A Digression: Building Beit Hashem or Beit Shelomo?
Melakhim I 6-7 describe the construction of the Beit HaMikdash in great detail, discussing the frame of the building, its interior design, the materials used, and the vessels found within it. Somewhat surprisingly, however, in that in the midst of this description, the text appears to go on a tangent and speaks of the building of Shelomo's personal palace complex,1 including Beit Ya'ar HaLevanon, a hall of pillars, a hall of justice, Shelomo's private home,2 and the house of Paroh's daughter. What is the reason for this digression? Does not intertwining the description of the holiest of sites with that of a mundane palace serve to degrade the Mikdash? Why conflate the sacred and profane? What message did Sefer Melakhim wish to relay by juxtaposing the two building projects?
Shelomo's Crowning Glory?
Many assume that Shelomo's building of the Beit HaMikdash was the highlight of his reign, whereby he demonstrated his love for and desire to honor Hashem. However, a comparison of Beit Hashem and Beit Shelomo might make one question this assumption:
- Duration of the construction – While Shelomo built the Beit HaMikdash over a period of seven years, he spent thirteen years building his own house.3 How is one to understand the disproportionately long time spent on erecting the palace?
- Dimensions – The Mikdash (including the היכל and דביר) measured 60 by 20 by 30 cubits, with the hall (אולם) adding another 20 by 10 cubits, and 120 cubits in height. Though dimensions are not provided for all the buildings in Shelomo's private complex, Beit Ya'ar HaLevanon alone measured 100 by 50 by 30 cubits, a much bigger expanse. Why was Hashem's house so much smaller than the palace?
- Dedication of the Beit HaMikdash – Sefer Melakhim does not specify the year in which the Mikdash was dedicated, but the order of the verses suggests that it occurred only after the palace was completed.4 If so, though, why did Shelomo wait thirteen years before dedicating the Mikdash? Was this not disrespectful? Why did the palace need to be completed before the dedication?
- Location of the palace – Though the chapter does not specify where Shelomo's house was built, from a variety of verses later in Tanakh,5 it appears to have been erected between the Beit HaMikdash and the City of David. Is there any significance to this location, or was it simply a matter of convenience? Did the proximity of the palace to the Temple symbolize the collaboration between human and Divine authority or did it introduce an element of competition between the two?
- Similarity in form – There is some overlap in the form and features of both the palace complex and the Mikdash. Both were built of cedar wood and both had pillars, some type of window ("שְׁקֻפִים"), and a courtyard made of "שְׁלֹשָׁה טוּרֵי גָזִית וְטוּר כְּרֻתֹת אֲרָזִים". Were these aspects unique to these structures and intentionally included in both, or were they common to many buildings, making the overlap insignificant?
The chapters raise several other question which might relate to the above issues:
- Hashem's warning – The description of the Mikdash is interrupted not only by the digression mentioned above relating to the palace, but also by a warning of Hashem to Shelomo. In Melakhim I 6:11-13, Hashem tells Shelomo that the continued existence of the Mikdash and Hashem's presence therein is conditional on Torah observance. Why is this warning relayed right in the midst of the Temple's construction, and why is a second, similar warning given again after the house's dedication (Melakhim I 9:1-9)?
- Beit Ya'ar HaLevanon – Of the various structures mentioned as part of Shelomo's palace compound, Beit Ya'ar HaLevanon is the most prominent. What function did this building serve? How did it get its name?
- Shelomo's eventual downfall – At the end of his life, Shelomo is swayed by his many wives to worship foreign gods. How could someone who had devoted so many years to honoring Hashem and building Him a place of worship fall to such depths?