I’ve often wondered something about this week’s haftarah (Melachim Aleph, perek 5:26-6:13).
Why does the Navi spend so much time describing the architecture and construction of the Beis HaMikdash? Frankly, I think most people find it a bit tedious. This section seems more appropriate for a class in design planning rather than for a book of G-d’s instructions for living! What are we to make of this, and how can we grow from it?
One approach is this:
Haven’t we all had something we owned that we were so enamored with we knew it like the back of our hands? Some of us may have had a car that we could describe in lengthy detail, down to its tailpipe. Others may have had a home that they bought or built that was so state-of-the-art they loved every aspect, from the beams to the drapes. They could describe every nook and cranny of the house. G-d felt the same way about His Mikdash. After all, it was His home in this world. It is where He rested His Divine Presence among His special nation. It is no wonder that He was “fascinated” with every detail of the Temple’s construction and wants us to be as well.
This idea perhaps explains a puzzling passage in Sefer Yechezkel (43:10-11): “Tell the House of Israel about the House [of G-d, i.e. the Temple] and let them be ashamed of their sins – let them calculate the design. If they become ashamed at everything they have done, then make known to them the form of the House [Temple] and its design, its exits and entrances, and all of its structures.” How does the form and structure of the Temple connect to being ashamed of sins?
If we remind ourselves why G-d is so concerned with the details and minutiae of the Temple, then we will be thoroughly embarrassed of our iniquities. The Temple and its construction serve as a living testimonial to G-d’s love for us. Our essence is present in our possessions and He took His very essence, kavyachol, and made it the building material of the Mikdash. If we contemplated G-d’s enormous love and concern for us, would it be possible to rebel and sin against Him? No, we would only feel ashamed of our transgressions.
A very different approach comes from Rav Mendel Hirsch, son of the more famous Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch.
In Rav Mendel Hirsch’s commentary on the haftaros, he suggests something quite controversial. He says Shlomo HaMelech became too obsessed with the material building of the Mikdash.
Rav Mendel Hirsch says that the intent of the Navi is to contrast the magnificent edifice of the Mikdash with the more modest construction of the Mishkan in the Chumash. Shlomo HaMelech did everything on too grand a scale. The best artisans, potters and stonemasons were employed, many of them taken from other nations, as the Navi describes. There were 30,000 Jews who worked on the Mikdash, but also 153,600 men from Tyre – as opposed to the Mishkan which was built by “amateur” Jewish labor, inspired by Hashem to accomplish their tasks, in the merit of their passion and sincerity, Shlomo HaMelech spared no expense, and actually collected taxes and forced all kinds of labor upon the Jewish people.
This is why our haftarah concludes with Hashem giving Shlomo HaMelech mussar. Hakadosh Baruch Hu tells him that he must never forget the purpose and goal of the Mikdash. Yes, having a magnificent, majestic and beautiful structure can be a sanctification of Hashem’s Name, a Kiddush Hashem, but that should not be the tachlis and focus.
That should be (ibid., 6:11-13): “And the word of Hashem came to Shlomo, saying, ‘As for this house which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, and fulfill My laws, and keep all My commandments to walk in them, then will I establish My word with you, which I spoke to David your father. I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake My people, Israel.’”
Rav Mendel Hirsch elegantly, poignantly, and controversially writes, “Every word of these two verses is pregnant with solemn admonition to the proud, self-satisfied king, so full of his great achievements. Warning against failing to recognize the meaning of the House of Hashem altogether, above all, warning against overvaluing the building and the existence of even the most magnificent Temple… This is why, even while the building was still going on, long before its completion, the warning and admonishing words of G-d were sent to Shlomo, warning against overvaluing the external appearance of the building, reminding him that he has to thank his position as king solely to Hashem’s promise to his father David, and that the continuance of this promise being kept is in no way dependent on his developing pomp and power, but is solely dependent on his conscientiously keeping the laws of Hashem in conduct and deed. ”
We must not take these words at face value. If indeed Shlomo HaMelech had a wrong focus at least initially before Hashem spoke to Him, it was not on our level. There was a subtlety in which Shlomo was lacking. We’ve mentioned the following before but it bears repeating.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes that the sins of earlier generations mentioned in the Torah must never be understood at face value. They were not committed as a result of animalistic urges and desires, or even simple “foul-ups.” Rather, he says, they were grounded in mistaken intellectual calculations, always sincerely l’shem Shamayim. As Rav Eliyhau Dessler writes, many of the sins mentioned in the Torah regarding earlier generations would be considered mitzvos if done in today’s times. Often, because of the great levels earlier generations attained, Hashem judged them more severely. (See Rav Shlomo Wolbe’s Alei Shur, part 1, p. 227; Rav Avraham Korman’s Mavo LeTorah SheBichsav VeSheBaal Peh, p. 168–169, in the names of the Alter from Kelm; Rav Dessler’s Michtav MiEliyahu, vol. 1, p. 161–166, and the Mei HaShiloach on Parshas Pinchas.)
Still and all, Rav Mendel Hirsch’s approach gives us pause and offers us a very different approach as to why the Navi spends so much time on the construction of the Mikdash. It is to help us understand Shlomo HaMelech’s mindset and how consumed he was with the physical structure of the Mikdash.
After hearing the words of Hashem, Shlomo changed his focus and goals. He would now emphasize the spirituality of the Mikdash.