This week's Haftara opens with several details concerning the cooperation between Shlomo Ha'Melech and Chiram, the king of Tyre (Lebanon). [See 5:26-32.] Why is this 'treaty' (see 5:26) with Chiram so worthy of prophetic mention?
In Part II we provide both a technical and a thematic explanation.
For a very technical reason alone, it is crucial for Shlomo to have good connections with the kingdom of Tyre - he needs lumber! Let's explain why.
Shlomo wants to build a house of respectable size for God (and for himself as well). But as any engineer can tell you, the maximum expanse of a roof is determined by the length of the largest available beam. Today, we use reinforced concrete to make beams of almost length we desire, but back in Biblical times, it was the longest available wooden beam that determined the maximum width of a building.
The best source for wooden beams readily available to Shlomo in Eretz Canaan was the trunk of the sycamore tree ["ha'shikmah" - see Amos 7:14], However, in Lebanon, there were (and still are) an abundance of cedar trees ("ha'erez"), which grow much taller.
Therefore, to build the Temple and his own palace to the size that he desires, Shlomo needs to import long wooden beams from Lebanon to support the large roofs of these buildings.
For example, the Temple's design called for a "heichal" twenty cubits wide (x60 long x30 high - see 6:2); therefore it was necessary to import, from Lebanon, cedar trees that were at least twenty cubits in length. In fact, Shlomo's own palace, which the Tanach refers to as "beit yaar ha'lvanon" - a house of the forest of Lebanon (see 7:2) - boasted a roof fifty cubits wide and one hundred cubits in length! To build this palace, it was necessary to chop down an entire forest in Lebanon - and hence its name!
As Shlomo's construction plans for Jerusalem called for numerous other edifices, he imported numerous trees from Lebanon. In fact, later in Sefer Melachim we are told that:
"In the time of Shlomo Ha'Melech, silver in Jerusalem [was common] like stone, and cedar wood like the sycamore trees in the 'shfeyla' (the lowlands of Israel's coastal plain)." [See Melachim I 10:27.]The imported cedars of Lebanon had replaced the more common sycamore trees of Israel. Throughout Tanach, the "erez" - the cedar tree of Lebanon - is often used as a symbol of strength and pride. [See also Tehilim 29:5; note we recite this psalm in Kabbalat Shabbat.]
[Note how Yeshayahu (several hundred years later) uses this comparison between 'cedars' and 'sycamores' to describe the haughtiness of the people of Yehuda who do not understand why God had punished them:
"...with pride and a haughty heart the people said:Therefore, the mention of Shlomo's treaty with Chiram, king of Lebanon, in the first pasuk of this week's Haftara is more than incidental. It is this treaty that makes Shlomo's massive building projects possible.
'L'vaynim nafalu, vgazit nivheh - Bricks have fallen, but we will build hewn stones instead,
'Shikmim gu'dau, v'arazim nichalif - Sycamore beams have been broken, but we shall replace them with cedar instead!'" (Yeshayahu 9:7-9; see the entire perek!) ]
[Note as well that a large building in Tanach is often referred to as a "beit arazim" - a house of Cedar Trees; see Shmuel II 7:1-2.]
Later on, we see that Shlomo widens this treaty, and includes Chiram in other business ventures as well. He joins with Chiram to build ships in Eilat and develops a shipping route to bring gold from Ofira in the Red Sea, which will later be transported via Israel to Lebanon. See Melachim I 9:26-28. [See also 9:10-17.]
In addition to its technical importance, this treaty carried religious significance as well. Recall that Shlomo's father David Ha'Melech had already made a similar treaty with Chiram:
"And Chiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar wood, and artisans, to build a palace for David. Then David knew that God had desired him to be king over Israel, for his kingdom had become famous for the sake of His people - Israel." (See Shmuel II 5:11-12)[Note, that soon afterwards, David himself desired to build a House for God; see Shmuel II 7:1-3 and note use of "arazim" there as well.]
Note that it is specifically this event, i.e. when a neighboring nation recognized the greatness of his kingdom, that led David to recognize the Hand of God in his rise to power. Why is this treaty so significant to David?
Recall that from the time of Yetziat Mitzrayim, Am Yisrael has been an isolated nation. Until the time of David, the Tanach does not record even one instance where Am Yisrael enjoys a positive relationship with another nation. [Yitro does come for a visit, but not as the king of Midyan, but rather as "choteyn Moshe" - Moshe's father-in-law. Even when the Givonim come to make peace with Yehoshua, it is only in trickery.]
From the time of Yehoshua until that of David Ha'Melech, Israel's neighbors - Aram, Edom, Moav, Amon, Mitzraim, and Plishtim - are enemies (see Sefer Shoftim). The time period of David is the first instance in Jewish history when other nations begin to look up to Am Yisrael. The reason is simple - it is also the first time that Israel becomes a nation that has something to look up to!
Under Shlomo Ha'Melech, Am Yisrael finally establishes itself as a 'super power' in the Middle East. Not only does Israel controls the main trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia [the Via Maris]; their treaty with Chiram opens trade via the shipping routes of the Mediterranean as well. Not only do we find positive relations with Chiram; the other nations of the area are at peace with Shlomo as well (see 5:4-5). Even the Queen of Sheba comes to meet him (see chapter 10).
Therefore, it is very significant that Shlomo builds the Mikdash specifically at this high point in our national history. When Am Yisrael becomes a nation that other nations look up to, the time is ripe to build the permanent Mikdash in Jerusalem for its doors are open to foreign nations as well. As Shlomo explains in his famous prayer (when the Mikdash is dedicated):
"And even for the non-Jew ... who comes from a distant land for the sake of Your Name. For they shall hear of Your great Name ... and they shall come to pray in this House. Listen from Your seat in Heaven to his prayer, in order that all the nations will come to know Your Name, and to fear You, just as Your nation of Israel fears you, and to know Your Name that is associated with this House that I have built." (See Melachim I 8:41-43)Hence, Shlomo's treaty with Chiram is much more than just a convenient business deal; it reflects a critical stage in the fulfillment of Am Yisrael's ultimate goal to become a 'model' nation that will spread God's Name to all mankind. The Mikdash serves as a vehicle through which Bnei Yisrael can achieve that goal.
In closing, it is not by chance that the Haftara concludes with God's most important reminder to Shlomo (and to Am Yisrael) concerning the potential success of this endeavor:
"This House that you are building, if you follow My laws ... then I will keep My promise [concerning the kingdom of the House of David]. Then My Presence shall dwell among the people of Israel, and I will not leave My nation." (6:11-13)Should Bnei Yisrael leave God, then they no longer fulfill their function as God's special Nation, and hence God will take away their prosperity and ultimately the Mikdash itself could be destroyed (see 9:6-9).
Unfortunately, the messianic time-period of Shlomo was short-lived. [See the story of Yerovam's revolt in chapter 11.] The reason, as usual, was their leaving God and "sinat achim" (the hatred between fellow jews that led to the division between Yehuda and the Ten Tribes).
Let's hope that we learn from our mistakes,