In this week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, we read about the final years of Abraham’s incredible life. Following this, we read the Haftarah which explores the arrangements made for the ascendance of King Solomon to the throne. We know that the Sages carefully selected the Haftarot due to their intrinsic connection to the parasha. A superficial look might suggest that the Haftarah for Chayei Sarah was chosen because it begins with King David being described as “old, advanced in days” (I Kings 1:1) exactly as Abraham is described in Chayei Sarah (Genesis 24:1). However, the Haftarah is not really about David, it is about Solomon and his status as the rightful heir to the throne.
What does Solomon’s kingship have to do with Abraham’s life? At first glance, they seem to be completely unrelated. Yet when we look carefully, we find some stunning connections between Abraham and Solomon. In fact, it quickly becomes clear that Solomon was the reincarnation of Abraham, and fulfilled the life of the first patriarch.
Life of Solomon, Life of Abraham
Like Abraham, who first recognized that there is a singular God at the young age of three (Nedarim 32a), Solomon was a precocious child who was wise beyond his years. Once he had become king, God revealed Himself to Solomon and offered the young monarch one wish. Foregoing money and glory, Solomon instead asked for wisdom (I Kings 3). God gave him all three. He also gave Solomon the blessing for a long life. However, we find that Solomon’s life was actually cut short at 52! According to Jewish tradition, Solomon ascended to the throne at the age of 12 (since I Kings 3:7 has Solomon saying he is a na’ar katon, a “small youth”, still shy of his bar mitzvah), he then ruled for 40 years (I Kings 11:42), and died at the age of 52 (see Seder Olam Rabbah 14). Why did he die so young?
The classic answer is that Solomon didn’t merit the long life promised to him because, unfortunately, his many foreign wives brought idolatry to Jerusalem. Now, our Sages maintain that Solomon himself did not sin (Shabbat 55b). Scripture describes it in words that make it seem like he was guilty, and perhaps he almost was. However, there is a notion that God sometimes cuts short the lives of righteous people before they are doomed to sin. It would have been a horrible desecration of God’s Name, the Torah, and the nascent Davidic dynasty had Solomon actually been led to idolatry. So, God pulled the plug early to prevent the embarrassment. With these points in mind, we can come back to Abraham.
Abraham was born into a world of idolatry. He fought that idolatry with all of his might, and merited to become God’s chosen representative on Earth. When, exactly, did this happen? As the story famously goes, the Babylonian ruler Nimrod arrested Abraham for sedition, since he was spreading monotheism and combatting idolatry. After ten years in prison (Bava Batra 91a), Abraham was brought to trial and told to worship the fiery deity of Nimrod. Abraham refused and was thrown into the flames, from which God miraculously saved him (Beresheet Rabbah 38). This was the very first time that God revealed Himself to Abraham, and his first prophetic experience. This was the point when Abraham was chosen. Immediately following this, Abraham left to Haran and continued his divine work there.
According to the precise chronology, Abraham was born in the Hebrew year 1948 AM. That critical first prophetic event took place in the year 2000 AM, when Abraham was 52 years old. This is of immense significance. Our Sages state that human history unfolds over three 2000-year eras (Sanhedrin 97a). The first era was the era of lawlessness and “chaos” (tohu). The second was the era of Torah, when God communicated His law through prophets, during which time the original holy texts were all composed. This era began in the year 2000 AM, and it was precisely then that God first revealed Himself to Abraham, when He miraculously saved Abraham from the flames. This was the first official Torah revelation, and henceforth Abraham began teaching God’s law (before this, he was spreading monotheism and combatting idolatry more generally).
As such, Abraham was 52 years old when he ushered in the Era of Torah. At 52, he was given a choice to bow down to an idol or die, and he chose the latter. Abraham was completely free of the stain of idolatry. Meanwhile, Solomon died at the age of 52, before he could fall to the trap of idolatry that was set for him. This was done to ensure the purity of his soul, that part which was first in Abraham, and had entirely rectified the stain of idolatry.
