Hiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre, befriended Dovid and Shlomo HaMelech and was very magnanimous to the Jewish people. He placed his prodigious wealth at the service of the Holy Temple, and he provided a plethora of goods in voluminous quantities for the sole purpose of constructing the Temple.
Hiram’s generosity was rewarded. He was blessed with incredible longevity that is the subject of several opinions, but at the very briefest, he lived 500 years. One midrashic opinion has him living approximately 1,200 years. His financial rewards were even more astonishing.
Phoenician ships plied every sea route, capitalizing upon every market available. This resulted in a marine monopoly that translated into phenomenal riches for King Hiram and hoisted Tyre to the pinnacle of the civilized world. Untold wealth and luxury poured into its coffers from every corner of the globe and its merchants created a new aristocracy of opulence. Naturally, with the wealth came undisputed power and influence.
Initially, King Hiram’s financial success was accompanied by moral growth. But as Lord Acton famously observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This truism would not escape Hiram.
As Rabbi Moshe Eisemann notes in his commentary on Yechezkel: “There is a tendency for spiritually inclined people to use every gift of power and wealth as an additional stimulant toward modesty and self-abnegation. However, one who has material motivations will use every new gift as a source of pride and self-aggrandizement.”
Rav Eliyahu Dessler describes one fully obsessed by his material possessions and acquisitions to be suffering from a malady. Tyre would become a key candidate and personification of this malady because of its boundless self-infatuation. Although Rav Dessler described the symptoms in broad terms, they are a tailor-made description of Tyre. “…A rapaciousness which can never be assuaged, for the source lies not in the object of the desire but in an inner unquenchable need which cannot be harnessed. No fulfillment can ever satiate this consuming thirst, for every attainment pales next to what can yet be acquired. Hence there is an unrelenting need (not just a desire) for further gain.”
The spiritual malaise Rav Dessler portrays that can afflict every individual was manifestly present with Tyre. Its lust to always be in the limelight corrupted the friendly and constructive relationship that it had enjoyed with Israel. Hiram, Rabbi Eisemann notes wistfully, deteriorated into the complete opposite of the Torah’s vision of the fusion of the temporal and the divine.
The enormity of Hiram’s accomplishments crazed him and deluded him into self-deification. Formally, he had been inspired by the recognition of the God of Israel, and now with a destructive tunnel vision he saw only his own wealth and power. For hundreds of years, he was at the pinnacle of holiness but died degraded and tortured at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.
Tyre futilely pursued might and beauty resulting in its ignoble downfall. This will motivate Yechezkel’s penetrating lament (Chapter 27), which incidentally portrays how the Jewish prophets are not only in love with their own people to the exclusion of the rest of mankind. Israel’s prophets are filled with love and mercy toward every man. This is reflected not only in their admonitions, but also in their dirges.
Hiram was given endless blessings that could have – and should have – been employed in the service of the Almighty. But his abuse of the gifts and the bounty brought about the horrific downfall of the kingdom and evoked Yechezkel’s tears. Hiram’s personal and national tragedy inspires three chapters in Yechezkel concerning Tyre’s fall.
Humble people, as we shall develop in the future columns, please God, do not see themselves as superior to others – or more deserving. Consequently, they are less apt to suffer from a sense of entitlement. Instead, they feel grateful for all that they are blessed with.