THREE WISE MEN
Rabbi Allen S Maller
Once three wise men came to the Land of Israel. They had heard about the wisdom of King Solomon and they wanted to test him and see if he was as wise as Jews said he was. When they came to the court of King Solomon the youngest of them asked the king how many stars are there in the night sky.
Everyone in the court was puzzled because no one can count all the stars in the sky. King Solomon smiled and said, “There are as many stars in the sky as there are grains of sand on the seashore.” The young wise man said, “But there are too many grains of sand on the seashore for any human to count.”
Solomon replied, “Exactly, no human can count every grain of sand on the seashore and no human can count every star in the night sky. There are some things that only God knows.” The three wise men agreed and said, “That is a very wise answer.”
Solomon then turned to the second wise man and said, “Do you also have a question Madam? “How did you know that I was a woman” said the Queen of Sheba, “I carefully disguised myself as a man all the time while I traveled from my country. No one else ever suspected that I was a woman.”
Solomon smiled and answered, “When you entered my palace, you walked over a glass floor in the hallway. Because the glass floor reflected light, you thought it was covered with water, and you lifted up your robe, in the same way as a woman would do with her dress.”
The Queen replied,”That is very clever of you to notice. Before I left my own country I sent you a very expensive gold image of the sun, did you get it?’
“Indeed I did” said Solomon, “But you need not provide me with a gold sun. God has given me the wisdom to worship the One God and that is better than the gold mines God has given you.”
“Yes, I have heard of your wisdom. That is why I have brought you a gift as well as a question.” the Queen replied as she opened a large box that contained two dozen beautiful white lilies. She told Solomon that 23 of the lilies were made by a very skilled flower-maker. One was a natural lily. They had all been sprayed with perfume so they smelled the same. The Queen wanted Solomon to point to the one natural lilly without getting up from his throne, which was 15 feet away.
Solomon thought for a moment and then asked one of the Queen’s servants to move the box over to the window sill where the light was brighter. Now Solomon, who knew the language of birds, smiled and said something softly. A hummingbird. not much larger than a fat bee, came to one lily and began to feed. “That is the real lily,” said Solomon, “even a very skilled artist can’t fool God’s creatures.” The Queen said, “That is true, I submit to God’s wisdom and to yours.”
Then Solomon turned to the oldest of the three wise man and asked him, “Do you have a question?” He replied, “Yes and no. I did have a question prepared that I thought you would not know how to answer, because like my fellow wise men, I was trying to test you, and prove you are not as wise as I am.”
“Now that I have realized that I was not so wise because I was not really seeking wisdom, I am ready to learn from you. So my question is an easy question. How did you get your wisdom?
Solomon replied, “I became wise because from the time I was a child, and for many years after I grew up, I studied the Torah every day with the sages of Israel.”
“I am over 60 years old.” said the old wise man. “Even if I study Torah night and day I will never learn as much as you or your teachers.”
“You do not have to learn as much as me to be wise. You just have to start learning, and continue studying each day of your life. I can teach you how to start studying Torah while you stand on one foot.”
The old wise man knew he couldn’t stand very long on one foot. He was afraid he would fall down, and everyone would laugh at him. But he now knew he had to make the effort and not be afraid of failure. He raised one foot and Solomon said to him:
“Whatever you do not want someone to do to you; do not do to anyone else. That is the basic teaching of the Torah. All the other rules are the details of how to live your life the right way. Now start studying.”
The three wise men agreed that that was the wisest thing they had ever heard.
After 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City Calif. Allen Maller retired in 2006. He is the editor of a series of High Holy Days prayer books; the author of a book on Jewish mysticism, “God, Sex and Kabbalah“; and the husband since 1966 of Judy Coopersmith. Visit his website at http://www.rabbimaller.com” target=”rabbi for more information.