Past and Present Wisdom
January 8, 2021
Dear Holy Friends,
I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and enjoying a pleasant start to the New Year of 2021.
A couple of weeks ago in “zoom-shul” we summarized a famous haftarah involving King Solomon. Allow me to share a perspective on his leadership.
No king in the stories of the Bible so speaks to our imagination as King Solomon, who ruled Israel after King David. The Bible depicts Solomon's reign as an era of unprecedented prosperity due to his wisdom, a quality bestowed upon him by God. In a dream, God asked him what he wanted most, and Solomon replied, “an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil” (I Kings 3:9).
Solomon reorganized his realm into 12 districts that cut across tribal boundaries to centralize power in Jerusalem. To pacify tribal sensibilities, he continued his father’s policy of marrying wives from many tribes, as well as from those nations with whom he struck an alliance.
Solomon also found time to adjudicate civil cases, such as the one where two women were fighting over a baby, each claiming the child was hers. Solomon said, “Bring me a sword,” and ordered the child cut in two, with each woman receiving half of the body. Shocked, one of the mothers said, “Please, my lord, give her the living boy!” (I Kings 3:26). Solomon knew that the true mother had spoken, for no woman could see her own child killed. The King also composed “three thousand proverbs” and “over a thousand songs.”
Commentators point to his understanding of not only wisdom, but as well, reverence for God, which is cited in both the first and last sentence of the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs. Perhaps his most well-known statement is from Ecclesiastes which reads, אין חדש תחת השמש : There is nothing new under the sun.
Assuming that King Solomon was not familiar with microwaves, the Internet, space travel, or hybrid cars, it is legitimate to ask what the pedagogical parameters of his statement are. How does his phrase apply to the craziness of this past year as the world has faced Covid 19? How does his phrase apply to the craziness of what is going on in government?
The phrase, I believe, implies clearly that all experiences have occurred before in some similar form. It is only by examining new manifestations of something old that we can deal with new situations, applying our wisdom to consider unique scenarios.
In the new lecture series that I will be leading, which we are calling “The Changing Face of the American Jewish Family,” we will meet speakers who come from statistically atypical backgrounds and explore how they are helping to make our community more diverse than ever. You may not have encountered these types of families previously and although their dynamic and integration with our peoplehood is unique, they assimilate fully and lovingly into our synagogues and communities.
Please join us this Monday evening at 8PM, and on the following three Mondays, to challenge your preconceptions. Meet some lovely people, hear about new situations, and apply the wisdom of King Solomon: There is nothing new under the sun. Or, is there?
Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD