Just a few months after leaving the White House in 1953, President Harry Truman spoke to a Jewish group in New York. The president was introduced by Eddie Jacobson, his old friend and business partner, as “the man who helped create the State of Israel.” “What do you mean ‘help create’?” asked Truman, “I am Cyrus! I am Cyrus!”
Truman was referring to the building of the Second Beit Hamikdash which is described in the beginning of Sefer Ezra: “Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (1:2).
While it might be surprising that a non-Jewish king initiated the building of the Second Temple, it should not be. A foreign king played an important role in the construction of the First Beit Hamikdash as well as described in our haftara (I Melachim 5:26-6:13).
In the passage before our haftara begins, the Navi describes that Shlomo sent a message to Hiram (the Phoenician king of Tyre) proposing a barter to help build the Temple: Hiram would supply the lumber, and Shlomo would send food to Tyre. Remarkably, not only did Shlomo reach out to Hiram, but it appears that contacting the non-Jewish king was Shlomo’s first act when he decided to erect the Temple. Hiram enthusiastically accepted this agreement and the verses and commentaries provide two reasons for his deep loyalty to Shlomo. First, Hiram had a long-standing fondness for Shlomo’s father David (5:15) and second, Hiram was impressed by Shlomo’s great wisdom, which he recognized to be a Divine gift (Ralbag on 6:26).
Hiram was rewarded mightily for his involvement in the first Temple. According to the Midrashim, the cedars that he provided miraculously came to life and began to bear fruit (Tanchuma Teruma 11), and Hiram himself merited to enter Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) due to his participation in the construction (Midrash Rabati Chayei Sarah). Perhaps Shlomo had Hiram in mind during the address that he delivered at the dedication of the Beit Hamikdash, when he asked Hashem to listen to the prayers of the “gentile who is not of your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake—for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm—and will come and pray toward this Temple” (8:41).
In addition to the central role the Temple plays for Jews, it is also meant to be the location that non-Jews can come to pray and serve Hashem. The Rambam writes explicitly (Maseh Hakorbanot 3:2) that Gentiles were permitted to offer a burnt offering (Korban Olah) in the Beit Hamikdash.
The notion that non-Jews must have a role in building the mikdash is also found regarding the Tabernacle in our Torah portion.
The portion of Terumah begins “Tell Bnei Yisrael to bring Me gifts…and these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver and copper” (Shemot 25:3). The Midrash Tanchuma (Teruma 5) elaborates: “Hashem said to the Jewish people: ‘[The gold and silver that you bring to build the Mishkan] should not be yours; instead it should be of the spoils from the sea.”
The Midrash is striking, as we might have assumed that the donations to the Tabernacle should specifically not come from Egyptian sources. However, based on what we learn from Hiram, the Mishkan needed to include non-Jewish participation in order to demonstrate the universality of its message to the world. Indeed, through their contributions, the Tabernacle can fulfill its potential as described in Isaiah (56:7) that “My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples,” and the Jews can fulfill their role as a light unto the nations.
Just like Cyrus in his time, President Truman recognized that he had been chosen for greatness and to be a world leader at a crucial turning point in history. Even as the only president of the 20th century without a college education, Harry Truman received a proper biblical upbringing and understood the powerful lessons of the Tanakh. He deeply internalized the critical role that he could play in being God’s agent to return the Jewish people back to their land. Just as with Cyrus and Hiram, we pray that President Truman’s contribution leads toward the rebuilding of the Third Beit Hamikdash.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365 and editor of “The Israel Bible,” and Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a psychologist and a new Oleh to Israel, as well as a rebbe in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah. Please send comments to Haftarah@TheIsraelBible.com