A Listening Heart

A Listening Heart . . .

Meeting in the Valley, we welcomed 2 new members to the group, checked in, then read the meditation on Shofar for the fourth day of Elul, written by Michael Chusid in his book “Hearing Shofar” (http://www.hearingshofar.com/book.htm).   To paraphrase and crystallize: in contrast to the cacophony that was the Tower of Babel, or perhaps the cacophony that is all the Tweets, Email blasts, and cable news soundbites of today’s culture, the shofar blast is a universal language of Spirit, like art, like music, like prayer.

“As you hear shofar today, quiet the flood of words in your mind and simply hear sound.”

Kings I, 3:1  “Solomon made a marriage alliance . . . he took Pharoah’s daughter in marriage”
Wait a minute!  After all the assassinations, palace intrigue, and power politics we read about last time, this represents a sudden, jarring shift in tone.  As if to say, that was before, now let’s get on with it.  The violence of the preceding chapter describing Solomon’s consolidation of his rule is left in the dust, as our soap opera suddenly shifts gears and Solomon begins to expand his kingdom through marriage alliance.  This was in contrast to his father David, who built his kingdom through war and conquest.  Solomon’s propensity to make such political alliances through marriage is famous in our people’s legends, that in this way he built community through marriage rather than violence.  It is said that Solomon had 700 wives, and that this was, in fact, his ultimate undoing.  But that’s for a later chapter.  And what ever happened to Bat Sheva and Avishag?  Two beautiful heroines left behind in yesterday’s news. 

Kings I, 3:3.  “Solomon offered up a thousand elevation-offerings on that Altar.”
The text spends the next couple sentences describing offerings by the people in the “high places” – these were personal sacrificial offerings that anyone could make on a personal altar (the high places).  While verse 3 states that Solomon did this as well, as did David before him, now verse 4 says he went to Gibeon, the location at that time of the Tabernacle, and offered the thousand offerings on “the Altar” – this is the copper altar built by Bezalel and Moses in the wilderness.  This represents a shift from the personal to the communal, from Solomon’s own personal interests to those of his community, foreshadowing the coming period of the Temple when communal offerings were the norm.

Kings I, 3:5: “YHVH appeared to Shlomo in a dream of the night”
Previously God had appeared to our ancestors directly, but to Solomon He comes in a dream.  Our sages teach that a dream is 1/60th of prophecy.  Interpretation of a dream is tricky: while it may very well be, particularly in indigenous cultures and villages, that the dreamer receives the dream for the sake of his/her community, one must also be careful to sort out that part of the dream that may relate to the dreamer on a personal, psychological level.  Dreams are stonger than awakening realizations, have a stronger emotional impact, yet an inherent ambiguity.  Though any dream can be interpreted in multiple ways, the Talmud tells us we should never interpret a dream in a negative way.  So, Shlomo, like his ancestors Jacob and Joseph before him, is a dreamer, and the fact that he is having this dream, this particular dream, says much of his nature and spirit, whether it is a dream of a personal or collective nature. 

Kings I, 3:9: “a listening heart, to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and evil”
In the dream, HaShem asks him what he wants, to which Shlomo responds  
“an understanding heart” (literally, “a listening heart”, Lev shomeah).  It is said that a prayer within a dream is the truest of prayers.  Lev – a pure heart; shomeah – listening, from the same root as Sh’mah. Sh’mah, listen, such a core concept in Judaism.  To listen, for the still, soft voice of the Holy One speaking to you, directly to you.  An empathetic approach to life, with heart wide open.  Shlomo asks to bypass all the noise that the brain/mind can place on the message – give it straight to my heart.  He is asking for an empathetic heart from which to rule.  He asks to be able to judge the nation with this gift, to understand between goodness and evil.  The Hebrew grammar here is slightly different than in Genesis, where Adam and Eve are told by the Nahash that if they eat the fruit they will “know good and bad”, whereas here Solomon asks to “understand (the difference) between good to evil (the whole gamut). 

In granting him his wish, HaShem gives him a “pure heart of wisdom and understanding”, alluding to a balancing of the Sefirot of Chochmah (wisdom, intuitive right brain) and Binah (understanding, rational left brain) with a direct pipeline to the Heart.  This is the place of true empathy, from which Solomon will rule.  This is the model of what a king should be, and stands in stark contrast to the place of power and self-interest from which most kings, both before and after this point., rule.   It is clear now that we are entering into a study, not only of Solomon, but of kingship. 

Kings I, 3:16: “Then 2 women, innkeepers/prostitutes, came to the king . . . ”
This is the famous story of the 2 women, each claiming the same baby as theirs, and Solomon’s decision that decides the question.  We are struck by the description of the women as “prostitutes” in one translation, “innkeepers” in another.  Does the text mean to imply they are of little consequence?  The Hebrew word “zonah” usually is translated as prostitute, but may mean much more than our modern, secular understanding of this word.  We recall 2 such “zonots” who played critical roles in the history of the Jewish people: Tamar, who slept with her father-in-law Judah and thereby gave birth to the line of David and Solomon, and all the kings of Judah;  and Rahav, who hid the Hebrew spies in Jericho before that classic battle, and who strung the crimson thread from her inn’s window so that her family was saved and became part of the Hebrew people. 

A hint to the more raised and respected status of the zonah, compared to the modern day prostitute, is apparent in that the root of the word is the same as that meaning to provide for, or to feed, as we see in the Bircat HaMazon, the blessing we say over the food we’ve eaten.  And of course in ancient cultures the ritual prostitutes were often regarded as bridges to the divine. 

Kings I, 3:28:  “All Israel heard the judgment . . . and saw that the wisdom of Elohim was within him, to do justice”
Shlomo’s “decision” to cut the baby in 2 and give each woman half is successful in ascertaining which woman is the true mother.  Or is it?  At the very least it identifies which woman has the child’s best interest at heart, and she is awarded the child by the king.  And the people “heard and saw” how the new king handled this major test of his ability to judge disputes.  There is a teaching that Ruth was in the court of Solomon at the time of this event, and that later this played a role in her giving up her baby for Naomi to raise.  This “courtroom theater” by Solomon may also have been a political metaphor, with the message that you don’t divide up the 2 kingdoms (Israel and Judah) if you want to keep them alive. 

And all Israel “heard and saw”.  This takes us back to the revelation at Sinai, where the people likewise heard the lightning and saw the thunder of HaShem on the mountain.  This then is the role of the king in Israel: to be a physical manifestation of the ongoing revelation of Spirit for the people.  So in this way, and no doubt not the only way, the direct connection of the people to the Holy One is meant to be maintained through its leaders, as it was at Sinai. 

 We closed with a remembrance of the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.     Tekiah Gedolah.

Next Meeting: Saturday, September 7 – Shabbat Shuvah, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  We will hike in Encino to “The Trees”, hold Council, learn.

Save the Date (tentative): Sunday, September 22, Sukkot at Devorah’s.  Gathering, ritual, build sukkah, potluck lunch