"King Solomon in Old Age" by Gustave Doré, 1866
"King Solomon in Old Age" by Gustave Doré, 1866

God offered Solomon one wish. What would you ask for?

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The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Re’eh

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17


If God were to say to you, “I am prepared to grant you one wish. Any one thing you want, you may have,” what would you ask for?

In the Bible, God did in fact confront a person with this question. The story appears in the Book of Kings, just after the death of King David. Solomon, his young son, had succeeded him to the throne, and one night, right at the beginning of his reign, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “As a final courtesy to your father David, and to help you be an effective monarch, I am prepared to grant you one wish. Any one thing you want, you may have.”

Solomon was overcome by the great responsibilities he had inherited and told God, “You have set me on my father’s throne, but I am only a young man and my experiences are few. I don’t know how to rule this great people.” Solomon pondered for a few moments, trying to decide what he should ask. His future and the future of the Jewish people hung in the balance.

Solomon’s first instinct was to ask for a long and healthy life, so he could take pleasure in his long rule. His second instinct was to ask for great riches so as to enjoy the splendor of his kingdom. Next, he thought to ask for the downfall of his enemies in order to enjoy a peaceful reign.

But what did Solomon actually request?

He turned to God and said, “If I can have any one thing, what I most want is wisdom and a sensitive heart, so that I may rule and judge your people wisely.” Concern over his relationships with others was Solomon’s primary interest. He wanted to rule justly and deal with others with the right perspective.

God, particularly pleased by Solomon’s request and knowing of the other wishes he had considered, responded: “You could have asked for a long life or great wealth or victory over your enemies. But you did not think of yourself; instead, you’ve asked for wisdom to judge others fairly. Your wish will be granted. And although you did not ask for great wealth, long life or honor, you shall have these, too.”

In service to his people, Solomon would find riches, honor and long life. What a remarkable passage. What a valuable message for us today. The true riches of life do not lie in amassing possessions for ourselves, but in the sensitive heart that learns to act nobly with others. Once we have that, other blessings will follow, as the Torah states in this week’s parashah.

In the mid-1800s, a Russian Jew by the name of Wissotzky established the Wissotzky Tea Company in Moscow and quickly became one of the country’s most prosperous tea distributors. He also was the exclusive tea supplier for the czar’s military, a lucrative appointment in a tea-mad country. Since the army boasted millions of soldiers, for whom tea drinking was a daily Russian ritual, Wissotzky became wealthy.

One day, Wissotzky was approached by Jews from Eretz Yisrael, then known as Palestine, who asked him to invest in building a tea company in the Holy Land. Wissotzky laughed at this preposterous idea. The Turks governed Palestine at the time, and they were notoriously difficult to deal with. Besides, he pointed out, Palestine could not produce its own tea, and tea leaves from India were far too costly to import. He was doing just fine in Russia. Why take a risk in what was a geopolitical backwater?

After mulling over the idea, however, he realized many Jews lived in the Holy Land with no livelihood. What better way to contribute to Jewish life in Israel than to build a factory and offer jobs to the needy people living there? It would be an economic engine. And so, Wissotzky built the factory without any hope that it would bring in a profit.

In 1917, the czar and his army were swept from power. The communists seized every private business, including the Wissotzky Tea Company. After the revolution, the only asset the Wissotzky family had left was the company established in Palestine before the revolution, and thus, there they fled to rebuild the business. Their charity effort had now become their lifeboat.

Over the following decades, Wissotzky’s grew rapidly, expanding within Israel and eventually across the world. Now run by fifth-generation family members, Wissotzky’s produces more than 200 different products. Today, Wissotzky Tea leads the tea sector in Israel, outselling all of its competitors.

When Wissotzky had first built his tea company in Israel, he wasn’t thinking of wealth or honor. His wish had been to help the Jewish community in Israel.

What did he get in return?

Riches and honor and a company that lives long.

Rabbi Dov Greenberg
Rabbi Dov Greenberg

Rabbi Dov Greenberg leads Stanford Chabad and lectures across the world.