth:

But you will have a son who will be a man of rest; I will give him rest from his enemies on all sides, for Shlomo will be his name, and I will confer peace (“shalom”) and quiet on Israel in his time. He will build a house for My name; he shall be a son to Me and I to him a father, and I will establish his throne of kingship over Israel forever. (1 Divrei Hayamim 22:9-10)

This is what Shlomo was supposed to become, and this is what his reign should have been like. The author of Divrei Hayamim then chronicles numerous episodes to tell us that indeed it was so; every detail of the prophecy was fulfilled, albeit in reverse order. “I will establish his throne of kingship over Israel forever” is fulfilled with: “Shlomo, son of David, took firm hold of his kingdom, for the Lord his God was with him and made him exceedingly great” (2 Divrei Hayamim 1:1). “I to him a father”: God appears to Shlomo as a loving father: “Ask, what shall I grant you?” (ibid. 7). “He shall be a son to Me”: like an intelligent son who brings joy to his father, Shlomo asks: “Grant me wisdom and knowledge” (ibid. 10). “He will build a house for My name”: Shlomo immediately undertakes the massive task of building the Temple: “Then Shlomo resolved to build a house for the name of the Lord” (ibid. 18). He did not let up until he saw that “the glory of the Lord filled the house of God…. Then Shlomo declared: ‘I have built for You a stately house, and a place where You may dwell forever’” (ibid. 5:14-6:2). “I will confer peace and quiet on Israel in his time”: not only did peace and quiet prevail in Israel in his day, but all were “rejoicing and in good spirits” (ibid. 7:10). “I will give him rest from his enemies on all sides”: not only did he have a respite from all his enemies, but “King Shlomo surpassed all the kings of the earth…. All the kings of the earth came to pay homage…in the amount due each year (ibid. 9:22-24). And ultimately he became king over kings: “He ruled over all the kings from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt” (ibid. 26).

As described with great specificity, every element of the prophecy was fully realized, and then some.

Yet this is not the entire chronicle of Shlomo. More than is written here is written in the Book of Melakhim. There, other facets of Shlomo and his reign are revealed—facets that are more shadow than light.

By comparing the descriptions of Divrei Hayamim with those of Melakhim, we find that with regard to everything relating to the realization of the prophecy, Divrei Hayamim repeats what was already stated in Melakhim, and even embellishes it—with one exception. In Divrei Hayamim, as in Melakhim, it is recounted that “wisdom and knowledge are granted to you” (ibid. 1:12; compare to 1 Melakhim 3:12), to the extent that “All the kings of the earth came to pay homage to Shlomo and to listen to the wisdom with which God had endowed him” (2 Divrei Hayamim 9:23; compare to 1 Melakhim 10:24). However, the amazing tale of how Shlomo’s wisdom was first revealed to Israel, when “they saw that he possessed divine wisdom to execute justice” (ibid. 3:28), does not appear in Divrei Hayamim. The absence of the episode of the two mothers from Divrei Hayamim is perplexing, for there would seem to be no greater exhibition of Shlomo’s extraordinary wisdom.

The Sages have already addressed this puzzle and illuminated a path to understanding that precisely what seems to be the supreme expression of a “wise and discerning mind” (ibid. 12) was not simply a gift from God, and it in fact pushed him into the abyss of destruction. The Sages said: “Kohelet [=Shlomo] sought to pronounce judgement based on intuition—without witnesses and without admonition. A heavenly voice issued forth and said to him: ‘and that which He wrote is upright and true’ (Kohelet 12:10)—‘by the mouth of two witnesses…’ (Devarim 17:6).”[1] Shlomo wanted to circumvent the Torah’s demands with his wisdom. It was not with divine wisdom that he sought to do so; wisdom has its own dark drives.

The Sages even found fault with the wisdom of Shlomo’s judgment regarding the identity of the mother of the live child: “How did he know? Maybe she was duping him?”[2] The wisest of all men wished to go beyond the boundaries of human intelligence and liberate himself from the shackles of mitzvot, which are merely the tools with which the body confines the soul. But that was not the intent of the prophecy, and so there is no place for the story of Shlomo’s judgment in Divrei Hayamim. We must look to the Book of Melakhim to understand Shlomo’s seemingly split personality.

It is not easy to peer into the soul of a regular person, let alone into the recesses of the soul of King Shlomo. No mind can meet the challenge of absorb the hidden lessons of the story of Shlomo from their plain meaning alone. Therefore, the Sages induced us to follow them into the secrets of his soul by presenting us with scintillating parables and captivating tales. We will attempt to unravel the Sages’ exposition, and we will see where it leads us.

B. A Sin Commensurate with his Greatness

Shlomo’s personality is an undecipherable conundrum. On one hand, Shlomo was Israel’s greatest king. It was to him that God said: “wisdom and knowledge are granted to you, and I grant you also wealth, property, and glory, the like of which no king before you has had, nor shall any after you have” (2 Divrei Hayamim 1:12). That is, Shlomo represents a historical peak; even the greatness of the anticipated king mashi’ah is measured with the yardstick of Shlomo’s accomplishments: “The king that arises will have his royal capital in Zion; his name will become great and will spread to the ends of the earth—even more than Shlomo’s reign did.”[3] Furthermore, the eminence of the mashi’ah will, in essence, be Shlomo’s as well, for the mashi’ah will be a descendant of Shlomo.[4] This is emphasized in the promise of the prophet Natan to King David: “When your days are done and you follow your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingship. He shall build a house for Me, and I will establish his throne forever…. I will install him in My house and in My kingship forever, and his throne shall be established forever” (1 Divrei Hayamim 17:11-14).

On the other hand, neither Scripture nor the Sages spare King Shlomo from their criticism:

King Shlomo loved many foreign women…from the nations of which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “None of you shall join them and none of them shall join you….” Such Shlomo clung to and loved…. His wives turned his heart away…. Shlomo did what was displeasing to the Lord…. The Lord was angry with Shlomo, because his heart turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel.” (1 Melakhim 11:1-9)

Just as his wisdom became a byword, so too did his sins, as Nehemiah reproved his contemporaries: “It was just in such things that King Shlomo of Israel sinned! Among the many nations there was not a king like him, and so well loved was he by his God…yet foreign wives caused even him to sin” (Nehemiah 13:26).

