Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Shlomo & Shimshon, Pshat & Chassidus
A Simple Jew asks:
Can you explain how Sifrei Chassidus interpret Shlomo Hamelech marrying the daughter of Pharoh (I Melachim 3:1) and Shimshon marrying a Phillistine woman (Shoftim 14)? Is there an explanation that will help me see past the pshat?
Chabakuk Elisha answers:
Yes, it's quite interesting indeed. According to some, Shlomo Hamelech (the greatest of kings and wisest of men) wrote Shir HaShirim for Pharaoh's daughter - the furthest possible thing from the "nice Jewish girl" that every Jewish parent wants their son to marry. Shimshon too, is only interested in Philistine women, and when reading the account of Shimshon's life in sefer Shoftim we cannot help but be struck by how odd a story it seems to be.
Shimshon HaShofet and Shlomo HaMelech are both great tzaddikim - leaders of their generation, and for all time. They are recognized in Torah as great men and all Jews look up to them; they certainly aren't simple people with simple desires by any stretch of the imagination. These are two of our greatest and holiest tzaddikim, so we can't help but wonder about their interest and marriage to these non-Jewish women.
There is a book, "Samson's Struggle," that I have been, unsuccessfully, trying to get a hold of for sometime. I understand that the book deals with the issue at length and I would like to read it, but since I haven't managed to get my hands on a copy yet, I'll just have to share my own theory:
I think that Shimshon and Shlomo HaMelech are similar cases. As to Shlomo, the Baal HaTanya discusses his relationship with Pharaoh's daughter from a mystical perspective:
Shlomo HaMelech is the greatest king in Jewish history, and he brings the Jewish nation to its zenith. The name Shlomo signifies completeness - and it was under Shlomo reign that the borders of Israel expanded to their fullest state, reaching the Euphrates River (as G-d promises in the book of Devorim). It was under King Shlomo that the Jewish nation was a superpower.
During exile, Jews are scattered throughout the world in order to uplift lost sparks of holiness amid impurity. We must seek them out and rectify them, and have been doing so for quite a long time - but then, in the time of Shlomo, that wasn't necessary, because the sparks could be uplifted from afar. Sitting in his palace, Shlomo could accomplish this task - because of his great power and because the sparks would come to him, so to speak, instead of him having to come to them. Pharaoh represents the kingdom of impurity, his daughter, the princess of impurity; and yet, she travels to Shlomo. She desires that Shlomo uplift her, and thereby uplift and rectify Mitzrayim - the lowest levels of impurity.
She begs the king to marry her. The husband/wife relationship is one of mahpia/mekabel (imparter / receiver) - in our case signifying the submission of impurity to the holy. This is the ultimate in uplifting sparks: The sparks come to him to be uplifted, and he does. This is the greatest of achievements and the greatest joy - worthy of Shir HaShirim - he uplifted (because he was able to) the deepest darkest empire and all it contained.
Similarly, I think, we can apply this to Shimshon. Shimshon lives at a time when Israel needs a savior from the Pelishtim (Phillistines). Shimshon has the ability (through his high level) to rectify and overwhelm the forces of impurity that the Pelishtim have, by marrying the Philistine woman. To succeed he must have relations with her. The first wife doesn't work out and the second wife won't allow this until he tells her the secret of his strength. Every time he makes up an answer it is exposed as false - until he realizes that he must tell her in order to bring the Pelishtim down. He tells her, and succeeds, while sacrificing his life.
When I first learned Shoftim in 8th grade, the story of Shimshon made absolutely no sense to me, and it is still probably one of the harder stories to understand, but when I looked at it from this perspective I found it to be another matter entirely!
A Simple Jew replies:
Chabakuk Elisha: Thank you for allowing me to see this from an entirely different perspective, however I recently came across a teaching that implies that despite the intent of these tzaddikim, the intent of their wives was far from kedusha.
In Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Issurei Bi'ah 13:16 the Rambam wrote:
"Shlomo converted women and married them and similarly, Shimshon converted women and married them. It is well known that their converted only because of an ulterior motive and their conversion was not under the guidance of a beis din. Hence the Tanach considered them as if they were gentiles and they remained forbidden. Moreover, their conduct ultimately revealed their initial intent, for they would worship false deities and build alters for them. Therefore the Scriptures considered it as if [Shlomo] built them, as [I Melachim 11:7] it states, "And then Shlomo built an altar."
With this teaching, is the Rambam cautioning others from attempting to uplift the sparks of kedusha as Shlomo and Shimshon did?
Chabakuk Elisha answers:
Yes - My goal was to look a little behind the surface, but we must keep this caveat in mind: "These accounts in Torah were performed by highly trained professionals - do not try this at home"
As we spoke about earlier, our lowest level of reality is not necessarily conscious of the root of our desires. Just as we think that our desire for food is physical, when in truth it comes from a spiritual source where the driving force is actually to raise up the food - so too, the Egyptian princess may think her desire for Shlomo is physical, when in actuality it is klippa seeking its perfection. Nevertheless, sometimes the greatest intentions don't succeed - and it does seem that Shlomo was not completely successful with his wives.
So, yes, the Rambam is cautioning us - if Shlomo didn't fully succeed, we should avoid well intentioned undertakings fraught with danger...