“And when Solomon finished praying, and the fire descended from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the House (Chronicles II 7:1).” God’s presence manifests itself through fire, and, not to sound like a pyromaniac or anything, that totally makes sense to me. Even the smallest flame on a Shabbat candle is mesmerizing and enchanting, yet dangerous if not cared for properly. We need fire to survive, and yet we can’t survive fire. It’s actually a perfect metaphor for God. When we kindle a flame, it takes on a life of its own and can continue to grow and thrive without us, something that I strive for as an educator when I’m trying to ‘spark’ the interest and passion of my learners. But ultimately it needs a starter, that initial inspiration to fan the flames and create the life of that fire to begin with. This metaphor is mixing God and education in my mind, and that’s a happy intersection because I see them as intertwined in the best possible way.
I actually loved this chapter, which is something that I haven’t said in a while…possibly since the start of the Chronicles portion of Tanakh. Solomon is narrating, and is talking to God about how, after all the effort of building the Temple, it’s not like He will actually be there all the time. The Temple, referred to as a House of God, was much less about actually providing God with a dwelling place and more about providing the people with a central location to focus their intentions and to feel close to Him.
“But will God indeed dwell with man on earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this House that I have built (Chronicles II 6:18).” This level of awareness is wonderful, particularly because it brings home the true mission of a holy site. It’s of course in God’s honor, but is ultimately about human beings, and is symbolic of the unfathomable wonder of divinity. It’s easy for us to become attached to these symbols, because we like tangible representatives, but we also need to remember the breadth and depth of what they actually represent, and the small roles that we play in bringing them forward.
“There was nothing in the Ark but the two tablets that Moses gave in Horeb, when the Lord made [a covenant] with the Children of Israel when they left Egypt (Chronicles II 5:10).” I’m seeing this verse as making a direct comparison to the Temple in Jerusalem and the places of worship of the neighboring nations of the ancient Near East. A hallmark of the Jewish people, as well as of the ancient Israelites, seems to have been simplicity and an emphasis on content and meaning, rather than show and gold. It’s a text and a historic relic that was central enough to be placed in the Holy of Holies, which shows the priorities and values of the people. What are the things (physical or otherwise) that we place at the center of our own hearts and lives?
“And he made the priests’ court and the large court, and doors for the forecourt, and he overlaid their doors with copper (Chronicles II 4:9).” Solomon is still building the Temple, and this description of the various components of the colossal structure makes me think about how incredible, yet unimaginable it must have been. I guess I’m not the best visualizer, but I’m so familiar with the Jerusalem landscape as it is, so I can’t exactly picture what this would have looked like, despite the specifications of minute details that are seen all over Tanakh. There are so many controversies between people who do or don’t want to see this structure rebuilt, for varying intense political and spiritual reasons. I’m not going to go into any of them at this stage, but rather just am reflecting on this whole world that seems like a fantasy but that really existed, and what that would have been like.
Solomon is building the Temple. “And he made the House of the Holy of Holies, its length on the face of the breadth of the House, twenty cubits, and its breadth twenty cubits; and he overlaid it with fine gold of six hundred talents (Chronicles II 3:8).” I think the detail included throughout Tanakh in descriptions of the construction of the Ark, and later of the Temple, demonstrates that when one is engaged in sacred work, nothing is too insignificant to be overlooked. I want to internalize that lesson in my own practice, particularly as an educator. It’s easy to see the importance and holiness of big picture ideas, and the meaningful activities that implement them. But the bits and pieces that go into making all of that happen – spreadsheets and name tags and all of the details no one else notices until they’re not there – are much harder to make sacred a lot of the time. But the details are what frame the big picture, and deserve just as much care and attention as those centerpiece moments.
Solomon is building the Temple, and he reaches out to a neighboring king for assistance. Huram, the king of Tyre is asked to send both resources and skilled craftsmen to aid in the building. Solomon has grand visions of his mission in this regard. “Behold I am building a house in the name of the Lord my God, to devote to him, to burn before Him incense and the arrangement of the continual showbread and burnt offerings, for the morning and for the evening, for Sabbaths and for New Moons, and for the appointed seasons of the Lord our God, making this permanent over Israel (Chronicles II 2:3).” I think the world would be a truly beautiful place if everyone saw their missions in life with this clarity and wonder. Solomon is fully on board with his own vision, and is committed enough to do literally everything possible to make it happen. In his case, it’s literally sacred work, but I think that can apply to many of us. I believe that the work I do as an educator is holy, as are the personal and professional missions of many people in my life. We each need to find the wonder and beauty in our missions, and to devote ourselves to them in a way that provides entry points for divinity and sacredness.
The second book of Chronicles starts right where the first one left off, with the ascension of King Solomon to the throne. Solomon, of course, will leave the legacy of building the Temple in Jerusalem. He’s loved by God and is very close to Him, so God ultimately offers to grant him a wish – in a nutshell. Solomon makes an unusual request. “Now, give me wisdom and knowledge, and I shall go forth before this people and come in, for who will be able to judge this great people of Yours (Chronicles II 1:10)?” God is impressed with Solomon for requesting wisdom rather than glory or wealth, and ultimately opts to gift him with all of the above. I guess this goes to show that not being greedy ultimately pays off, and that wisdom can both trump and lead to material and physical wealth.
The final chapter of the first Book of Chronicles ends with David’s death. “And he died in a good old age, full of days, wealth, and honor, and his son Solomon reigned in his stead (Chronicles I 29:28).” It’s one of the most simple, yet beautiful eulogies that I can recall reading in Tanakh. It’s the way that I think everyone hopes to ultimately end their days – content in ones own experiences, and in the ability of the next generation to ensure a legacy. It’s the end of a chapter, and a pivot point for both the literal book, and for the story of Israel in general. In terms of the literal, this marks the end of the first book of Chronicles. We only have one more book to go in this project, and just over seven weeks left of reading. It’s a bittersweet march for me towards the end of this journey, and I so appreciate all of you going on it with me. Tomorrow picks up where today leaves off, so I look forward to the poetic nature of looking at the next chapter just as the story does as well.
David is passing the torch of leadership to his son, Solomon. “And David said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and of good courage and do; do not fear and be not dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will neither forsake you nor abandon you, until the completion of all the work of the service of the House of the Lord (Chronicles I 28:20).'” The words of wisdom that he shares with his son and successor are echoed elsewhere in Tanakh, notably in other iconic leadership transitions. I remember Moses saying them to Joshua and the people, and I like this cycle and repetition. I’m always a sucker for tradition, and I love occasions when iconic words are used in every generation, always infused with new meaning and timelessness all at once.
We’re talking about military preparedness today, and the size of the fighting forces of the various tribes, as well as getting an accounting of their leadership. However, despite this, not everyone is counted. “Now David did not take their count from twenty years old and below because the Lord had promised to multiply Israel like the stars of the heavens (Chronicles I 27:23).” While on the surface it seems like the reason for not counting the children was so as to demonstrate confidence in God’s promise about multiplying the people, I can’t help but look at this through the lens of an educator. In the Jewish community in particular, we have an obsession with obsessing over the youth, the next generation. We freak out constantly, despairing over lack of engagement, or disparities from the past, or any number of both real and imagined problems. But maybe the reason we can’t count our youth yet is because they’re still being formed themselves. It’s up to us to be proactive in creating a positive relationship between them and the Jewish community so that when they’re older and autonomous, they will want to be counted, and will opt in themselves. Only time will ultimately tell how fruitful our efforts are, but I’m confident that Judaism and the Jewish community have enough to offer that we will have plenty to count in the next generation.