Kohelet Chapter 1: Solomon and Ashmedai
1 א

Read Kohelet, chapter 1

2 ב

Purpose of book: wisdom to the masses or warning to the wicked?

See Rashi vs. Sifrei Devarim below. Of course, some might say that they are one and the same...

3 ג
קֹהֶלֶת. עַל־שֵׁם שֶׁקִּהֵל חָכְמוֹת הַרְבֵּה, וְכֵן בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר קוֹרֵהוּ אָגוּר בִּן־יָקֵה, שֶׁאָגַר כָּל־הַחָכְמָה וַהֲקִיאָהּ וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים שֶׁהָיָה אוֹמֵר כָּל־דְבָרָיו בְהַקְהֵל:
Koheles. [He was called Koheles] because he gathered [=קִהֵל much wisdom,11The term קהלת meaning gathering is in Devarim 33:4 where it states, “the gathering [קהלת] of Yaakov.” (Metsudas Tzion) and similarly, elsewhere [Scripture] calls him, “Agur Bin Yokeh,”12Mishlei 30:1. This is a reference to Shlomo, meaning the gatherer [אגור] of wisdom [בן] spewed out [יקה] the prophecy [המשא]. because he gathered אָגַר all the wisdom and spewed וַהֲקִיאָהּ it out, and some say that he would say all his words in public assembly [=בְּהַקְהֵל.13Alternatively, he gathered together and clarified many conflicting views. (Metsudas Tzion)
4 ד
כיוצא בו אתה אומה (קהלת א) דברי קהלת בן דוד מלך בירושלים. וכי לא נתנבא שלמה אלא אלו בלבד? והלא כבר נאמר וזרח השמש ובא השמש. הולך אל דרום וסובב אל צפון. זהו מזרח ומערב ואומר כל הנחלים הולכים אל הים והים איננו מלא. כינה הרשעים בחמה ולבנה ובים, שאין להם מתן שכר:
Similarly, (Koheleth 1:1) "The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem": Now did Solomon prophesy only these alone? Did he not write three books? We are hereby taught that they were words of rebuke, viz. (Ibid. 4-7) "A generation goes and a generation comes … and the sun shines and the sun sets … It goes to the south and it turns to the north. Round and round (east and west) goes the wind … All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full." The wicked are spoken of as sun, earth, and sea, which have no reward.
5 ה

Or another purpose entirely...

What does it mean to call all creation vanity (Rashi below)? Is Kohelet a nihilist? Or a dualist with no patience for the material world?

6 ו

הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת. קֹהֶלֶת קוֹרֵא תַגַּר וְאוֹמֵר עַל־כָּל־יְצִירַת שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי בְרֵאשִׁית שֶׁהַכֹּל הֶבֶל שֶׁל הֲבָלִים הוּא:

Vanity of vanities, said Koheles. Koheles complains about the entire seven days of creation, that it is all a vanity

7 ז

There's something wrong with Kohelet...

Read the sugya from Tractate Shabbat below.

The book almost didn't make the canonical cut. The argument against it is that it contains contradictions. Why does it ultimately get included? Because of its pious framing. The Gemara then goes to great lengths to resolve the contradictions. However, there is another way of reading Kohelet -- one that embraces its contradictions as inherent to the message and spirit of the book. See Whitman below.

8 ח

אמר רב יהודה בריה דרב שמואל בר שילת משמיה דרב בקשו חכמים לגנוז ספר קהלת מפני שדבריו סותרין זה את זה ומפני מה לא גנזוהו מפני שתחילתו דברי תורה וסופו דברי תורה תחילתו דברי תורה דכתיב מה יתרון לאדם בכל עמלו שיעמול תחת השמש ואמרי דבי רבי ינאי תחת השמש הוא דאין לו קודם שמש יש לו סופו דברי תורה דכתיב סוף דבר הכל נשמע את האלהים ירא ואת מצותיו שמור כי זה כל האדם מאי כי זה כל האדם אמר רבי (אליעזר) כל העולם כולו לא נברא אלא בשביל זה רבי אבא בר כהנא אמר שקול זה כנגד כל העולם כולו שמעון בן עזאי אומר ואמרי לה שמעון בן זומא אומר לא נברא כל העולם כולו אלא לצוות לזה ומאי דבריו סותרין זה את זה כתיב טוב כעס משחוק וכתיב לשחוק אמרתי מהלל כתיב ושבחתי אני את השמחה וכתיב ולשמחה מה זה עושה לא קשיא טוב כעס משחוק טוב כעס שכועס הקדוש ברוך הוא על הצדיקים בעולם הזה משחוק שמשחק הקדוש ברוך הוא על הרשעים בעולם הזה ולשחוק אמרתי מהלל זה שחוק שמשחק הקדוש ברוך הוא עם הצדיקים בעולם הבא ושבחתי אני את השמחה שמחה של מצוה ולשמחה מה זה עושה זו שמחה שאינה של מצוה ללמדך שאין שכינה שורה לא מתוך עצבות ולא מתוך עצלות ולא מתוך שחוק ולא מתוך קלות ראש ולא מתוך שיחה ולא מתוך דברים בטלים אלא מתוך דבר שמחה של מצוה שנאמר ועתה קחו לי מנגן והיה כנגן המנגן ותהי עליו יד ה׳ אמר רב יהודה וכן לדבר הלכה אמר רבא וכן לחלום טוב

