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Mishlei: An Introduction: To Be Like Moses

“The proverbs of Solomon, son of David.” (Proverbs 1:1)  Why did Solomon choose proverbs to convey the essential ideas in this book of wisdom?

The Midrash teaches that the opening letter of this book, “mem” – with the numerical value of 40 – is written very large to call attention to King Solomon’s forty day fast to merit being similar to Moshe: Just as Moshe spent 40 days and nights preparing to receive the Torah, Solomon fasted for the same number of days to be “like” Moshe.

Some Kabbalists teach that the letters of “Shlomo” can be moved around to spell “L’Moshe” – like Moshe.

Although the verse describes a dream in which God said to Solomon: “Request what I should give to you”, the Sages read the verses to mean that the dream was actually a response to the young king’s forty day fast. 

Solomon traveled to Gibeon to bring a thousand elevation offerings, rather than use the altar in the Tent of the ark in Jerusalem. (Kings I 3:4)  He only brought offerings in Jerusalem after the dream. (Kings I 3:15)  The dream changed Solomon’s attitude; the dream, not the promises made in the dream: “Solomon awoke, and behold it was a dream.” (3:15)

Solomon requested a “Hearing Heart” “to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and evil; for who can judge this formidable people of Yours?” (3:9) The 12 year old king understood that the task of leading this “formidable nation” was too daunting for him. In fact, it seemed so even to Moshe.

Moshe’s response to the growing nation was to lament Eicha: “Eicha – How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?” (Deuteronomy 1:12)

Solomon wanted to avoid Moshe’s Eicha. How would he, how could he possibly succeed where Moshe failed? He needed to be as similar to Moshe as possible in order to receive his request of a hearing Heart. The Sages understood that Solomon’s dream of God saying; “Request what I should give to you” was a response to Solomon’s fast to earn the gift of being similar to Moshe – or, to rephrase – a Mashal – an analogy of Moshe.

The opening letter of this Book of Wisdom hints to Solomon’s quest that afforded him the opportunity to ask God for a hearing Heart – a heart that could hear the subtle sounds and notes of the Torah and the music softly playing underneath the cacophony of Israel – God’s formidable nation.

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