Monday, December 14, 2009

The message of Huram, Hiram, Hirom and Chanukah

As requested by Brad, here is my article from this year's Chanukah To Go, published by Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future. I don't know why the file on the YU website is corrupted (maybe it's because of Footnote 4), but here is the article, in full:

In presenting the seventh chapter of Melachim I as our haftorah for the second Shabbat Chanukah1, the sages introduce us to a story of three men with near-identical names, as well as a moral lesson of broad sweep and penetrating depth.

Our story begins not in our Haftorah, but in Divrei haYamim II 2:10-13:

And Huram, King of Tyre, wrote to Solomon: “Because Gd loves His nation, He made you king upon them.”
And Huram said: “Blessed be HaShem, Gd of Israel, who created the heavens and the earth and gave King David a wise son who possessed intellect and understanding, who would build a house for Gd and a house for his reign. I have now sent you a knowledgeable, understanding man, my master craftsman2 Huram. He is the son of a woman from Dan and his father is a man of Tyre; he knows how to work in gold, silver, brass, iron, stone, wood, purple wool, blue wool, linen and crimson, and to engrave any engraving and to design any design which would be given to him, along with your wise men and the wise men of David your father.”

So far, then, King Huram3 of Tyre has sent King Shlomo a brilliant craftsman who shares the name Huram. As the Malbim notes, this occurred at the start of the construction of the Beit haMikdash.

Melachim I mentions another, similarly-named craftsman (Melachim I 7:13-14):

And King Solomon sent and took Hiram from Tyre. He was the son of a widow from the tribe of Naftali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a brassworker. He was filled with knowledge and understanding and intelligence, to perform all of the tasks involving brass. He came to King Solomon and performed all of his tasks.

This Hiram is also from Tyre, but there are marked differences between this craftsman and the previous craftsman sent by King Huram:
• The former craftsman worked in a range of materials; this one works only in brass;
• The former craftsman was sent at the start of the construction, while this one arrives at the end;.
• The former craftsman is described as the son of a woman from Dan; the latter craftsman’s mother is from Naftali.

This second craftsman is also mentioned in the opening sentence of the Ashkenazi haftorah for the second Shabbat Chanukah, Melachim I 7:40, albeit with the altered name of Hirom:4

And Hirom formed the sinks, shovels and basins, and Hiram completed all the tasks he had performed for King Solomon in the house of Gd.

Why were two craftsmen, Huram and Hiram/Hirom, involved in building the Beit haMikdash? Malbim5 explains that they were actually father and son:

It appears to me that when Divrei haYamim says that King Hiram sent a written message to King Solomon, “Now I have sent you,” that referred to the father of this Hiram, and his name was also Hiram.6 He was sent from the King of Tyre at the start of construction… And he died after seven years, and Solomon sent for his son. Regarding this it says, “And Solomon sent and took Hiram from Tyre,” for the first came at the order of the King of Tyre and the second came because Solomon had sent for him. He was the son of a widow from the tribe of Naftali, and she was a widow because her husband, Hiram, had died.

In sum, then, King Huram/Hiram sent a craftsman named Huram, who was succeeded by his son Hiram/Hirom, to help build the Beit haMikdash.

This story is about more than an odd interplay of names, though; both Melachim and Divrei haYamim take pains to present us with the lineage of both craftsmen - the son of a woman from Dan and a father from Tyre, and the son of a woman from Naftali and a father from Tyre. Why is this information germane?

Rabbi Yochanan offered one answer: (Erchin 16b)

How do we know that one should not diverge from his craft, and from the craft of his fathers? As it is written, “And King Solomon sent and took Hiram from Tyre. He was the son of a widow from the tribe of Naftali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a brassworker.” We are taught, “His mother was from the family of Dan,” and it is written, “Ahaliav, son of Achisamach from the tribe of Dan.”

In other words: This craftsman is a matrilineal descendant of Ahaliav, who was also a craftsman. The prophet stresses this lineage in order to teach us to continue the lines of our family businesses.

Another midrashic approach, though, offers deeper moral guidance:7

Great and small are equal before Gd. Betzalel was from Yehudah and Ahaliav was from Dan, and he was paired with him.
R’ Chanina said: Great and small are equal… The Mishkan was created by these two tribes. So was the Beit haMikdash – Solomon from Yehudah, with Chiram, “the son of a widow from the tribe of Naftali.”

Betzalel and Ahaliav, the team responsible for construction of the original Mishkan, were the products of opposite families. Betzalel descended from the royal clan of Yehudah, who was a son of Leah. Ahaliav emerged from the tribe that travelled last, Dan, who was a son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant. The two men could not have hailed from more varied backgrounds, but together they built the first building on earth where Gd would be manifest and the Jewish people could gather in worship.