Since contradictions in Ecclesiastes were mentioned, the Gemara cites additional relevant sources. Rav Yehuda, son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in the name of Rav: The Sages sought to suppress the book of Ecclesiastes and declare it apocryphal because its statements contradict each other and it is liable to confuse its readers. And why did they not suppress it? Because its beginning consists of matters of Torah and its end consists of matters of Torah. The ostensibly contradictory details are secondary to the essence of the book, which is Torah. The Gemara elaborates: Its beginning consists of matters of Torah, as it is written: “What profit has man of all his labor which he labors under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3), and the Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai said: By inference: Under the sun is where man has no profit from his labor; however, before the sun, i.e., when engaged in the study of Torah, which preceded the sun, he does have profit. Its ending consists of matters of Torah, as it is written: “The end of the matter, all having been heard: Fear God, and keep His mitzvot; for this is the whole man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). ...

And to the essence of the matter, the Gemara asks: What is the meaning of: Its statements that contradict each other? It is written: “Vexation is better than laughter” (Ecclesiastes 7:3), and it is written: “I said of laughter: It is praiseworthy” (Ecclesiastes 2:2), which is understood to mean that laughter is commendable. Likewise in one verse it is written: “So I commended mirth” (Ecclesiastes 8:15), and in another verse it is written: “And of mirth: What does it accomplish?” (Ecclesiastes 2:2). The Gemara answers: This is not difficult, as the contradiction can be resolved. Vexation is better than laughter means: The vexation of the Holy One, Blessed be He, toward the righteous in this world is preferable to the laughter which the Holy One, Blessed be He, laughs with the wicked in this world by showering them with goodness. I said of laughter: It is praiseworthy, that is the laughter which the Holy One, Blessed be He, laughs with the righteous in the World-to-Come. Similarly, “So I commended mirth,” that is the joy of a mitzva. “And of mirth: What does it accomplish?” that is joy that is not the joy of a mitzva. The praise of joy mentioned here is to teach you that the Divine Presence rests upon an individual neither from an atmosphere of sadness, nor from an atmosphere of laziness, nor from an atmosphere of laughter, nor from an atmosphere of frivolity, nor from an atmosphere of idle conversation, nor from an atmosphere of idle chatter, but rather from an atmosphere imbued with the joy of a mitzva.

9 ט

Song of Myself, Section 51

Walt Whitman

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

10 י

Read Gittin 68 below. What does the building of the temple have to do with confronting the embodification of destruction? What does Ashmedai have that Solomon lacks (note the location of the study halls and his wings)?

Interpretation/musings follow the sugya, color coded to match the references to the text.

