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He was a major partner in the building of the Beis HaMikdash. He was a trusted friend of both Dovid HaMelech and his son Shlomo.

Chiram was his name.

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But who was he really?

Our haftarah (I Melachim, 5:26-6:13) discusses the construction of the Beis HaMikdash, paralleling, of course, the instructions regarding the construction of the Mishkan in Parshas Terumah. Chiram was a king of Lebanon with whom Shlomo HaMelech had made a bris. Shlomo sent workers to Lebanon to get the cedar wood that would be used in the building of the Beis HaMikdash, and to hew large foundation stones for the construction as well.

The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 85:4) cites an opinion that Chiram was the same person as Chirah, Yehuda’s friend, mentioned in Parshas Vayeishev. This would mean he lived at least 800 years. In fact, the midrash there tells us that Chiram was killed by Nevuchadnezzar which would mean he lived approximately 1,200 years!

It is important to keep in mind that there are numerous midrashim that are not meant to be taken literally. The Rambam writes of this extensively in his introduction to Perek Cheilek, the last chapter in Sanhedrin. He even says that those who propagate the approach of understanding all midrashim literally, especially those that seem to paint the Torah in a strange light, are actually desecrating Hashem’s Name. Rather than exhibiting praiseworthy faith in what Chazal are saying, taking all midrashim literally distorts and confuses.

Others affirm what the Rambam states, including the Maharal in many places and the Ramchal’s essay on midrash. (Among other places, the Ramchal’s essay is printed in the back of Rav Aharon Feldman’s The Juggler and the King.)

The Rambam (ibid.) describes people who take all of Chazal literally, at face value. For example, if the midrash describes rocks that argue with each other, then these people believe the rocks must have had the power of speech. While the intentions of this group may be noble, says the Rambam, they actually cause disrespect for the Torah and the words of Chazal. They attribute a superficial and even strange meaning to their words. However, we must struggle to understand, says the Rambam, the greatness and wisdom in the words of Chazal. Although we might not fully fathom the deeper meaning, we must appreciate that a parable or metaphor may be involved. As the Maharal writes (Be’er Hagolah Be’er Revi’i, page 51 in the standard edition), “The vast majority of the words of Chazal are meant in a metaphorical and allegorical way… Therefore, don’t be alarmed when you see words of Chazal which appear foolish and distant from wisdom… they are really hidden messages which are very profound and intelligent.”

Of course, Hashem is all-powerful and can do anything He desires, but often when we encounter a midrash that seems to imply that someone in Tanach lived for a very long time, the proper understanding could be as the Maharal writes.

Rashi (Bereishis 14:13) cites the midrash which says that Og survived the Mabul. How is that possible? A different midrash says that he held on to the ark. If taken literally, this means that although the Chumash is quite clear that everyone except for Noach and his family were destroyed, somehow Og survived. The Maharal wonders how this could be. Og was known to be a rasha; why would Hashem allow him to live close to 1,000 years (until the time of Avrohom and then even longer as we know that Moshe Rabbeinu killed Og)?

The Maharal explains that when Chazal say that Og survived the flood, they do not mean that the same Og reported to Avrohom Avinu in Lech Lecha and then fought years later with Moshe Rabbeinu. Rather, Og’s ancestor survived the flood and the Og of Avrohom’s times and Moshe Rabbeinu’s times were descendants. Chazal refer to them as one person because they each had the same goals and characters. As far as why Og survived the Mabul if he was wicked, the Maharal says there were deep spiritual calculations involved that we may not understand.

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Rabbi Boruch Leff is a rebbe in Baltimore and the author of six books. He wrote the “Haftorah Happenings” column in The Jewish Press for many years. He can be reached at sbleff@gmail.com.