The Sages scrutinized Shlomo and found even more sins:

Shlomo said: Three things with which the attribute of justice makes sport—I desecrated: “He shall not have many wives” (Devarim 17:17), yet Scripture states, “King Shlomo loved many foreign women” (1 Melakhim 11:1)…. “He shall not keep many horses” (Devarim 17:16), yet Scripture states: “Shlomo had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariotry and 12,000 horsemen” (1 Melakhim 5:6)…. “nor shall be amass silver and gold to excess” (Devarim 17:17), yet Scripture states: “The king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones” (1 Melakhim 10:27).[5]

Others explain that Shlomo was punished and deposed because of his sins:

The Holy One said to Shlomo: “What is this crown on your head? Get off of My throne.” R. Yosi b. Hanina said: At that moment, an angel that looked like Shlomo descended, removed him from the throne, and sat down in his stead. [Shlomo] circulated among the synagogues and study halls, saying: “I am Kohelet; I was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Kohelet 1:12). They would say to him: “The king is sitting on his throne, yet you say ‘I am Kohelet’?” They beat him with a stick and fed him a plate of beans. At that moment, he said: “This was my lot” (Kohelet 2:10).[6]

The idea that Shlomo was dethroned also appears in the Bavli,[7] which tells an extended story of his replacement. In my opinion, this story contains an astonishing theory for understanding Shlomo’s complex personality. It is one of the longest narratives in the entire Talmud (in printed editions, it stretches over almost two full columns), and it seems that it was copied from there into various midrashim. It is worth pointing out two literary features of the Bavli version.

The first pertains to the central idea of a substitute king. As we have seen, the Yerushalmi speaks of an angel, whereas the Bavli speaks of a demon (shed)—more precisely, the king of the demons. This fits nicely with the fact that the Yerushalmi never even mentions demons, whereas the Bavli frequently discusses them. The Talmud itself records a dispute between the Jews of Eretz Yisrael and the Jews of Babylonia about whether to explain a given verse in Kohelet as a reference to demons. As will be explained later, this has major implications. This is no fantasy tale about demons.

The second observation is that Shlomo’s wisdom is characterized by parables and riddles, based on the verses: “He composed three thousand parables…. He spoke about the trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; and he spoke about beasts, birds, creeping things, and fishes” (1 Melakhim 5:12-13) and “The queen of Sheba heard of Shlomo’s wisdom…and she came to test him with riddles” (ibid. 10:1). Fittingly, the Talmud’s story of Shlomo is a parable in its entirety, built of layer upon layer of riddles. It is worthwhile, then, to attempt “to understand proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Mishlei 1:6).

To understand the meaning of this parable, one must first read the entire narrative and then attempt to understand each detail, until a whole picture emerges. The story is brought in response to a question about the interpretation of a verse in Kohelet—we will cite this as well. To assist the reader, we will present the entire story in English translation, broken up into segments, so as to facilitate the subsequent discussion.

C. The Text of the Aggada

Gittin 68a-b[8] states:

It is written: “I got myself sharim and sharot, and human pleasures, shidda and shiddot” (Kohelet 2:8). “Sharim and sharot”—these are types of musical instruments. “Human pleasures”—these are pools and bathhouses. “Shidda and shiddot”—here [in Babylonia] they translated this as “male demons” (“shidda”) and “female demons” (“shiddetin”). In the West (Eretz Yisrael) they said: carriages [shiddeta]….

The Master said: “here they translated this as ‘male demons’ and ‘female demons.’ What did he need male and female demons for?

A. As it is written: “For the house, when it was being built, was built of stone made ready at the quarry….”(1 Melakhim 6:7). [Shlomo] said to the sages: How shall I do this? They said to him: There is the shamir, which Moshe used for the stones of the breastplate. He said to them: Where is it found? They said to him: Bring a male demon and a female demon and shackle them together. Perhaps they know and will reveal it to you.

B. He brought a male demon and a female demon and shackled them together. They said: We do not know; perhaps Ashmedai king of the demons knows. He said to them: Where is Ashmedai? They said to him: He is on such-and-such a mountain.

He has dug himself a cistern, filled it with water, covered it with a rock, and sealed it with his seal. Every day he ascends to heaven and studies in the heavenly yeshiva.

Then he descends to earth and studies in the earthly yeshiva. Then he comes and inspects his seal, opens the cistern, and drinks. Then he covers it, seals it, and leaves.

C. He sent Benayahu b. Yehoyada. He gave him a chain onto which God’s name was engraved, a signet onto which God’s name of God was engraved, fleeces of wool, and wineskins filled with wine. Benayahu went and dug a cistern lower down the mountain from Ashmedai’s cistern, drained the water into it, and plugged it up with the wool fleeces. He then dug a pit higher up the mountain from Ashmedai’s cistern and poured the wine through it into Ashmedai’s cistern. He then sealed the cistern, climbed a tree, and sat in it.

D. When [Ashmedai] arrived, he checked his seal, opened the pit, and found the wine. He said: “It is written: ‘Wine is a mocker, strong drink is riotous; and whosoever wallows in it is not wise’ (Mishlei 20:1); and it is written: ‘Harlotry, old wine, and new wine take away understanding’ (Hoshea 4:11). I will not drink this wine.” When he became thirsty, he could not hold back. He drank, became intoxicated, and fell asleep. [Benayahu] descended from the tree, threw the chain around [Ashmedai], and bound him within it. When [Ashmedai] awoke, he began to struggle. [Benayahu] said to him: “The name of your Master is upon you! The name of your Master is upon you!”

E. As [Benayahu] took [Ashmedai] away, he reached a palm tree. [Ashmedai] rubbed up against it and knocked it down. He reached a house and knocked it down. He reached the shack of a certain widow. She emerged and pleaded with him. He inclined his whole height away from her shack, and one of his bones broke. He said: This is the meaning of the verse, “Soft speech can break a bone” (Mishlei 25:15).

F. [Ashmedai] saw a blind man who lost his way; he guided him back on the right path. He saw a drunk who lost his way; he guided him back on the right path.

G. He saw a very joyous wedding ceremony; he cried. He heard a man say to a shoemaker, “Make me shoes that will last for seven years,” and he laughed. He saw a fortune-teller performing divinations, and he laughed.

