Shir ha-Shirim X Part Five: Three Sins
He committed three sins. He acquired too many horses, he took too many wives, he accumulated too much silver and gold, as it says, “And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones (II Chronicles 9:27).” Was as common as stones and yet it was not stolen! Rabbi Yossi bar Chaninah said: the gold wasn’t stolen because it was in blocks of huge size.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: Even the weights in the days of Solomon were made of gold, as it says, “Silver was nothing accounted out in the days of Solomon (I Kings 10:21).”
He took too many wives, as it says, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, besides the daughter of Pharaoh, of the nations concerning which God said to the Children of Israel: You shall not go among them, neither shall they come among you, Solomon did cling to them in love (I Kings 11:1–2).” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: The reference is to the prohibition, “Neither shall you make marriages with them (Deuteronomy 7:3).” Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: It says here, “in love,” which means literally, illicit love.
Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yossi the Galilean said: It is written, “Nevertheless even him did the foreign women cause to sin (Nehemiah 13:26),” this indicates that he used to have relations with them when they were impure, and they did not tell him.
Rabbi Yossi bar Chalafta says: “in love,” here means, “to make them beloved to God, to bring them near to God, to convert them and to bring them under the wings of the Divine Presence.”
We thus find that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yossi the Galilean, all said the same thing, that Solomon’s intention was evil. Rabbi Yossi bar Chalafta differed from all of them. (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1.1:10)
Three different explanations of Solomon’s sin: one that he was attempting to build bridges with all the surrounding nations. Two, that he was actually marrying these women. Three, he may have not violated any laws when marrying that, but he was not careful in dealing with the laws of family purity. I find it incredible that in the book that Solomon composed to describe the deep love between God and Israel, comparing it to the love between a man and woman, that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would raise the issue that Solomon was guided by illicit love! The great Rabbi who so often speaks in similar terms in the Zohar of the great love between God and Israel, and uses similar imagery, warns us of the dangerous risks of such powerful passion. Even one as great as Solomon could fall.
The other two descriptions of Solomon’s sin do not speak of the danger of fiery passion, but address the issue of no matter how well intentioned a person may be, even one as great as Solomon, his intentions may lead him astray.
Pesach is also a story of good intentions that went astray. Joseph’s brothers are convinced that he is a destructive influence, and some are even prepared to kill him. Their intentions were good. But they sinned when they sold Joseph into slavery.
Abraham was well-intentioned when he said to God, “With what shall I know,” what merit will my children have when they inevitably go astray; he was asking with love and concern. His intentions were good, but the consequences were devastating; we ended up slaves in Egypt.
The Children of Israel were well intentioned when they agreed to work on the Egyptian projects improve their loyalty to their host country. It ended with disaster.
With all this, we continue to sing the Song of Songs, describing God’s passionate love for Israel, which is unchanging, eternal, and most of all, safe. We don’t know how our choices will play out. We cannot be certain of the results of our choices no matter how well intentioned they are. However, Pesach is a time of love; God’s love for Israel. Pesach doesn’t only mean to pass over, it also means to demonstrate love. Pesach was the most powerful demonstration of God’s love for Israel. A strong love, a safe love, a love that will keep us safe as long as we remain connected to it.
This is where the fourth opinion, that Solomon’s intentions and actions were good, comes in: He cannot disagree that Solomon sinned, but he believes that even his sins, even his mistakes, afforded Solomon an opportunity to achieve even more greatness. We will surely make mistakes, but if we remain connected to the love of the Song of Songs, the love expressed by Pesach, even our mistakes will become opportunities for us to achieve greatness.