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King Solomon’s Wisdom


Question:

I heard there's a famous story about a baby that shows King Solomon’s wisdom. Can you tell me the story and how it shows his wisdom?



AskTheRabbi.org answered:

Two women came before the king holding onto a baby. They told him that each had given birth to a child in the same home but that one of the babies had died. Each of them claimed that the surviving child was hers and called upon the king to award the disputed baby to her.

The king summed up their claims by declaring "This one says the living child is mine and the dead one is yours, while the other one says it is your son who is dead and mine that is alive." He then made the dramatic move of ordering the baby to be cut in half so that each of the claimants could have their share.

One mother protested that she would rather relinquish her claim than see the child die while the other insisted that he be cut in half so that neither of them would have the disputed child.

The famous judgment rendered by the king to award the baby to the mother who opposed the splitting of the child because she was the true mother is commonly understood as being based on her altruistic reaction to Solomon’s proposal.

But how did Solomon anticipate such a reaction?

The rabbinical commentaries point out that in summing up the conflicting claims, Solomon stressed that the first mother first mentioned the live child while the other first mentioned the dead one. He was therefore convinced that the one who stressed life rather than death was the true mother, and only made the dramatic gesture of splitting the child to demonstrate the correctness of his deduction.

This is one of the most well known stories of Jewish history recorded in the sacred writings of Judaism’s Tanach (I Kings 3:16). It demonstrates King Solomon’s usage of the extraordinary wisdom granted to him by Heaven.


 
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