H. When Ashmedai arrived there [in Jerusalem], they did not bring him before Shlomo for three days. On the first day he said to them: Why is the king not summoning me to him? They said to him: His drink overcame him. [Ashmedai] took a brick and placed it atop another brick. They went and told Shlomo. He said to them: He was telling you, “Give him more to drink.” The next day he said to them: Why is the king not summoning me to him? They said to him: His food overcame him. He took the brick off the other brick and placed it on the ground. They went and told Shlomo. He said to them: He was telling you, “Take his food away from him.”

I. At the end of three days, he came before him. [Ashmedai] took a rod, measured four cubits, and threw it before [Shlomo]. He said to [Shlomo]: Let us see that when you die, he will have nothing in this world except four cubits. Now you have conquered the entire world, yet you are not satisfied until you also conquer me?

He said to him: I need nothing from you. I want to build the Temple, and so I need the shamir.

[Ashmedai] said to him: It was not given to me. It was given to the Prince of the Sea, and he only gives it to the wild rooster, the hoopoe, whose oath he believes.

J. And what does [the hoopoe] do with it? It brings [the shamir] to uninhabitable mountains, places it on the mountain’s crag, and the mountain splits. Then it takes tree seeds, brings them over, and throws them in. And it becomes civilized. This is why [the hoopoe] is also called [in Aramaic]: mountain-cutter (“negar tura).[9]

K. They looked around and found a hoopoe’s nest in which there were chicks. They covered the nest with white glass. When [the adult hoopoe] came, it wanted to enter but could not. It went and brought the shamir and placed it on top. [Shlomo’s servant] raised his voice. [The hoopoe] dropped [the shamir]. He took it. It went and strangled itself because of its oath.

L. Benayahu said to [Ashmedai]: Why, when you saw that blind man who lost his way, did you guide him on the right path? He said to him: They proclaim about him in heaven that he is completely righteous, and anyone who brings him comfort earns merit in the next world. He asked: And why, when you saw the drunk who lost his way, did you guide him on the right path? He said: They proclaim about him in heaven that he is a completely wicked man. I gave him some pleasure so that he consumes his reward in this world.

M. Why did you cry when you saw that joyous wedding? He said to him: That man [the groom] will die within thirty days, and [the bride] will have to wait thirteen years for his little brother to become an adult [and perform levirate marriage or divorce.] Why did you laugh when you heard that man say to a shoemaker: “Make me shoes that will last for seven years”? He said to him: That man does not have seven days; he needs shoes that will last for seven years!? Why did you laugh when you saw that fortune-teller? He said to him: He was sitting above the royal treasury. Let him divine the fortune that is just beneath him!

N. [Shlomo] detained [Ashmedai] until he built the Temple. One day he stood alone. [Shlomo] said to [Ashmedai]: It is written: “He has the strength of a wild ox” (Bamidbar 24:8), and we interpret this to mean: “the strength” refers to the ministering angels, and the “wild ox” refers to the demons. In what way are you greater than us? [Ashmedai] said to him: Take this chain off me and give me your signet, and I will show you my great strength. He removed the chain and gave him the signet. [Ashmedai] swallowed [Shlomo]. He placed one of his wings in the heaven and the other on earth, and he spewed him four hundred parasangs.

O. Regarding that time, Shlomo said: “What profit is there for a person through all of his toil under the sun?” (Kohelet 1:3). “And this was my portion from all of my toil” (ibid. 2:10). [What is the meaning of, “this”? Rav and Shmuel—one says it refers to his staff, and the other says it refers to his jar.]

P. Shlomo went begging door-to-door, and everywhere he went, he would say: “I am Kohelet; I was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Kohelet 1:12). When he reached the Sanhedrin, the rabbis said: A fool does not obsess over one thing. What is this? They said to Benayahu: Does the king summon you to him? He said to them: No. They sent word to the queens, asking: Does the king come to be with you? The queens sent word back to them: Yes, he comes. [The rabbis] sent word to them: Check his feet. They sent word back: He comes in his slippers. He also demands [to have sexual relations] with us during our periods. And he also demands it of Bat-Sheva, his mother.

Q. They brought Shlomo and gave him a signet and a chain on which God’s name was engraved. When he entered, [Ashmedai] saw him and flew away. Even so, [Shlomo] was terrified of him, and it is written: “Behold the bed of Shlomo, surrounded by sixty strong men from the warriors of Israel, all of them holding swords and trained in war, each man with his sword on his thigh from fear in the nights” (Shir Hashirim 3:7-8).

D. The Conduct of Ashmedai after his Capture

Let us first try to understand the meaning of Ashmedai’s conduct after Benayahu captured him. We are first told of three incidents that he is not asked to decipher (section E): 1. He comes to a palm tree, scratches himself against it, and knocks it down; 2. he comes to a house and knocks it down; 3. he comes to the widow’s shack, she comes out and pleads with him, and so he inclines his whole stature away from the shack, thus breaking a bone.

After a quick glance at Biblical and Midrashic descriptions of Shlomo, it dawns on the reader that these incidents allude to the first chapter of Shlomo’s reign[10]—the establishment of his rule and the elimination of his rivals.

The stately palm tree symbolizes a grand and boastful person: “Just as the palm and the cedar are the greatest of all trees.”[11] And it is written: “Adoniya ben Hagit boasted, ‘I will reign’” (1 Melakhim 1:5). This episode begins with a confrontation between Shlomo and Adoniya. At the beginning of his travels he brushed up against a tall palm tree and knocked it down, as is written: “King Shlomo dispatched Benayahu ben Yehoyada, who struck [Adoniya] down, and he died” (ibid. 2:25).

Shlomo’s second act, as recorded there, was: “So Shlomo dismissed Evyatar from being the priest of the Lord—thus fulfilling the word that the Lord regarding the house of Eli at Shiloh” (ibid. 27). In the short passage about the prophecy on the house of Eli,[12] the term “house” appears ten times. This house is represented by Evyatar, the scion of the house of Eli. Thus, Shlomo arrives at a house and demolishes it.

The next passages tell of what Shlomo did to Yoav and to Shimi ben Gera, but these actions were not his initiative; he was carrying out his father’s last will. Therefore, they should be addressed separately.

Thus, the third action that Shlomo undertakes on his own, as told by Scripture, is: “Shlomo allied himself through marriage with Pharaoh, king of Egypt. He married Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her to the City of David” (1 Melakhim 3:1). The Sages expounded on the juxtaposition of this episode with the one immediately preceding it, explaining: “One should always live in the same locale as his teacher, for as long as Shimi ben Gera was alive, Shlomo did not marry Pharaoh’s daughter.”[13] According to this, at least three years elapsed between Shlomo’s coronation and his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter (see 1 Melakhim 2:39). According to other midrashim, cited below, Shlomo married at the time of the Temple’s inauguration.

There is no doubt that the purpose of this marriage was to strengthen Shlomo’s international alliances, as the preceding verse states: “Thus the kingdom was secured in Shlomo’s hands.” However, it seems that the marriage had the opposite effect domestically; it caused a new wave of disapproval against Shlomo, or the reawakening of a dormant opposition. Scripture does not specify when Shlomo married Pharaoh’s daughter, but it should be noted that this episode, “Shlomo allied himself through marriage with Pharaoh, king of Egypt,” appears at the end of the process by which Shlomo eliminated opposition, but before the incident at Giv’on, wherein, “the Lord appeared to Shlomo in a dream by night” (ibid. 3:5), which marks the beginning of Shlomo’s activities as a leader who shows concern for his people’s needs and who wins the people’s trust. Indeed, after his judgment of the case of the two harlots, it states: “When all Israel heard the decision that the king had rendered, they stood in awe of the king; for they saw that he possessed divine wisdom to execute justice” (ibid. 28). The placement of this episode intimates that Shlomo’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter caused some opposition amongst the people and set off a series of rebellions against Shlomo’s rule, as explained in subsequent passages.

Right at the time of the wedding, a threat against the king emerged:

R. Yohanan said: Why did Yeravam merit becoming a king? Because he rebuked Shlomo…as it states: “The circumstances under which he raised his hand against the king were as follows: Shlomo built the Millo and repaired the breach of the city of his father, David.” [Yeravam] said to [Shlomo]: Your father David made those breaches so that Israel could make festival pilgrimages. You fenced them in to collect tolls on behalf of Pharaoh’s daughter!?[14]

A midrash states that Yeravam rebuked Shlomo for delaying the daily tamid offering on the morning after his wedding to Pharaoh’s daughter:

That day, Shlomo slept through the fourth hour of the day, and the keys to the Temple were under his head…. Yeravam b. Nevat entered and rebuked him…. This is the meaning of the verse: “When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling” (Hoshea 13:1)… when Yeravam spoke, Shlomo trembled.[15]

In both accounts, Yeravam appears as a righteous man with pure intentions, to the extent that his master, Ahiya the Shilonite, misjudged his intentions.[16] The Sages said:

“Yeravam said to himself” (1 Melakhim 12:26)—“Base silver laid over earthenware are ardent lips with an evil heart” (Mishlei 26:23). This refers to Esav and his ilk. What is he like? An urn, which is gold inlaid with gemstones on the outside, but earthenware on the inside. Thus, Esav—“Esav said to himself” (Bereishit 27:41)… “Yeravam said to himself”…. “Though his speech is charming, do not trust him, for seven abominations are in his heart” (Mishlei 26:25).[17]

Scripture obscures what exactly happened with Yeravam. There may have been an attempt to compromise with him. Perhaps this is why Shlomo “appointed him over all the forced labor of the House of Yosef” (1 Melakhim 11:28), a high office indeed. However, it is also possible that Yeravam “raised his hand against the king” (ibid. 27) only after his appointment. According to the Sages, it is clear that at some point a compromise was offered to him: “R. Abba said: When the Holy One grabbed Yeravam by his clothes and said to him: ‘Repent, and you, I, and the son of Yishai will walk together in the Garden of Eden!’ He replied: ‘Who will be at the head?’ [God answered:] ‘The son of Yishai will be at the head.’ [Yeravam replied:] ‘If so, I do not want it.’”[18] However, it is possible that the “son of Yishai” refers here to Rehavam, not Shlomo.

Accordingly, the third parable—the parable of the widow—should be understood as relating to Shlomo’s rival. Scripture emphasizes Yeravam’s maternal lineage: “Yeravam son of Nevat, an Ephraimite of Tzereda, the son of a widow named Tzeru’ah” (ibid. 26). Of Yeravam it is said: “Though his speech is charming, do not trust him, for seven abominations are in his heart.” Scripture attests that Shlomo sensed Yeravam’s treachery: “Shlomo sought to put Yeravam to death” (ibid. 40), but the Heavens prevented him from doing so. Furthermore, it had already been decreed: “During that time… For thus said the Lord, the God of Israel: I am about to tear the kingdom out of Shlomo’s hands, and I will give you ten tribes. But one tribe shall remain his” (ibid. 29-32).

The meaning of the parable is now clear: when he reached the widow’s shack, she came out and pleaded with him, he inclined his entire stature away from her shack, and he broke a bone.

E. Shlomo’s Proverbs in Ashmedai’s Mouth

More than Shlomo was a man of action, he was a teacher of wisdom to the people. He scrutinized man’s ways and preoccupations, and he responded with wisdom, inspiring people with his astute keen and biting witticisms. Thus, after the first three episodes, the narrator presents two instances in which Ashmedai guides people who have lost their way (section F), and three proverbs that draw focus toward the futility of man and his desires (section G). The narrator clarifies these meanings through Ashmedai’s answers to Benayahu’s questions (sections L-M).

We learn in a midrash:

R. Abba b. Kahana said: This is likened to an old man sitting at a crossroads with two paths before him. One starts on a plain but ends up among brambles, cedars, and bulrushes; the other begins among bulrushes, cedars, and brambles, but ends up on a plain. He would caution passers-by, saying: “This one starts on a plain but ends up among cedars, brambles, and bulrushes, while this one begins among brambles, cedars, and bulrushes, and ends up on a plain. Don’t people need owe him gratitude for warning them for their sake, so they do not exhaust themselves? Similarly, don’t people owe Shlomo gratitude, who sits at the gates of wisdom and warns Israel: “I have further observed under the sun” (Kohelet 9:11); “I observed all that is done beneath the sun, [and I found that all is futile and pursuit of wind]” (ibid. 1:14), except for repentance and good deeds.[19]

Thus, Shlomo guides those who have lost their way.

