Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Wisdom of Solomon

Summary: Rav Chaim Kanievsky asks how the Sifrei can contrast a statement by Shlomo professing inability to judge with a statement that he was wisest of all men. After all, the context of each statement reveals that the former is prior to his request for Hashem for wisdom, and the latter is after Hashem's granting of his request! He answers that Shlomo was wise beforehand, and must have had some level of wisdom in order to merit the subsequent level of wisdom.

Post: Towards the beginning of parashat Devarim, the following pasuk and Rashi:

9. And I said to you at that time, saying, 'I cannot carry you alone.ט. וָאֹמַר אֲלֵכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר לֹא אוּכַל לְבַדִּי שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם:

I cannot alone: Is it possible that Moses could not judge Israel? The man who brought them out of Egypt, split the sea for them, brought down the manna, and caused the quails to fly, could not judge them? Rather, he said to them: “The Lord, your God, has multiplied you”- [i.e.,] He has made you superior and elevated you higher than your judges. He took the punishment away from you and imposed it upon the judges [in cases where they could have prevented your wrongdoing and did not]. Solomon made a similar statement: “For who is able to judge Your great people?” (I Kings 3:9) Is it possible that he [i. e., Solomon] of whom it is said (I Kings 5:11), “He was wiser than all men,” could say, “Who is able to judge?” But this is what Solomon meant: The judges of this people are not like the judges of other peoples, for if [one of the judges of other nations] gives judgment and sentences a person to death, to lashes, or to strangulation, or perverts judgment and robs him, it means nothing; if, however, I cause a person to pay unjustly, I am liable with my life, as it is said (Proverbs 22:23), “And He robs the life of those who rob them” (Sifrei , San. 7a).לא אוכל לבדי וגו': אפשר שלא היה משה יכול לדון את ישראל, אדם שהוציאם ממצרים וקרע להם את הים והוריד את המן והגיז את השליו לא היה יכול לדונם, אלא כך אמר להם, ה' אלהיכם הרבה אתכם, הגדיל והרים אתכם על דייניכם נטל את העונש מכם ונתנו על הדיינין. וכן אמר שלמה (מלכים א' ג, ט) כי מי יוכל לשפוט את עמך הכבד הזה, אפשר מי שכתוב בו (שם ה, יא) ויחכם מכל האדם, אומר מי יוכל לשפוט, אלא כך אמר שלמה אין דייני אומה זו כדייני שאר האומות, שאם דן והורג ומכה וחונק ומטה את דינו וגוזל אין בכך כלום, אני אם חייבתי ממון שלא כדין נפשות אני נתבע, שנאמר (משלי כב, כג) וקבע את קובעיהם נפש:

Rav Chaim Kanievsky writes in Taama deKra:

Rav Chaim Kanievsky

ואומר אליכם בעת ההיא וגר, פירש״י וכן אמר שלמה כי מי יוכל לשפוט את עמך הכבד הזה אפשר מי שכתוב בו ויחכם מכל האדם אומר מי יוכל לשפוט אלא כך אמר כו׳ והוא מספרי וכבר תמהו רבים ש"מי יוכל לשפוט" אמר קודם שנחכם, ונ׳ ע״פ הגמ׳ ברכות נ״ה א׳ אין  הקב״ה נותן חכמה אלא למי שיש בו חכמה  ובודאי לפי הערך שיש בו חכמה הקב״ה מוסיף בו חכמה וא״כ אם אח״כ נאמר בו ויחכם מכל
 האדם בודאי גם מתחלה הי׳ בו חכמה עכ״פ לדון. ועי׳ באו״מ עמ׳ שמ״ח מחכמת שלמה כשהי׳ תינוק וגם דוד א״ל כי איש חכם אתה.

Basically, he points out what others before him have pointed out, that if we look at the context of Shlomo HaMelech's statement in I Melachim 3:9:

ט  וְנָתַתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לֵב שֹׁמֵעַ, לִשְׁפֹּט אֶת-עַמְּךָ, לְהָבִין, בֵּין-טוֹב לְרָע:  כִּי מִי יוּכַל לִשְׁפֹּט, אֶת-עַמְּךָ הַכָּבֵד הַזֶּה.9 Give Thy servant therefore an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this Thy great people?'

It is when Hashem appeared to Shlomo in a dream and offered to fulfill any request of his. And Shlomo then said that he desires wisdom, for who is able to judge this Thy great people. But, in response to this, Hashem grants this requested wisdom. Meanwhile, the pasuk that describes Shlomo's great wisdom, in 1 Melachim 5:11,

ט  וַיִּתֵּן אֱלֹהִים חָכְמָה לִשְׁלֹמֹה וּתְבוּנָה, הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד; וְרֹחַב לֵב--כַּחוֹל, אֲשֶׁר עַל-שְׂפַת הַיָּם.9 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore.
י  וַתֵּרֶב חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה, מֵחָכְמַת כָּל-בְּנֵי-קֶדֶם, וּמִכֹּל, חָכְמַת מִצְרָיִם.10 And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.
יא  וַיֶּחְכַּם, מִכָּל-הָאָדָם, מֵאֵיתָן הָאֶזְרָחִי וְהֵימָן וְכַלְכֹּל וְדַרְדַּע, בְּנֵי מָחוֹל; וַיְהִי-שְׁמוֹ בְכָל-הַגּוֹיִם, סָבִיב.11 For he was wiser than all men: than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the nations round about.

is after Hashem has granted him that wisdom! So how can the midrash, and Rashi, oppose these two Scriptural passages?

In answer, Rav Kanievsky points to Berachos 55a:
R. Johanan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, gives wisdom only to one who already has wisdom, as it says, He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.27  R. Tahlifa from the West28  heard and repeated it before R. Abbahu. He said to him: You learn it from there, but we learn it from this text, namely, In the hearts of all that are wise-hearted I have put wisdom.29
Thus, Shlomo must have already been quite wise. He refers us further to some midrash (או"מ -- I am not sure what this is a reference to, perhaps Ozar Midrashim) which relates Shlomo's wisdom while yet a child. And also he notes that David Hamelech called Shlomo wise even before this, in I Melachim 2:9:

ט  וְעַתָּה, אַל-תְּנַקֵּהוּ, כִּי אִישׁ חָכָם, אָתָּה; וְיָדַעְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה-לּוֹ, וְהוֹרַדְתָּ אֶת-שֵׂיבָתוֹ בְּדָם שְׁאוֹל.9 Now therefore hold him not guiltless, for thou art a wise man; and thou wilt know what thou oughtest to do unto him, and thou shalt bring his hoar head down to the grave with blood.'

An example of Shlomo's widsom as a youth would be the following midrash:

If I recall correctly, the loan was an egg off a plate, at a feast to which both were invited. But I doubt that this midrash was truly intended literally. Would a beis din enforce the payment of ribbis? See Bava Kamma 30b:

1. (Beraisa - R. Meir): If a loan document specifies that Ribis (usury) will be charged, we fine the lender, and he may not collect even the principal;
2. Chachamim say, he collects the principal, but not the Ribis.

I like the question posed by Rav Kanievsky better than the answer. The Sifrei is contrasting the level of knowledge described, וַיֶּחְכַּם מִכָּל-הָאָדָם, with his professed inability to serve. This answer adds to much, IMHO. Rather, I would offer the unsatisfying answer that the midrash is not concerned with (rather than being unaware of) the context of each of the statement by / regarding Shlomo, since midrash often enough takes statements out of context.

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