Pekudei by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

(Please note: this week’s drash covers the haftorah for Parshat Pekudei — I Kings 7:51-8:21.)

Haftorat Pekuday: The Report of Hiram, King of Tyre

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

I, Hiram, was king of Tyre, back around—oh, 1,000 BCE in your reckoning. King Solomon of Israel was my liege lord—your Scriptures may state he was “my friend,” but this is not entirely accurate. Had I not supplied him with the bulk of the building materials he required to build the Holy House for his Invisible GOD, he would have angered quickly, and, at the head of his horse and foot, come thundering up the Mediterranean Coastal Road to invade my lands, take me prisoner, and despoil my people. I therefore thought it meeter to supply him with—well, whatsoever he requested.

Solomon’s father, King David, was my original Israelite ally, but I feared him far less than his son, so far-famed for his wisdom. David was always too involved with the Philistine Wars, and with various palace intrigues (David had a large, selfish, big-headed family)—not to mention his hunger for women who happened to be married to other men. Leastways, he tended to ignore me, though we did cooperate in our foreign trade. Our triremes reached so far as India, and, I believe, the Philippines.

Chief among the materials I supplied Solomon were our famous Cedars of Lebanon; I understand that they made a strong and spiritual impression on you people, you Israelites. Why, your poets and psalm-singers included them in several psalms, which I appreciate—sort of my own, personal contribution to the development of your—would you call it a faith? I will never be able to fathom this faith, Brother Hebrews. Your Holy Temple, as I believe it is called, was and is a burden on your taxpayers—who does this for an Invisible God? If He is invisible indeed, what need has He for a House? It is too complex for a mere pagan like myself to fathom.

What we Tyrians do is to worship idols. Idols are reliable; they stand by you, and you can always purchase some for home use. As for a temple—what need have we of a temple? I myself, as king, am High Priest of Baal; there is a massive pile of stones and clay just outside my palace, and my people gather there regularly to worship.

To return to your temple–remembering the Israelite threat of invasion were I not to make my freewill offering to Solomon and his God, I freely appointed squads of woodcutters and wood-carvers to provide my headstrong lord with howsoever many logs and poles he required. along with much gold and jewels—we Tyrians are traders, and trade has been good.

The most peculiar feature of Solomon’s Temple was the “Molten Sea”—a vast bronze tub held aloft on the backs of twelve brazen bull-statues—meant to represent the months of the year, as Solomon told me. Still, I found it both grandiose and peculiar. I asked my royal friend, Solomon, “What is the purpose of this mighty bathtub?”

He looked at me askance—I have a tendency to speak sarcastically, but, take me as I am—and replied, “To provide water for the Priests and Levites to lave themselves, to purify themselves prior to engaging in Service of the Lord.”

“And what is this Service?” I queried further.

His brow narrowed, and he said, “Hiram, you are my friend—that is, as long as your people pay me their taxes—but you are, forgive me, a dolt. Should not my priests be spiritually pure, before they offer sacrifice?”

Just my point, you see: if these hapless servants of Adonoi—I believe that is one of His many Names—are about to slaughter, cut up, and burn chunks of meat before their God, why can they not wash only afterward? And why not have a series of smaller bowls and jugs from which to wash? Still, I know my royal lord’s predilection for spectacle and magnificence—that day, he was wearing, not one, but several cloaks, all silk, flax-and-wool, and cloth-of-gold atop all.

I kept my peace.

The construction of the entire Temple—building, walls, decorations, and all—took 143 years, I understand, meaning that there was preliminary work, even during David’s time, despite denying this in the Israelites’ Holy Books.

Finally, the work was done. I recall how relieved all the workers and artisans looked—Solomon was something of a martinet, and not the easiest monarch to work for. Besides being king, military commander-in-chief, and nominal High Priest, he was also a judge. People feared his judgments—we once discussed his handling of a case involving two harlots who were arguing over a live babe. Which one had borne it?

Solomon pondered a bit—he had a way of twisting his fingers in his beard which convinced all that he was in deep thought, but I knew he was receiving prophecy from his Invisible God—and announced, “Let the baby be sliced in half.”

Well, what an uproar arose! One of the women cried: “Oh please—give the baby to the Other; I relinquish all rights to my child—only, please don’t hurt him!”

While the Other had a ghastly grin on her face as she called out, “Slice the babe, slice him; let neither of us have him.”

At which point Solomon intoned: “The babe belongs to the woman who demands we not hurt him. Take your child, Woman; go in peace.”

As for the Other, he fixed a steely eye on her and said in stentorian tones: “You, jealous and a would-be murderess; you shall walk the treadmill of my wheat-grinders, for the rest of your life.”

Later—I was visiting on a state embassy, and had to get back to my own quarrelsome nation the very next day—Solomon and I stood on the balcony of his father’s palace (In the very room in which David had decided to have Joab murder Uriah the Hittite, and steal his wife, Bathsheba—strange indeed were the ways of these Israelite rulers!)—I turned to my friend, the ruler to whom I was subservient,, Solomon, and asked:

“Tell me truly, Solomon. Would you honestly and—forgive my saying it—bloodthirstily have murdered that tiny babe, if only to prove a point and settle the argument of two gutter harlots?”

Solomon turned his eyes on me, blue as the Great Sea (You call it the Mediterranean) and deeper still than that mighty ocean:

“I can only say and do what the Almighty commands me. Not for myself do I act, but only for the Greater Glory of God.”

As I say, he was a strange duck, that Solomon, King of the Israelites. I was glad to return home.


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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