[Ashmedai] saw a blind man who lost his way; he guided him back on the right path. He saw a drunk who lost his way; he guided him back on the right path.

Shlomo did not save his wisdom for the righteous alone; he taught and instructed everyone. Scripture says so explicitly three times: “Men of all peoples came to hear Shlomo’s wisdom on behalf of all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Melakhim 5:14); “All the earth came to pay homage to Shlomo and to listen to the wisdom with which God had endowed him” (ibid. 10:24); and “All the kings of the earth came to pay homage to Shlomo and to listen to the wisdom with which God had endowed him” (2 Divrei Hayamim 9:23).

Benayahu said to [Ashmedai]: Why, when you saw that blind man who lost his way, did you guide him on the right path? He said to him: They proclaim about him in heaven that he is completely righteous, and anyone who brings him comfort earns merit in the next world.

This is explicit in Scripture: “Who is so blind as My servant? … Who is so blind as the one who is whole, so blind as the servant of the Lord? … The Lord desires his vindication, that he may magnify and glorify the Torah” (Yeshayahu 42:19-21).

And why, when you saw the drunk who lost his way, did you guide him on the right path? He said: They proclaim about him in heaven that he is a completely wicked man. I gave him some pleasure so that he consumes his reward in this world.

This, too, reflects the Sages’ interpretation of a verse in the Torah: “The prophets said to the Holy One: Why do you give benevolently to the nations of the world in this world? He replied: Have I not written to you: ‘but Who repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them’ (Devarim 7:10)?”[20] And R. Ila expounded the verse, “He will not delay [repaying] those who hate Him” (ibid.): “He never delays [repaying] those who hate Him, but He does delay the repayment of the completely righteous.”[21] Likewise, the Sages explained[22] that Shlomo’s mother rebuked him: “Why do you frequent those kings who drink wine and get drunk?” Shlomo taught wisdom to these kings as well.

We then read about how Ashmedai cried once and laughed twice:

He saw a very joyous wedding ceremony; he cried. He heard a man say to a shoemaker, “Make me shoes that will last for seven years,” and he laughed. He saw a fortune-teller performing divinations, and he laughed.

Benayahu asked: Why did you cry when you saw that joyous wedding? He said to him: That man [the groom] will die within thirty days, and [the bride] will have to wait thirteen years for his little brother to become an adult [and perform levirate marriage or divorce.]

The Sages expounded:

“His lips are like lilies, dripping with flowing myrrh” (Shir Hashirim 5:13). Scripture should have said “myrrh that stays in one place”?! Because when Shlomo built the Temple, the whole world was filled with the scent of fragrance. He saw that ultimately it would be destroyed, and he cried saying, “this fragrance is for naught.”[23]

Other midrashim described the joy of the building of the Temple in greater detail:

The night that Shlomo completed the construction of the Temple he married Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter. There was the joy of the Temple and the joy of Pharaoh’s daughter, and the joy of Pharaoh’s daughter was greater than the joy of the Temple…. At that moment, the thought of destroying Jerusalem arose before the Holy One.[24]

At the very moment that “Shlomo and all Israel with him…[were] joyful and glad of heart” (1 Melakhim 8:65-66), celebrating the inauguration of the Temple, it was decreed upon Shlomo’s dynasty and on all of Israel that they would have to wait for a long time, like a woman has to wait for a young levir: “I will chastise David’s descendants for that, though not forever” (ibid. 11:39). For at the end of days, the redeemer will come, “and I will make them a single nation in the land…and one king shall be king of them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. My servant David shall be king over them; there shall be one shepherd for all of them” (Yehezkel 37:22-24).

Benayahu asked: Why did you laugh when you heard that man say to a shoemaker: “Make me shoes that will last for seven years”? He said to him: That man does not have seven days; he needs shoes that will last for seven years!?

This parable, like the one preceding it, is encompassed by the meaning of a verse from Kohelet: “A man cannot even know his time. As fishes are enmeshed in a fatal net, and as birds are trapped in a snare, so men are caught at the time of calamity, when it comes upon them without warning” (Kohelet 9:12). However, it seems that the shoes allude to a more specific meaning. Shoes are mentioned twice with respect to Yoav ben Tzeruya. It is written in Tehilim: “Yoav returned and struck Edom in the Valley of Salt” (60:2). Of the same battle, it is written: “on Edom I will cast my shoe” (ibid. 10). Thus, the shoe symbolizes the powerful Yoav, whose victories in battle led to the defeat of David’s enemies. The same symbolism emerges from a different verse: “Yoav ben Tzeruya…staining the girdle of his loins and the shoes on his feet with blood of war” (1 Melakhim 2:5). The girdle and the shoe both indicate leadership and strength.

When Adoniyahu boasted, “I will reign,” Yoav sought to ensure himself a position in the upper echelons of the kingdom after David’s death, even though he certainly could have stood aside and not gotten involved: “He conferred with Yoav ben Tzeruya and with the priest Evyatar, and they supported Adoniya” (ibid. 1:7). That is, Yoav wanted to make sure he had shoes for the long term, unaware that his fate was sealed in David’s last will to Shlomo. This, too, is implicit in a verse from Kohelet (7:3): “Anger is better than laughter.” The Sages expounded: “Shlomo said: Had Father gotten a bit angry at Adoniya, it would have been better for him than the attribute of justice laughing at him.”[25] The attribute of justice laughed at Yoav, too.

The Sages said: “Every verse that Shlomo prophesied has two or three meanings.”[26] As such, this parable, too, has an alternate interpretation, according to which it is about Shlomo himself. Shlomo requested of King Hiram of Tyre: “Now send me a craftsman to work in gold and silver…and send me cedars, cypress, and algum wood from Lebanon” (2 Divrei Hayamim 2:6-7). He prefaced his request with an explanation, in which he emphasized that the building materials must be of exceedingly high quality: “I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God; dedicating it to Him…forever” (ibid. 3). Shlomo repeated that expectation when he inaugurated the Temple: “Then Shlomo said, ‘…I have now built for You a stately house, a place where You may dwell forever” (1 Melakhim 8:12-13). Here are the shoes meant to last for seven years! It was not long before God informed him: “I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants” (ibid. 11:11). “I will reject the house which I have consecrated to My name; and Israel shall become a proverb and a byword among all peoples” (ibid. 9:7).

