It was one of the greatest moments in Jewish history. Almost five centuries had passed since the birth of the Jewish people with the exodus from Egypt. Since their arrival in the Land of Israel, the Jews had lived in their respective tribal territories with almost no central infrastructure to unite them as a people. With the appointment of King Saul, and later King David, the Jews now had a united kingdom equal to that of their neighbors.

Spiritually, however, there was still no focal point. True, there was the Tabernacle in Shiloh (later in Nob and Gibeon), but this was still a temporary situation. Worship and sacrifices were still allowed anywhere else, due to the lack of permanence in the Tabernacle. King David had eventually transferred the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, but it was essentially in transit without a permanent residence.

Even politically, there was not much rest in the country during the reign of King David. David was constantly fighting with Israel’s various enemies, which indeed was the reason why G‑d did not allow him to actually build the Temple.

Now, for the first time in history, everything came together: The Jews were united politically as one nation, and King Solomon, David’s son and successor, had now led them in the project of building the Temple. Israel was dwelling in peace, with many of their enemies now subservient to them. As a result of all this, the people were living in great prosperity and economic comfort. Indeed, in many ways this time is considered to be the zenith of all Jewish history.

The story of this haftarah is that of the dedication of the First Temple. The celebration began seven days before the Sukkot festival, and continued with the following seven-day celebration of Sukkot. An immense crowd gathered from the entire country to behold the awesome sights and to join in the festivities.

The height of the celebration was when the Ark was brought into the sanctuary by the Kohanim. The king addressed the people and then, while kneeling in front of the altar, offered a lengthy and moving prayer on behalf of the people. Upon finishing, he once again turned toward the huge crowd and blessed them. “Blessed be G‑d, who has given rest to His people Israel,” the king began. He continued in bestowing blessings for the fulfillment of his earlier prayer to G‑d and for the people to always remain faithful to Him. In this way, the entire world would know that there was no other being who controlled heaven and earth. [In many siddurim (prayerbooks), some of the verses from Solomon’s blessing are said each day as part of the weekday morning service.]

The verses then describe the huge numbers of cattle and sheep brought as sacrifices of thanksgiving by Solomon himself: 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. The volume of sacrifices far exceeded the capacity of the altar in the Temple. To this end, Solomon gave legal sanctity to the entire Temple courtyard, thus halachically allowing for sacrifices to be brought in the entire vicinity of this open space.1

Thus passed the fourteen days of celebration. Finally, on Shemini Atzeret, the last day of the festival season, the king appeared to the people and bid them farewell. The people blessed the king and then, on the next day, began their journey home “rejoicing and delighted of heart.”

In Transit

The incredible volume of sacrifices brought in this massive celebration truly reflects the feeling of exuberance felt by the king and the people at this time. The Midrash tells a parable of a king who was traveling on the road. He came to an inn on the roadside, and was served the kind of meal that was available at this “halfway house.” The king was not impressed: “Is this how you conduct yourself with me? Am I not the king?” he demanded. The people responded, “Our master the king! We are on the road, and we gave you a meal in accordance with the travel and the inn we came to. Wait till we arrive to the city and you enter your palace; you will then see the honor we will give you.”2

In a similar way, the reality at the dedication was that G‑d had finally come to His permanent resting place here on earth. Everything before this, starting with the Tabernacle in the desert, had been transient and “on the road.” Solomon expressed this sentiment of joy with this kind of massive offering that far outdid any volume of sacrifices that had been brought before.

An ironic thing about all this is to be found in the last verse of the haftarah. In the description of their farewell to the king, the verse states that they went home—“to their tents.” Now, we must remember that this is over four centuries after their entry into the Land. The Jews most certainly had permanent homes at this time. Why the use of the term “tents”?

A chassidic explanation says this: After their experience in the Temple, where G‑dliness was seen and felt in a real way, every Jew came out with the firm conviction and feeling that physicality and materialism cannot really be called “home.” The prosperous economic life the Jews enjoyed at this time was now indeed felt to be a temporary “tent.”

To illustrate this point, chassidim tella lovely story of the saintly Maggid of Mezeritch, R. Dovber:

At the time of this story the Maggid was still a disciple of R. Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, and he worked as a teacher of young children. He did so for no pay, living on only the very meager income that his wife made. He had actually been offered the position of rabbi in a number of very prominent communities, but he refused all of them.

Once a Jew came to town searching for the great R. Dovber. He had regards for him from his saintly teacher, the Baal Shem Tov. Though he did not know R. Dovber personally, he was sure that this must be some great and famous personality, as the Baal Shem Tov had referred to R. Dovber with an incredible level of admiration and honor. To his surprise, it took him a long time until he could identify the whereabouts of “Reb Ber Melamed” (“the children-teacher”)… He was directed to the outskirts of the town, where R. Dovber lived and studied with his children.

Coming close to the house, he began to realize the kind of poverty R. Dovber lived in. Walking in, he saw him teaching at a “table” made of a few planks of wood, while the children sat on a “bench” also consisting of wooden plank… In short, the entire scene was the kind of poverty that aroused deep pity in the visitor. Looking at the teacher who sat with the group of children, at his beautifully shining and radiant face, the visitor understood that this was the man he was looking for.

After welcoming the guest, the Maggid asked if he would not mind returning a little later, as he was in the midst of learning with the children. The guest obliged, and returned in the evening. This time he found no table, as the boards were converted into “beds” for the Maggid’s own children to sleep on…

After the guest conveyed the regards from the saintly Baal Shem Tov, R. Dovber pleaded with him to stay a little so he could give due honor to such a guest. In conversation, the guest expressed his pain over the dire living conditions of his illustrious host. “I am far from rich,” said the guest, “but if you come to my home you will find, thank G‑d, a chair, a bench, some beds for the children, and other furniture.”

“You describe a wonderful situation,” said R. Dovber. “May I then ask you: do you have all your furniture and home decor with you now?” The guest responded in surprise, “Rabbi, I am now traveling, and on the road one makes do with what there is. When I return from my journey, I will enjoy all that I have in my home.”

“Yes,” said R. Dovber, “while in transit one makes do with what there is. At home is where we must ensure we are comfortable; at home is where one needs everything”…

The guest now understood.3

G‑d: Don’t Mess With David

The last verse of the haftarah ends with the Jewish people returning home “rejoicing and delighted of heart for all the goodness that G‑d had performed for David His servant and for Israel His people.”

The Talmud picks up on an obvious question regarding the phrase in italics: what good had G‑d performed at this time “for David His servant”?

And it answers:

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: When Solomon wanted to bring the Ark into the Holy of Holies, the gates [to the sanctuary] stuck one to another [making it impossible to enter]. Solomon uttered twenty-four forms of song to G‑d, but was not answered. He opened in declaration and said, “O gates, lift your heads!” but he was not answered. He then said, “O L‑rd G‑d, do not turn back the face of Your anointed one; remember the kind deeds of David Your servant.”4 No sooner did he say this than the gates opened.

“At that moment, the faces of David’s enemies were blackened [from shame] like the bottom of a pot. The entire Jewish people knew then that G‑d had forgiven David for “that sin” [the event involving Bathsheba].”5