The Golden Age of Israel


   
    February Purim 1999          
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Jewish History

By Raphael Harris

The golden age of Israel lasted from the year 2924 to the year 2964 (from creation). These 40 years were the reign of King Solomon the Wise and included the year 2928 (833 BCE) the year the first Temple was built in Jerusalem.

These 40 years witnessed the realizations of all our goals, the completion of all our projects, the fruition of all our efforts. These years were built on the foundation built by Moses and David. Moses succeeded in bringing the infant Jewish nation freedom from slavery and giving them the Torah, the Divinely ordained legal and moral system to govern ourselves for all time. He also prepared us to take possession of our land.

David succeeded in solidifying our national entity, conquering our enemies, and preparing the capital city Jerusalem to receive the Temple, and of raising a son worthy to build it when he couldn't do it himself for prophetically revealed but technical reasons.

But it was Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, who saw the opportunity and didn't hesitate, who placed the crown upon the heads of Israel as David had placed the crown on his. When David's son Adoniahu attempted to usurp the dynasty from Solomon, David publicly crowned Solomon and abdicated the throne. In order to prevent a possible civil war, David sacrificed his own honor, by relinquishing his kingship to his chosen successor Solomon. As a result, Solomon entered his kingdom as the undisputed ruler, in his undisputed land, all enemies having been conquered by David, and with the undisputed book of conduct accepted and embraced by the entire nation.

Thus Solomon was able to fulfil the long awaited goal of the nation of Israel, the construction of the Temple; nor did he hesitate for political or economic reasons.

And while there was always a concept of "End of Days" and "Judgement Day" and "Revival of the Dead" ( " I bring about death, and I revive..."-Deuteronomy 32:39 ), the idea of "awaiting the messiah", of longing for messiah, was not a consideration. Messiah had come! Messiah (literally "anointed") had come three times in fact, in the persons of Saul, David, and Solomon, the kings of Israel, anointed by G-d's prophets.

The Temple was built, ( "and Solomon built the Temple and completed it..." -Kings I, 6:14). He completed it by including five elements which the second Temple later lacked: the Holy Fire, the Holy Ark , the Divine Presence, the Holy Spirit , and the Illuminated Breastplate .

Just as in later times Rome exported its cruel culture to all parts of the world, and Roman soldiers, roads, amphitheaters and glatorial games could be found everywhere; and as America would export its lurid culture to all parts of the world, as polluted films and beggary fast food parlors would appear at all points, so Israel exported its culture to every country. Thus did its most precious merchandise - monotheism spread throughout the world. When Israel was the undisputed world power, when all eyes looked to Solomon, the value of the gods of the nations crashed.

"And she (the Queen of Sheba) said to the king, ' thy wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame which I heard. May the Eternal thy G-d, be blessed, Who delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel, because the Eternal loved Israel forever, therefore He made thee king, to do justice and righteousness.' " (I Kings, 10:6-10).

It had taken 480 years since the exodus to acquire this status, years of painstaking progress, slow, difficult, always two steps forward, one step back, our chronicles filled with multitudinous failures and victories. But at last we achieved our goal. And as a result of our newly acquired position we were able to flourish in all areas of life; economic, artistic, intellectual, medical ( the cure for all illnesses was known to Solomon), and spiritual.

Just as the greatest athlete in any generation is only slightly greater than his competitors, so was the wisest man who ever lived, only slightly wiser than his contemporaries.

"A hypocrite destroys his neighbor with his mouth, but the just shall be delivered through knowledge," (Proverbs 11:9). "As a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is a man who tricks his neighbor and says, 'but I was only joking.' "(Ibid 26:19). Even the fools were clever!

Economically, our nation flourished. With war behind us we were able to build, create, and produce. Farms produced an abundance of olive oil, wine, grain, and spices above and way beyond the necessities of all, in fulfillment of the prophetic words, "... if you shall love the Eter-nal with all your heart and soul... you will gather your grain, wine, and oil... you shall eat and be satisfied..."(Deuteronomy 11:13-15).

Shepherds produced wool, leather, and an abundance of cattle for sacrifices in the Temple and plenty for human consumption. The land freely burst forth with all manor of richness and Israel could freely trade with her admiring neighbors as well.

The masses had time. time to improve themselves through study, prayer, and meditation. There were musicians, artisans, inventors and scientists. Nobles and aristocrats came from all over the world to view the nation of kings, where unlike other nations in which one in one hundred had acquired wealth at the expense of the rest, rather, each household flourished. Where the clothing of the common child was of fine embroidered linen.

And while, as always, there were those who were envious, this time they didn't dare attack, David had taught them fear. But now fear gave way to admiration. They learned that there was a better way and they began to imitate. Israel was at the crossroads geographically between Asia, Africa, and Europe. They came to trade, to tour, to learn, and they brought home the lessons. There was an explosion of creativity in the world that would last until the end of the classical era. Even the world of art and architecture would change as the tendency toward the thick columns and heavy pylons such as those of the Egyptians, gave way to delicate entablatures, such as those of the Greeks.

They gazed at our Temple and learned that a building can be sublime. They gazed at our King and learned that a ruler can be benevolent. They gazed at our nation and learned that a people can be loving. They gazed at our laws and learned that there may actually be only one G-d.

Thus Israel was the source of all the great accomplishments that were to soon follow in Europe, Asia and even faraway continents and islands. For who had not heard of Solomon's fame?

The King's ideas, poetry, and prose were recorded in "Ecclesiastes", "Proverbs", and of course "Song of Songs" which the talmudic sage Rebbi Akiva refereed to as the "holiest of the holy."

Jeremiah wrote of him in the book of "Kings"; Ezra wrote of him in the book of "Chronicles" ( Bava Batra 15a).

But while Solomon could continue where King David had left off, who could continue after Solomon? The task proved impossible and his son King Rechavim lost control of the mountain of responsibilities that he inherited. In one of his early policy making sessions he was advised to lower taxes by the elders. "First prove yourself, then they will gladly pay the high taxes as they paid your father", they said.

His contemporaries however, argued, "Look, you could raise, lower, or keep the taxes the same. You might as well raise them. If they paid ten until now they can surely pay eleven."

He listened to the less experienced with disastrous results. The issue snowballed, the conflict grew out of all proportion and instead of admitting his mistake the king stood stubborn and the country split in two, with Judea remaining loyal to the house of David in the south, with the tribes of Yehuda and Benjamin as its majority, and the other ten tribes organizing their own confederation in the north.

At times the two autonomies were harmonious, but often there was conflict, once even resulting in war to the delight of our enemies who perceived us as weak and resumed their plot. But clearly the golden age was over. The ten tribes were eventually exiled by the Assyrian King Sanherev and have been lost to us ever since, and the Temple was finally destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchanezer.

Some of our former glory returned when the exiles returned and rebuilt the Temple and were reunited by Ezra the Scribe and later Simon the Just who also served as high priest. Judea returned to its status as a world power under the leadership of the Maccabees and their descendants.

But the glory that once was, the miracles that were daily events, the prophesies that were in the domain of the common man, the influence that pervaded the world, these were a fond memory. They remain a fond memory and an inspiration to this day as we utter the words of the prophet Jeremiah each year on the ninth of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, "Bring us back to You, Eternal G-d and we shall return, renew our days as the days that have passed," (Lamentations- 5:21).

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from theFebruary Purim 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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