Benayahu asked: Why did you laugh when you saw that fortune-teller? He said to him: He was sitting above the royal treasury. Let him divine the fortune that is just beneath him!

This question is essentially the same question that the Gemara asks: “What did he need male and female demons for?” Shlomo sat atop the royal treasury. He was king of the world: “Wisdom and knowledge are granted to you.” He was initiated into the secrets of the Torah and the mysteries of science, the wisdom of creation and of God’s chariot! And he needs male and female demons!? It is laughable!

Thus, everything that Ashmedai did and said, from the moment that Benayahu captured him until he entered Jerusalem with him, is nothing but a synopsis of Scriptural and rabbinic stories about Shlomo himself. Everything that happened to Shlomo happened to Ashmedai, and everything that Shlomo taught, Ashmedai taught.

This being the case, it behooves us to examine the tales about Ashmedai before his capture and after he arrives at the royal palace.

F. The Conduct of Ashmedai before his Capture

Let us return to the beginning of the story (section B):

He has dug himself a cistern, filled it with water, covered it with a rock, and sealed it with his seal. Every day he ascends to heaven and studies in the heavenly yeshiva. Then he descends to earth and studies in the earthly yeshiva. Then he comes and inspects his seal, opens the cistern, and drinks. Then he covers it, seals it, and leaves.

Does this description not apply to the wisest of all men, to whom the reasons for the Torah were revealed? “There is no water but Torah, as it is stated: ‘Ho, all who are thirst, come for water’ (Yeshayahu 55:1).”[27] And he drinks from these living waters and protects them so that they always remain pure and holy, free of any foreign admixtures. And just as he knows the ways of the earthly yeshiva, so too he knows the ways of the heavenly yeshiva.

How did Benayahu capture Ashmedai? The latter was particularly careful about wine. When he returned, inspected his seal, and found the cistern filled with wine, he held himself back and did not drink. However, when thirst overcame him, he drank, became drunk, and fell asleep. He was then bound in a chain from which he could not break free.

R. Yudan said: Throughout the seven years that Shlomo was building the Temple, he drank no wine. Once he built the Temple and married Pharaoh’s daughter—that night he drank wine…. That day, Shlomo slept through the fourth hour of the day.[28]

The words of the Sages are indeed implied by the verses. The first time that Shlomo’s table is mentioned, it says: “Shlomo’s daily provisions consisted of thirty kors of fine flour, sixty kors of [ordinary] flour, 310 fattened cattle, twenty pasture-fed cattle, and a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted geese” (1 Melakhim 5:2-3). There is no mention of drink. However, when the queen of Sheba comes to visit, she is impressed not only by “the fare of his table,” but also from his wines.[29]

The Gemara addresses this:

“Wine is not for kings, O Lemuel, not for kings to drink” (Mishlei 31:4). “Not for kings”—[his mother] said to him: “Why do you frequent those kings who drink wine, get drunk, and say ‘Why do we need God?[30]’” “Or for rulers (roznim) to crave strong drink” (ibid.)—shall the one to whom all the secrets (razei) of the world are revealed drink wine and get drunk!?[31]

Once again, we have the same astonishing parallels between Shlomo and Ashmedai!

Let us now turn to what happened after Ashmedai reached the royal palace (section H):

On the first day he said to them: Why is the king not summoning me to him? They said to him: His drink overcame him. [Ashmedai] took a brick and placed it atop another brick. They went and told Shlomo. He said to them: He was telling you, “Give him more to drink.” The next day he said to them: Why is the king not summoning me to him? They said to him: His food overcame him. He took the brick off the other brick and placed it on the ground. They went and told Shlomo. He said to them: He was telling you, “Take his food away from him.”

Two points are especially conspicuous here: first, only one who is aware of the description of the vastness of “the fare of [Shlomo’s] table…and his wines,” which left the queen of Sheba “breathless” (1 Melakhim 10:5), can understand how it is possible for Shlomo to be overcome by eating and drinking. Second, in contrast to the abstemiousness that characterized him earlier, we now hear: “His drink overcame him—give him more to drink!” This is explicit in Scripture as well: “I ventured to tempt my flesh with wine” (Kohelet 2:3).

Then: “Take his food away from him!” Does this not echo Shlomo’s own misgivings in response to his mother’s rebuke? As the Gemara states: “R. Yitzhak said: How do we know that Shlomo changed his mind and agreed with his mother? As Scripture states: ‘I am more of a fool than any man (lit. ‘than a man’). I do not have human understanding’ (Mishlei 30:2). ‘I am more of a fool than a man’—more [foolish] than Noah, as Scripture states: ‘Noah began to be a man of the soil […and he drank from the wine and became drunk’ (Bereishit 9:20-21).”[32]

At the end of three days, he came before him. [Ashmedai] took a rod, measured four cubits, and threw it before [Shlomo]. He said to [Shlomo]: Let us see that when you die, he will have nothing in this world except four cubits. Now you have conquered the entire world, yet you are not satisfied until you also conquer me? (section I)

Is this not the basic idea of the entire book of Kohelet slapping Shlomo in the face? “All is futile and the pursuit of wind; there is nothing worthwhile under the sun” (Kohelet 2:11). “Even if a man should beget a hundred children and live many years—no matter how many the days of his years may come to, if he is not sated through his wealth, and he has no burial…he departs into darkness, and his very name is covered with darkness” (ibid. 6:3-4). A midrash explained:

Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi] made a banquet in honor of his son…. [Bar Kappara] went and wrote on the door: “After all your rejoicing is death; so what is the point of your joy?”…. Did not Shlomo say: “What profit is there for a person through all of his toil under the sun?” (Kohelet 1:3)[33]

The mention of the “Prince of the Sea” from whom the elusive shamir must be obtained seems to be linked to Shlomo’s attempt to increase his maritime power: “King Shlomo built a fleet of ships at Etzion Gever, which is near Elot on the shore of the Red Sea” (1 Melakhim 9:26). This, too, was because he was not satisfied with the riches he had already hoarded, to the extent that, “All King Shlomo’s drinking cups were gold.” (ibid. 10:21).

