The Queen of Sheba (Probably)By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon’s wisdom, so she came to Jerusalem to ask him riddles and see if he was as smart as his reputation. At least, most people say it was the Queen of Sheba; the Talmud (Baba Basra 15b) seems to translate malkas-sh’va as a delegation from the Kingdom of Sheba. In any case, Sheba is possibly Ethiopia. (Ethiopian Jews have a tradition that supports this, although we consider Ethiopian Jews to be descended from the Tribe of Dan. And don’t confuse the Queen of Sheba with Bath-Sheba, who was David’s wife and Solomon’s mother. But I digress.)
Back to the Queen of Sheba: she brought an entourage and many gifts, including gold, gems and spices. She asked Solomon her riddles, which he answered with his incredible wisdom and insight. She was impressed by his palace and his servants, his food and drink, and by the stairway connecting his palace to the Temple. Not only were these things extravagant, they were all extremely intelligently-designed. She acknowledged that everything she had heard about Solomon was true; she never would have believed it all, had she not seen it for herself. She then gave Solomon 120 talents of gold (9 tons!), more gems and the largest spice collection ever.
Aside from gold, Hiram’s fleet had brought Solomon a precious wood called almog (Rashi and Radak translate it as coral), which Solomon used to make the passageway between his palace and the Temple; the smaller pieces he had made into musical instruments for use by the Levites in the Temple.
Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba as a gift whatever she desired and she returned home.
We are then told that Solomon’s received a total of 666 talents of gold that year (50 tons!), aside from regular taxes and income. He had so much gold, he had 200 shields made of gold and placed in the palace.
Solomon’s throne was made of ivory, covered with gold. There were six steps leading up to it with statues of lions at the arms and on either side of each step. All of Solomon’s utensils were made of gold; gold was so plentiful in Solomon’s day that silver was practically worthless. Every three years, Solomon’s fleet would arrive with fresh shipments of gold, silver, ivory, and exotic animals such as peacocks and apes, which were not indigenous to Israel. Solomon’s wisdom was so renowned that people came from all over the world to hear his wisdom. Each one brought him precious gifts.
But… Solomon kept enormous stables and horses came from Egypt. A guild was established that set a price for horses and nobody could buy without going through this guild. The result was that Jews moved to Egypt to engage in the horse trade. The Torah warns a king not to have too many horses because it will make people go back to Egypt (Deut. 17:16). Solomon was wise, but he wasn’t perfect. He thought, “The Torah says why I’m not to have too many horses; I can do it and just make sure nobody goes back to Egypt.” But, as you can see, he failed at this goal. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b) says that the Torah told us the reasons for two mitzvos and the wisest person ever managed to mess up with them. How much more so we, who are not as wise as Solomon, should be careful with the other mitzvos, at whose reasons we can only guess! (What was the other of the two mitzvos into whose trap Solomon fell? Just wait until the next chapter.)