Galia asks: Hello, I learned the verses concerning the end of King Solomon’s life. It seems as if he sinned. He married many wives and it also says that he went after idols. What does that mean? Is there any way to explain these verses favorably? Thanks.
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Hello, Galit, and thanks for your question.
Shabbat 56b states: “Whoever says that Solomon sinned is mistaken, as it says (Kings I 14:4): ”His heart wasn’t complete with the Almighty His G-d as was the heart of his father David” etc. If King Solomon had truly done a grave sin, the verse would not have understated it by saying that he didn’t live up to King David’s standards. To the contrary, the verse compares him to his father David. This shows that King Solomon was a tremendously righteous person, only that he hadn’t reached the sublime perfection of his father David.
When we look at the books of wisdom that was composed by King Solomon, we can immediately perceive his holiness and profound Torah knowledge. Even more importantly, King Solomon was chosen to build the First Temple! So if anyone thinks that King Solomon was a sinner, he is clearly mistaken.
To understand the verses, we have to understand the context in which they were said. The Bible was written to teach further generations. G-d demands perfection from his righteous servants and therefore the description of the prophets and righteous individuals’ sins in the Bible is greatly magnified. For example, Moses hit a rock instead of speaking to it, and was severely rebuked “Because you didn’t believe in me to sanctify me” (Num. 20:12). As a punishment, he was not permitted to enter the Land of Israel.
Can we understand that Moses lacked faith in G-d according to its literal meaning? It is obvious that the verse is referring to an extremely lofty level of faith that was expected of Moses. The Torah views the mistakes of the righteous with utmost severity and rebukes them in extremely harsh language in keeping with their high level.
Concerning the sin of the Golden Calf, all the Israelites weren’t involved in actively serving the Calf. At the end, only 3,000 actually served the Calf and they were from the mixed multitude who came up with the Israelites from Egypt. Nevertheless, the Israelites were punished because they didn’t protest against the mixed multitude, and the Torah terms this “all the people sinned.”
It says about King David, “Why did you despise the word of G-d to do what is evil in His eyes?” (Sam. II 12:9) — even though he didn’t kill Uriah (not even indirectly), Uriah the Chitite had been sentenced to capital punishment, and Uriah’s wife was a divorcee. Batsheva was also the one that heaven had designated as David’s intended. But because David acted to achieve the outcome and did all his actions in private, it is considered as if he committed extremely serious sins.
Because of his extremely high level, King Solomon carried on his shoulders the responsibility for the wives that he married. Therefore, whatever his wives did was considered his personal sin. This is because the Torah commands the king: “He shall not increase his wives so that his heart not be turned aside.” (Deut. 17:17)
Because King Solomon was the wisest of all men, he understood the profound reason for this commandment, and thought he could avoid its effect. Therefore, he married more women with the understanding that it wouldn’t harm him, and he would be able to achieve world peace through them.
King Solomon married 700 women and 300 concubines for three main reasons:
1. He wanted to marry many poor women so he could sustain them with the kingdom’s funds (King Solomon also donated money to the country’s indigent, but his treasury was based on taxes which were designated only for the kingdom and those in its service.)
2. He converted many non-Jewish women from the neighboring countries to make peace treaties that would last for many years (as was common in these ancient times).
3. He wanted to increase wisdom and knowledge of Torah in the Land by having many Jewish families.
Kabbalah describes the process as “rectification of the sparks”, and there is a profound reason for it at the level of Kabbalah. Rabbi Binyamin Shmueli explains: Kabbalists explain the depth of King Solomon’s deeds as the esoteric reason of bringing up sparks. Solomon tried to bring up the holiness hidden in these nations before their time, and therefore he failed. We will not go into more detail here, but the main thing you should understand from these sources is that King Solomon never sinned, just as the gemora tells us in Shabbat 56b ”Whoever says that King Solomon sinned, is mistaken.”
Some of King Solomon’s wives did sin.
The many wives which Solomon converted to make his peace treaties and for other reasons did not convert with a full heart, and some of them continued to serve idols. Because they were distinguished and rich queens, they set up monuments to these idols. This happened towards the end of Solomon’s life and afterwards, when he was unable to check after them and stop them. Since the Torah commands the king “Do not increase wives so that they don’t turn his heart aside” — these non-Jewish women’s sin is attributed to King Solomon as if he himself had done the sin. Therefore it says that they “inclined his heart”, meaning that despite all, the reason given in the Torah “that they don’t turn his heart aside” did materialize.
The gemora states: “It is written in the Torah ‘he should not increase wives’ — Solomon said ‘I will have many wives and I will not have my heart turned aside.’ But as Scriptures says: ”And it was when he was old that his wives turned his heart aside’.
In the Book of Kings it relates “and Solomon built an altar to Camosh…” (Kings I 11:7). Rashi explains: “Our sages tells us (Shabbat 56b) that since he didn’t protest when his wives did this, it is attributed to him.” The Metzudat David explains, “Since he let his wives do it, it was considered as if he built the altar.”
King Solomon was a righteous, pure man, and all his intentions were pure. Only because he made these mistakes was he considered as not reaching the level of his father David, as it says, “His heart was not complete with G-d as was the heart of his father David.”