With regard to the story of the hoopoe and its conduct (section J), it seems that it is from a different aggada and was embedded here, because it is not related to the present passage. The Gemara states: “It was taught… [it is called] dukhifat because its glory is subservient (“hodo kafut”); it brought the shamir to the Temple.”[34] The hoopoe ends up strangling itself—which recalls the story of Ahitophel’s end.[35]

Once the shamir was found, the situation did not improve; there is not even any mention of the shamir being used for its designated purpose. On the contrary, things began to deteriorate precipitously. There is a secret confrontation between Shlomo and Ashmedai (section N), during which Shlomo conceded to Ashmedai the means by which he controlled him—the signet and the chain on which God’s name was engraved. Ashmedai then swallowed Shlomo. At that point, Shlomo was no longer recognized, except as a beggar, wandering from door to door, “obsessing over one thing” (section O). And now, free from the constraints imposed by the signet and chain bearing God’s name, the king could break all boundaries of behavior in the palace, even demanding sex with his wives during their periods (section O).

Yet the Sages attributed the same severe transgression to Shlomo himself. Commenting on the verse, “King Shlomo loved many foreign women,” the Yerushalmi cites R. Shimon b. Yohai: “he literally loved them—for lewd purposes.”[36] R. Eliezer b. R. Yosi Ha-Gelili goes further in a midrash: “It is written: ‘yet foreign wives caused even him to sin’ (Nehemiah 13:26)—this teaches that he would have sex with them during their periods, and they would not inform him.[37]

G. The Meaning of the Aggada

What, then, is the meaning of this aggada, which equates Shlomo with Ashmedai in all respects? A close reading of this aggada has led us to the conclusion that it is a parable that illustrates King Shlomo’s uniquely complex character. There was a deep split, a duality, in his soul. This was not the normal dichotomy of the good impulse and evil impulse (yetzer), which characterize all human beings. Everyone is constantly in conflict with his yetzer and must do battle against it. However, in this story, Ashmedai does not just symbolize the evil impulse, as Shlomo’s benevolence and even his abstemiousness are attributed to Ashmedai as well; on the other side of the ledger, all of the evil perpetrated by Ashmedai has been attributed by the Sages to Shlomo.

The Sages said: “One who is greater than another also has a stronger yetzer.”[38] Shlomo was greater than other men, not just quantitatively, in that he had more wisdom, insight, and knowledge, but qualitatively, in his essence. Consequently, it was as though two powerful souls were struggling within him, and it was impossible to tell which one was good mixed with evil, and which one was evil mixed with good.

The Sages addressed this directly in a midrash, noting that Shlomo had seven names, of which four:

were monikers of Shlomo which can be expounded: Agur—for he amassed (agur) words of Torah; Yakeh—for he would spew (meki) words, like a cup is filled up and then emptied. So too, Shlomo learned Torah at one point and forgot it at another point; Lemuel—for he said to God (nam la-El) in his heart: “I can increase [my wives, horses, and money] and not sin”; Itiel—for he said “God is with me (iti El) and I am able.”[39]

Like a cup is filled up and then emptied, he is sometimes filled up, and then he is God-fearing in his rule. And sometimes he is emptied, and then he is the demon king. This constant struggle stayed with him until the end, until, in his old age, it was impossible to know who exactly was on the throne. “Rav and Shmuel [disagree]: One says that he was a king, then a commoner. The other says he was a king, then a commoner, and then a king.”[40] This dispute cannot be resolved: “The heart is the most devious of all. It is incurable. Who can know it?” (Yirmiyahu 17:9).

H. The Mitzvot and Human Pretension

We are left with a question that runs very deep: How could it be that King Shlomo, the wisest of all men, could not recognize what was happening to him? How could he, who was so full of Torah, be so careless as to spit it all out? How could he not see the abyss that gaped before him?

This, essentially, is the question that the Sages placed in Ashmedai’s mouth: “Now you have conquered the entire world, yet you are not satisfied until you also conquer me?” Shlomo responded: “I need nothing from you. I want to build the Temple, and so I need the shamir.” Shlomo’s answer contains a world of meaning.

Shlomo wanted to bring the Divine presence, the Shekhina, down from the heavens and build a dwelling place for Her in this world. He wanted the entire Temple, not just the altar, to be the peak of perfection. The Sages explain “complete stones (shelema)” (1 Melakhim 6:7) as “stones that cause peace (shalom).[41] How is it possible to bring large and precious stones without enslaving the masses to work the quarries? Without drafting slaves to ruin gorges that reflect the grandeur of creation? Without overworking prisoners who pick away at the rocks with iron tools, created to cut man’s life short? Is it not forbidden to “wield something created to shorten [man’s life] over something created to extend [man’s life]”?[42] The path to becoming close to God is long and arduous, and the Torah safeguarded it with all sorts of prohibitions. The shamir is the amazing creature that can shape those stones, make them complete, and bring peace to a world that is so full of envy, rivalry, hatred, and strife. Where is the shamir to be found?

The Creator attests that all existence is “very good” (Bereishit 1:31). Nothing in the world is evil in essence. Why, then, did the Torah forbid the things it forbids? Does a prohibition define something as evil? How can that be, if everything is ultimately good!? Rather, the mitzvot were given in order to instill within man the proper character traits, which prepare him for the higher virtues of knowing God. But if one can go directly to the knowledge of God, there is no need for preparation! The Torah said: “He shall not keep many horses and send the people back to Egypt…. He shall not have many wives, lest his heart go astray” (Devarim 17:16-17). The increase of horses or wives is not bad in essence. Rather, it is a safeguard against other things. Thus, Shlomo thought he could increase their number without sinning! “God is with me and I am able!” “What does God care whether one slaughters an animal from the front of the neck or from the nape? The purpose is to refine people.”[43] Since the purpose of the mitzvot is to refine people, one who has access to the wellsprings of wisdom and knows how to refine his soul with the fire of love for God, whose flames cannot be quenched with much water, does not need to perform the mitzvot: “Shlomo said: I delved into and examined all of these,”[44] and once he became aware of the reasons and purposes of most mitzvot, he thought he could aim straight for the ultimate purpose and no longer needed safeguards and prohibitions. On the contrary, the superior man, who knows how to cleave to his Maker, can raise up all of existence along with him, without exception. After all, since everything is really good, and things were prohibited not because they are essentially bad, but in order to train and refine people who need training and refinement, the truly wise man does not need all of that. And so, Shlomo said: “I ventured to tempt my flesh with wine” without fear, because “my heart conducted itself with wisdom,” and therefore I can “grasp folly so that I might see what is good for men.” Since “my wisdom remained with me,” “I withheld from my eyes nothing that they asked for,” including “sharim and sharot, and human pleasures, shidda and shiddot.”[45] Shlomo even wished to conquer Ashmedai and harness his power to build a dwelling place in the nether worlds for the Shekhina. A Temple build with the power of both impulses, the good and the evil, would truly be complete. And so God’s name and God’s throne would be complete as well. The capture of Ashmedai would disclose the whereabouts of the shamir, thus realizing “the sanctuary, O Lord, that Your hands established” (Shemot 15:17). This is the secret of the shamir. Now the stones of the Temple would really be whole, as though they were created this way at the beginning of time. After all, this is the task of the shamir: to split mountains quietly, pleasantly, so that they become part of civilization.[46]

