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King Solomon

The First Meeting.
How King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba first met.

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, ruled not only over men and women, but also over the beasts, birds, demons, spirits and all the specters of the night. Naturally, he could speak all their languages.

One night he invited all the birds to sing to his noble guests. All came except the hoopoe. Angry, the king ordered a search, and when the hoopoe was found and rebuked, the bird explained that he was not guilty of disrespect. On the contrary, for the last three months he had hardly tasted any food or water, flying all over the world to discover if any place existed which was not yet subject to Solomon. Finally he found the land of Sheba, ruled by a beautiful and wise woman called Queen Balkys, where they have not heard the name of Solomon. The lush land in the middle of the desert boasted gold, silver, and great gems, and one of the most valuable treasures of the royal line was the throne, intricately carved of precious woods and inlaid with ivory and gold. The inhabitants of Sheba did not know the meaning of war, said the hoopoe. Solomon could easily conquer the land and take all its fabulous riches.

But that was not the king’s wish. Instead, he wrote a letter and tied it to the wing of the hoopoe. The letter invited the queen to come and pay tribute to King Solomon, like the rest of the kings and queens of the world. If she would consent to do so, he would treat her with honor and bestow gifts upon her country. If she would refuse, her land would be attacked and destroyed in the name of the one true God who gave Solomon his supremacy.

All the queen’s counselors were against it, as they have never heard of Solomon or his power. But she decided to take the trip and avert the wrath of God. Immediately she sent King Solomon a delegation of six thousand youths and maidens, all born the same year, month, day and hour. They were all of the same stature and all wore purple garments. And to the hoopoe she gave a letter promising the king that even though the trip from Sheba to Jerusalem usually took seven years, she would hasten to arrive in three years.

When she finally arrived, the queen was received with great honor and led to King Solomon’s throne room. To her amazement, she saw that her own throne stood next to the King’s! Smiling, the King told her that he thought she would be more comfortable sitting on her own throne while visiting, so he sent a few of his demon slaves to bring it over the night before her arrival. Queen Balkys was impressed with the magic, but she knew that wisdom mattered much more, and wanted to find out if the king’s wisdom matched his reputation. Therefore, she requested the right to pose three riddles to the king as a test. The king agreed, explaining to the queen that God’s wisdom, not his own, gave him his power.

The first riddle was: "what is the ugliest thing in the world, and what the most beautiful? What the most certain, and what the most uncertain?"

The king answered: "The ugliest thing in the world is the faithful turning unfaithful; the most beautiful, the repentant sinner. The most certain thing in the world is death; the most uncertain, one’s share in the World to Come."

The second riddles was: "What is it that in a storm at sea goes ahead of all; is the cause of praise for the wealthy; of shame to the poor; honors the dead and saddens living; is a joy to birds and a grief to fish?"
The king answered: "Flax. When woven into cloth it makes a sail for the ship, fine clothes for the rich, rags for the poor, shrouds for the dead. The birds delight in its seed; but the fish are caught in the nets made of it." The third riddle was: "What land is that which has but once seen the sun?"

The king answered: "The land upon which, after the creation, the waters were gathered."

Convinced of the King’s wisdom, Queen Balkys offered to pay a yearly tribute and swear her loyalty. The king graciously refused all tribute, and requested to have her loyalty and friendship only. He promised to visit often when the queen returned to her home, because he had a great eagle that could magically take him to Sheba in one night. In addition, he offered her gifts which were even more valuable than those she brought him. The friendship between the two royal houses was assured, and both nations were happy.

Sefer Haagada. Editors: H.N Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzki. Dvir, Tel Aviv, 1933.