by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And he should not acquire too many wives, that his heart not go astray,
and he should not acquire great sums of silver and gold." [17:17]
The Torah tells us that a king may be tempted to acquire a large number of
wives -- a harem, as it were. This can arise from base motivations, as we
see in our own time. But Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, married a large
number of wives for a commendable reason. He felt that by creating bonds of
marriage with surrounding kingdoms, he would insure peace and prosperity
for Israel. But in either case, the Torah tells us that having too many
wives will distract the king from his responsibilities to G-d, and this is
surely true if any of the wives is herself a bad influence. King Solomon's
wives from the surrounding kingdoms came from idolatrous homes.
Our Sages say that Shlomo HaMelech was caught by his own wisdom. He
believed that he would be able to avoid the problems described in this
verse. He felt that because he knew the underlying reason behind the
mitzvah, he could achieve the same goal without following the mitzvah
itself. Yet there is no substitute for observing G-d's word. As we see in
Kings I 11:5, the Prophet is very critical and implies that Solomon served
idols in his later years. In the Talmud, our Sages explain that since the
previous verse merely says that his service of G-d was not as complete as
his father David's, it cannot be true that he actually served idols.
Rather, he is blamed for failing to prevent his wives from doing so.
This is commonly explained as follows: by converting these women and then
marrying them, Solomon became responsible for their actions, and his level
of responsibility was only magnified by his own piety and closeness to G-d.
Thus when his wives returned to their idol-worship, he was blamed by the
prophet as if he himself had participated.
Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch leads us to a still deeper insight. The verse
in the Torah, he notes, does not say "that they will not lead his heart
astray," but rather "that his heart not go astray." They need not be
directly involved in distracting the king from his Divine Service. Rather,
the very presence of too many bad influences is itself a distraction.
Perhaps we can connect this explanation with the error of Shlomo HaMelech.
King Solomon believed that he could avoid their bad influence. He knew that
they would not be able to lead his own heart astray, and therefore thought
that he was safe. However, the verse itself explains that their presence
alone is a problem -- and this, we see, Shlomo HaMelech could not control.
He could not prevent them from serving idols, and thus from _existing_ as a
bad influence. Their conscious impact, he could avoid; the sin was in their
mere presence, distracting from the Service of G-d.
Today we live in environment where a host of influences work to drag us
away from higher thoughts and closeness to G-d. It is not enough to shelter
oneself from the conscious influences, to be wary of only their impact upon
oneself. Rather, their very presence is a problem, when we are responsible
for them. Let us try to keep those bad influences out of our homes, and
away from our children. If neighborhoods around schools can be posted as
"drug-free zones" (as if this meant drugs were acceptable in other areas),
then no matter what influences we find in the streets, let us at least keep
them away from our homes and our own areas of responsibility!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken