Yet I always wondered why the trick with the sword demonstrated so much wisdom.
After all, cutting the baby in half would leave each woman with a dead baby—and a baby in an alarmingly gory state.
It never made sense to me that ONLY a biological mother would care about NOT slicing through a newborn.
Any normal person would care enough to intervene & relinquish custody to save the baby's life.
It always seemed to me that Shlomo Hamelech's strategy revealed which woman was a psychopath (“Neither for me nor for you shall he be—cut!”), rather than which woman was the baby's real mother.
Because this major question niggled at me, I decided to look up as much as I could about this episode.
And I discovered a whole lot more than I expected.
How Shlomo Hamelech Earned His Wisdom
Earlier that night in a dream-state, Hashem offers Shlomo Hamelech anything he wants.
Rather than choosing anything from the material world of taavah (power, military victories, long life, wealth, women, etc.), Shlomo Hamelech requests only one thing: wisdom.
Wisdom will allow him to rule the Nation properly and to provide true justice—which produces true peace.
In other words, Shlomo Hamelech lives for Hashem & his people.
Receiving tremendous nachat from His son's request, Hashem provides Shlomo Hamelech with unprecedented wisdom.
When Shlomo Hamelech awakens, he hears the chatter of birds and the barking of dogs, and realizes he understands what they're saying.
(To understand how that works, please see HERE.)
In this way, Shlomo Hamelech realized that Hashem had given him his heart's desire—wisdom.
And now Shlomo Hamelech was all set to judge the case that made history.
Who are These Women?
- A couple say they're widows & the one whose baby died needs to perform yibum (levirate marriage).
- Some say they're innkeepers.
- But most say they're "scarlet women."
The truth is, none contradict the other.
They could both be widows who support themselves via innkeeping & illicit activity.
But their whole set-up is so odd—and hazardous—that illicit activity makes the most sense.
After all, Malbim's thorough analysis of every word of their case shows that they both gave birth (3 days apart) with no one in attendance (except each other) and no after-care either.
No one brought them food, no one came to help heat the home, no laundering—nothing.
No one even knew they gave birth.
And dangerously irresponsible, especially for a first birth.
What We Learn from This Historic Court Case
- Every case brought to court deserves full contemplation—no matter how lowly & contemptuous the litigants themselves.
- The judge must repeat the arguments of each litigant to make sure he understood each one properly & give them the opportunity to correct him if he misunderstood (a procedure still practiced today by dayanim in a beit din).
- No matter how wise & knowledgeable the judge, a judge still needs Hashem's Help to arrive at the correct verdict. (Hashem sent out a bat kol, which affirmed the correct verdict: "She is his mother!")
- Truly just courts are essential for a peaceful society. When people feel like they can't receive justice through the system, they turn against authority and drift into vigilante justice or apathy.
Also, crime rises because criminals know they have a good chance of getting away with their crimes. (We see this today, unfortunately.)
Why the Sword Trick Worked—and How to Discern the Truth between 2 Quarreling Parties
The mefarshim note that in a quarrel, people tend to first emphasize what they feel most important.
So the woman who emphasizes the death of the other woman's baby first—this means that she wants the other woman's baby dead.
So once Shlomo Hamelech saw that dynamic, he understood who was lying & who was telling the truth, and only needed to prove it.
And he did so by pretending he wanted to cut the baby in half.
At that point, the mother of the living child begged for mercy and gave up custody of her child to save his life.
This means that the non-mother stood to receive the child.
So it should have ended there.
But the non-mother said, “Neither for me nor for you shall he be—cut!”
If she was getting what she claimed she wanted, then why would she want the child executed?
The answer: With her own child dead, she only wanted her companion's child dead too.
So even though she saw she was about to receive the baby she claimed as her own, she didn't really want him.
She only wanted him dead.
Apparently, she was the type of person who, if she can't have something, then she doesn't want anyone else to have it either.
All in all, she sounds totally psychopathic.
One shudders to think what would've been the fate of the child had she gotten her way.
What If They Weren't Even Human?
There's a fourth opinion regarding the identity of the 2 women—and that's that they weren't human at all, but spirits.
A kind of demonic entity.
(Sources for this opinion: Zohar, Arizal, Ben Ish Chai, Chida, etc.)
David Hamelech succeeded in subduing the male klippot in Eretz Yisrael.
But Shlomo Hamelech needed to finish the job by subduing the female klippot—and his opportunity came when the 2 klippot arrived straight to his court disguised as 2 degraded human women.
And these weren't just any old klippot.
One was the notorious demoness whose name starts with "L," and the other shares the same name as Esav's wife & daughter of Yishmael, whose name began with an "M." (Kav Hayashar)
Not only that, but "L" heads 480 minions and "M" heads 478 minions.
In other words: very powerful klippot.
Furthermore, these 2 klippot try to duplicate the unity & love of Rachel & Leah, but in reality, they resemble them like the face of a monkey resembles a man (Ben Yehoyadah/Ben Ish Chai).
They praise each other to impress others, but underneath that veneer of friendship lies divisiveness, jealousy, and hatred.
By behaving with total justice & exposing the truth, Shlomo Hamelech succeeded in subduing these klippot in Eretz Yisrael, which was part of the reason for the great rejoicing throughout the Land when he completed the verdict.
Whether you believe the explanation or not (and you have every right not to; after all, the Rambam didn't), it makes sense now that they lived such secretive lives, even giving birth unattended (which seriously risks their lives & the lives of their babies), and that no one knew about their births.
Especially in those times before running water, electricity, and ready-made food, their ability to give birth unattended without harm to themselves or their babies, and then recuperate with no assistance whatsoever?
Hard to believe 2 human women could manage it.
But 2 evil spirits certainly could...
The Lesson of Shlomo Hamelech: Focus on the REAL Priorities.
And by requesting the wisdom to rule properly for the good of his Nation, Shlomo Hamelech not only received unparalleled wisdom: he also received the material blessings he refused to give precedence to: a long life, power, wealth, success, and much more.
Anyway, there's more to say about the episode, but that's it for now.
Enjoy your Haftarah reading for Parshat Miketz!