Shlomo and the two Hirams, as the midrash notes, carried the same theme into the first Beit haMikdash. Shlomo, the king from Yehudah, paired first with a descendant of Bilhah’s son Naftali and then a descendant of Bilhah’s other son Dan to assemble the first permanent home of HaShem. Indeed, Hiram of Dan and Betzalel of Yehudah are both described as being Divinely invested with חכמה and תבונה, knowledge and wisdom; these traits can exist in anyone, regardless of family history.

Abarbanel (Melachim I 7:14) makes this point even stronger in his explanation of Hiram’s lineage. Regarding both Hiram the elder and Hiram the younger, the prophet notes that their fathers were “men of Tyre.” Noting that Tyre might simply refer to a geographic origin, Abarbanel then adds that Hiram might actually have been a product of an intermarriage:

It is possible to say that he was Tyrean from birth, as the text suggests, and his wife was Jewish, and she married him for some reason – because she had been taken captive, or for some other reason.

This possibility underscores the message of the midrash above, that a Jew is Jew, regardless of his background, and that any of us can grow to greatness.

It is natural for human beings to assume that spiritual character is an inherited trait and that certain lines are more gifted than others, but the description of Hiram’s lineage teaches us that our natural inclination is incorrect. No Jew should ever say, “I am predisposed to spiritual weakness,” or, “My ancestors handicapped me.” Certainly, all of us are gifted with certain basic talents – but anyone who is willing to invest the effort is given the opportunity to develop those talents to the fullest.

Rav Mordechai Elon adds that this message may have special relevance for Chanukah:8

Our Chanukah Torah reading recounts the gifts brought by each nasi (tribal prince) at the end of the Mishkan’s dedication. Despite the fact that each gift’s elements were identical, the Torah repeats every detail of each gift as if it were unique, emphasizing the importance of each individual. Then, at the end, the Torah sums up the gifts collectively and demonstrates that we are all as one before HaShem.

Rav Elon points out that the first nasi to bring a gift is Nachshon ben Aminadav, leader of Yehudah, and the last nasi to bring a gift is Achira ben Einan, leader of Naftali. With this we are taught, yet again, that the entire nation exists on the same plane. Each leader’s gift for the mishkan is significant, but each also functions as an equal part of the greater unity.

This message is also critical as we look toward the building of a third Beit haMikdash, for we are taught that our national unity is a prerequisite for the arrival of Mashiach.9 Further, this theme unites the two haftarot of Chanukah.

On the face of it, the two haftarot of Chanukah seem to be read out of order; the haftarah for the first Shabbat of Chanukah is Zecharyah’s foretelling of the second Beit haMikdash, and the haftarah for the second Shabbat of Chanukah describes Shlomo’s construction of the first Beit haMikdash. Why do we read these messages in reverse chronological order?

Tosafot Yom Tov10 cites the Ran to suggest that Zecharyah’s vision actually relates to a future time of Mashiach, and so it is more beloved to us than a description of the first Beit haMikdash.11

Certainly, Zecharyah’s message is more explicitly linked to a future time of mashiach, but, as noted above, Hiram’s message is also important for our eschatological future. On the day when we will truly stand together, when we look not at tribe and lineage but at the knowledge and understanding and talent of the individual, then we will merit a final חנוכת הבית for the בנין עדי עד, the eternal Beit haMikdash.


1. Megilah 31a assigns the haftarot of Chanukah.

2. Rashi, among others, renders this as “my father’s craftsman.”

3. Note that the king of Tyre’s name is sometimes presented as חירם, Hiram. See, for example, Melachim I 5:15.

4. The Artscroll Stone Chumash (pg. 1212) errs in this regard, commenting on the haftarah, “Much of the Haftarah describes the Temple vessels that were made by King Hiram of Tyre, a friend and collaborator of King Solomon.”

5. Malbim to Melachim I 7:14

6. Malbim ignores the Hiram/Hirom/Huram variations throughout.

7. Sh’mot Rabbah 40:4


9. See, for example, Yechezkel 37 (the haftarah for Parshat Vayyigash)

10. Tosafot Yom Tov to Megilah 3:4

11. The Kolbo (#20) answers that precedence is determined by relevance for Chanukah; Zecharyah’s vision relates to the second Beit haMikdash, during which Chanukah took place.


  1. Honored Rabbi, please do not publish this comment or my name , I fear reprisal should certain persons read this that I write.

    There is in my street the English speaker of anti-Jew opinion.

    Recently was heard to say this, no Jewish person can trace ancestry to times prior to Roman destroying the Jerusalem Temple.

    This man is said all Jewish geneaology information was stored in writing form within inside Jerusalemn Temple.

    Please send me scholarly information refuting this English man. Thank you. Please email to me

  2. Anonymous-
    Thanks for your comment, but I don't really understand your neighbor's claim. What is his basis for thinking that genealogical information was stored in the Temple?