It was not only the mitzvot that apply to individuals and kings that Shlomo wished to circumvent, but also the laws that apply to judges, and to justice itself:

Kohelet wanted to pronounce judgement based on intuition—without witnesses and without forewarning. A heavenly voice issued forth and said to him: “and that which He wrote is upright and true” (Kohelet 12:10)—“at the mouth of two witnesses…” (Devarim 17:6).”[47]

All Shlomo wanted was to arrive at the truth without troubling himself to penetrate the different layers of human experience, which cloak the truth like a husk conceals its kernel. To what can he be compared? To one who swallows a nut in its shell. Can it work?

Shlomo wished to conquer Ashmedai because he desired to build a Temple that would last forever. However, he made a terrible error when he thought that he could imprison the evil yetzer by satisfying it. Ashmedai, imprisoned in the vaults of Shlomo’s heart, gained control over him and turned him into a laughingstock. He never had the shamir, for peace and perfection—shalom and shlemut—cannot be achieved by loosening restraints. The shamir must be sought from the wild rooster, which symbolizes wisdom.[48] “A man of understanding takes wise counsel” (Mishlei 1:5).

Though he was the wisest of all men, Shlomo paved the way for many who followed him throughout history, from early sectarians to contemporary groups, to make the same error. They think that the Torah can be categorized into what is essential and what is unimportant, what is primary and what is ancillary, what is inherent and what is an externality, what is the spirit and what is the letter—and that it is possible to observe the essence while dispensing with the nonessential. But this is not so!

R. Shimon b. Yohai taught: The Book of Devarim came and prostrated itself before the Holy One. It said: “Master of the Universe! You wrote in Your Torah that a contract that is annulled in part is completely annulled. Yet Shlomo seeks to annul an iota of my content!” The Holy One said to it: “Shlomo and a thousand like him will be annulled, and nothing of you will be annulled.”[49]

Yet even Shlomo recognized his error when he declared: “The conclusion, when all has been heard: Fear God and observe His mitzvot, for this is the whole of man” (Kohelet 12:13). But it was too late, for the years had arrived “when you will say ‘I find no pleasure in them” (ibid. 1).[50]

Yet that heavenly voice continues to reverberate through the generations: “that which He wrote is upright and true.”


[1] Rosh Hashana 21b.

[2] Makot 23b.

[3] Commentary on the Mishna, Introduction to the Tenth Chapter of Sanhedrin (Perek Helek), p. 138.

[4] See: Commentary on the Mishna, Introduction to the Tenth Chapter of Sanhedrin (Perek Helek), p. 145; Epistle to Yemen, p. xv.

[5] Y. Sanhedrin 2:6.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gittin 68a.

[8] This translation is based on the Koren-Steinsaltz edition of Gittin (Jerusalem: 2015).

[9] See Onkelos to Devarim 14:18. “[It is called dukhifat (in Hebrew) because its glory is subservient (“hodo kafut”); it brought the shamir to the Temple” (Hullin 63a). It is also called sekhvi (see the Targum of Iyov 38:36).

[10] See 1 Melakhim 2:13 ff.

[11] Bamidbar Rabba 3:1.

[12] 1 Shmuel 2:27-36.

[13] Berakhot 8a.

[14] Sanhedrin 101b.

[15] Vayikra Rabba 12:5.

[16] Sanhedrin 102a.

[17] Yalkut Shimoni Melakhim §198.

[18] Sanhedrin 102a.

[19] Kohelet Rabba 1:35.

[20] Midrash Tehilim 7:17.

[21] Eruvin 22a.

[22] Sanhedrin 70b.

[23] Pesikta Rabbati 20 (Parshat Matan Torah); p. 96b in the Ish-Shalom edition.

[24] Bamidbar Rabba 10:4.

[25] Kohelet Rabba 7:10.

[26] Ibid. 7:46.

[27] Bava Kama 17a.

[28] Vayikra Rabba 12:5.

[29] See 1 Melakhim 10:5.

[30]Lamah lanu El”—a play on the name “Lemuel”.

[31] Sanhedrin 70b.

[32] Sanhedrin 70b.

[33] Kohelet Rabba 1:4.

[34] Hullin 63a.

[35] See 2 Shmuel 17:23.

[36] Y. Sanhedrin 2:6.

[37] Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:10.

[38] Sukka 52a.

[39] Kohelet Rabba 1:2.

[40] Gittin 68b.

[41] Mekhilta De-Rabbi Yishma’el, Yitro, Mesekhta De-bahodesh 11 (on Shemot 20:21; p. 244 in the Horowitz-Rabin edition).

[42] Ibid.

[43] Bereishit Rabba 44:1.

[44] Kohelet Rabba 7:44.

[45] Quotes are from Kohelet 2:3-10.

[46] See section J of the story.

[47] Rosh Hashana 21b. See below, the essay titled: “The Structure of the State According to the Torah—Part I: Principles,” n. 49.

[48] Iyov 38:36. See above, n. 9.

[49] Y. Sanhedrin 2:6.

[50] This accords with the statement of the Sages (Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:10): “R. Yannai, the father-in-law of R. Ami said: ‘All agree that Kohelet was said at the end [of Shlomo’s life].’”