Abraham really needed only to re-live those first 52 years before the Era of Torah, when he lived without divine revelation and without the Word of God. As Solomon, he had this from birth, immersed in Torah and raised by holy priests and prophets. Abraham was all about fighting idolatry, which is why God didn’t allow Solomon any more time past 52 years, lest he fall to idolatry and unravel all that his soul had accomplished in its past life. Of course, as Solomon, Abraham continued his life’s work as a teacher. Solomon was known as Kohelet, literally the “one who gathers”, for he would gather great masses of people to teach them Torah, just as Abraham had done. In his book Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), Solomon actually hints to his past life when he famously says that “What was, is what will be; and what occurred, is what will occur; there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9)
At the same time, there was a big hint of Abraham’s return in Solomon when God promised Abraham that “kings shall come from you” (וּמְלָכִים מִמְּךָ יֵצֵאוּ), or more literally, “kings will come out of you” (Genesis 17:6). Abraham would come out to be a king himself. And the most glorious king of all was Solomon, of whom the Tanakh states that not only was he given royalty but, uniquely, hod malkhut, the “glory of kingship” (I Chronicles 25:29). Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh beautifully points out that the value of hod (הוד) is 15, as Solomon was the 15th generation from Abraham (see Anatomy of the Soul, pg. 124). This is yet a further clue to the Abraham-Solomon connection.
Indeed, it is most fitting that Abraham should return in Solomon, for Abraham began the Jewish process, and Solomon ruled at its height and (first) golden age. Abraham merited to see the movement he started come to its climax, with the Holy Temple in a newly-built Jerusalem, and an era of complete peace and prosperity in Israel, the land first promised to Abraham. It was Abraham who first built a sacrificial altar to God in the Holy Land (Genesis 12:7), and Solomon who centralized divine worship at the greatest altar in Jerusalem. Having said all that, Solomon’s life was not just a fulfillment and reward for Abraham; it had a far more critical role. As great as Abraham was, we find that there were a couple of issues that sullied his soul and needed repair, too. This is the deeper reason as to why he needed to return in Solomon.
Rectifying Abraham, Rectifying the World
Our Sages teach that Abraham was a ben niddah. This means he was conceived while his mother was in a state of menstrual impurity. The Arizal taught that this was necessary because, otherwise, the spiritual forces of evil would never allow his great soul to be born (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 39). The same was true of King David’s birth and, by extension, the birth of Mashiach. To allow such holy souls to enter this world, they need to be covered in many kelipot, “husks”, so that the forces of evil wouldn’t bother looking there. As such, the impurity upon Abraham’s soul had to be rectified.
When it comes to Solomon, we know that his mother, Batsheva (who is also the star of this week’s Haftarah), carefully observed the laws of purity. In fact, when she is first introduced in the Tanakh, it is made clear that she was immersing in the mikveh and מִתְקַדֶּשֶׁת מִטֻּמְאָתָהּ, “purifying herself of her menstrual impurity” (II Samuel 11:4). She may very well be the only woman in the entire Tanakh to be described in such fashion. Thus, when Solomon was conceived, we can rest assured that it was undoubtedly in a state of total purity. Here, Abraham’s soul received its first rectification.
The second issue was regarding Abraham’s union with Hagar, an Egyptian princess. That relationship soon soured, leading to Hagar’s expulsion—something that Abraham hesitated doing. Some believe that the woman Abraham married after Sarah’s passing, Keturah, is one and the same as Hagar, while others state these were two distinct individuals. Whatever the case, from a spiritual standpoint there was certainly a need for rectification, both for the fact that Abraham didn’t actually marry Hagar, but only took her on as a concubine and surrogate, and for the failure of the relationship more broadly. I believe this is the deeper reason as to why Solomon insisted on marrying an Egyptian princess (I Kings 3:1). Perhaps he sought to rectify the error of his past life.
Unfortunately, the Egyptian princess was the worst of his wives, and was a key instigator of the impending idolatry. Our Sages teach that it was precisely at that moment that Solomon married her that the angel Gabriel was sent to plant a reed in the Mediterranean Sea, which eventually gave rise to the city of Rome (Shabbat 56b). The deeper meaning of this is that the fate of Jerusalem and the Temple was then sealed, and though Solomon first built the Temple, he also planted the seeds of its ultimate destruction.
Having said that, Solomon had a good wife, too: Na’amah the Ammonite. Though also foreign, she converted wholeheartedly like Ruth the Moabite before her. In fact, this was why God forbade Moses from annihilating the Moabites and Ammonites following the Exodus, saying that He had to extract from there “two virtuous fledglings”, ie Ruth and Na’amah (Bava Kamma 38b). Further back, it is why God orchestrated the incident with Lot and his daughters, which originated the Moabite and Ammonite nations. As mentioned above, Mashiach’s arrival can only come about through a great many kelipot, starting with Lot’s sin, continuing with Yehuda’s incident with Tamar, and so forth.
Elsewhere, Na’amah is referred to by our Sages as the “mother of Mashiach”, for through her the Davidic line continued, and will eventually give rise to Mashiach. Mashiach will rebuild the Temple and restore the glory of Israel, as it first was in the time of Solomon. Then, everything will come full circle and the long saga will finally come to its perfect conclusion.