11 יא

אמר מר הכא תרגימו שידא ושידתין שידה ושידתין למאי איבעי ליה דכתיב (מלכים א ו, ז) והבית בהבנותו אבן שלמה מסע נבנה וגו' אמר להו לרבנן היכי אעביד אמרו ליה איכא שמירא דאייתי משה לאבני אפוד אמר להו היכא אישתכח אמרו ליה אייתי שידה ושידתין כבשינהו אהדדי אפשר דידעי ומגלו לך אייתי שידה ושידתין כבשינהו אהדדי אמרי אנן לא ידעינן דילמא אשמדאי מלכא דשידי ידע אמר להו היכא איתיה אמרי ליה איתיה בטורא פלן כריא ליה בירא ומליא ליה מיא ומיכסיא בטינרא וחתמיה בגושפנקיה וכל יומא סליק לרקיע וגמר מתיבתא דרקיעא ונחית לארעא וגמר מתיבתא דארעא ואתי סייר ליה לגושפנקיה ומגלי ליה ושתי ומכסי ליה וחתים ליה ואזיל שדריה לבניהו בן יהוידע יהב ליה שושילתא דחקיק עלה שם ועזקתא דחקיק עלה שם וגבבי דעמרא וזיקי דחמרא אזל כרא בירא מתתאי ושפינהו למיא וסתמינהו בגבבי דעמרא וכרא בירא מעילאי ושפכינהו לחמרא וטמינהו סליק יתיב באילנא כי אתא סייריה לגושפנקא גלייה אשכחיה חמרא אמר כתיב (משלי כ, א) לץ היין הומה שכר וכל שוגה בו לא יחכם וכתיב (הושע ד, יא) זנות ויין ותירוש יקח לב לא אישתי כי צחי לא סגיא ליה אישתי רוה וגנא נחית אתא שדא ביה שושילתא סתמיה כי אתער הוה קא מיפרזל א"ל שמא דמרך עלך שמא דמרך עלך כי נקיט ליה ואתי מטא דיקלא חף ביה שדייה מטא לביתא שדייה מטא גבי כובא דההיא ארמלתא נפקא איחננא ליה כפא לקומתיה מיניה איתבר ביה גרמא אמר היינו דכתיב (משלי כה, טו) ולשון רכה תשבר גרם חזא סמיא דהוה קא טעי באורחא אסקיה לאורחיה חזא רויא דהוה קא טעי באורחא אסקיה לאורחיה חזא חדוותא דהוו קמחדי לה בכה שמעיה לההוא גברא דהוה קאמר לאושכפא עביד לי מסאני לשב שני אחיך חזא ההוא קסמא דהוה קסים אחיך כי מטא להתם לא עיילוה לגביה דשלמה עד תלתא יומי יומא קמא אמר להו אמאי לא קא בעי לי מלכא לגביה א"ל אנסיה מישתיא שקל לבינתא אותיב אחברתה אתו אמרו ליה לשלמה אמר להו הכי אמר לכו הדור אשקיוה למחר אמר להו ואמאי לא קא בעי לי מלכא לגביה אמרו ליה אנסיה מיכלא שקל לבינתא מחברתה אותבה אארעא אתו אמרו ליה לשלמה אמר להו הכי אמר לכו נגידו מיניה מיכליה [לסוף] תלתא יומי עייל לקמיה שקל קניא ומשח ארבעה גרמידי ושדא קמיה א"ל מכדי כי מיית ההוא גברא לית ליה בהדין עלמא אלא ד' גרמידי השתא כבשתיה לכולי עלמא ולא שבעת עד דכבשת נמי לדידי א"ל לא קא בעינא מינך מידי בעינא דאיבנייה לבית המקדש וקא מיבעי לי שמירא א"ל לדידי לא מסיר לי לשרא דימא מסיר ליה ולא יהיב ליה אלא לתרנגולא ברא דמהימן ליה אשבועתיה ומאי עבד ביה ממטי ליה לטורי דלית בהו ישוב ומנח לה אשינא דטורא ופקע טורא ומנקיט מייתי ביזרני מאילני ושדי התם והוי ישוב והיינו דמתרגמינן נגר טורא בדקו קינא דתרנגולא ברא דאית ליה בני וחפויה לקיניה זוגיתא חיורתי כי אתא בעי למיעל ולא מצי אזל אייתי שמירא ואותביה עלויה רמא ביה קלא שדייה שקליה אזל חנק נפשיה אשבועתיה אמר ליה בניהו מאי טעמא כי חזיתיה לההוא סמיא דהוה קא טעי באורחא אסיקתיה לאורחיה אמר ליה מכרזי עליה ברקיעא דצדיק גמור הוא ומאן דעבד ליה ניחא נפשיה זכי לעלמא דאתי ומאי טעמא כי חזיתיה לההוא רויא דקטעי באורחא אסיקתיה לאורחיה א"ל מכרזי עליה ברקיעא דרשע גמור הוא ועבדי ליה ניחא נפשיה כי היכי דליכליה לעלמא מאי טעמא כי חזיתיה לההוא חדוותא בכית אמר ליה בעי מימת גברא בגו תלתין יומין ובעיא מינטר ליבם קטן תליסרי שנין מאי טעמא כי שמעתיה לההוא גברא דאמר ליה לאושכפא עביד לי מסאני לשב שנין אחיכת אמר ליה ההוא שבעה יומי לית ליה מסאני לשב שנין בעי מ"ט כי חזיתיה לההוא קסמא דהוה קסים אחיכת אמר ליה דהוה יתיב אבי גזא דמלכא לקסום מאי דאיכא תותיה תרחיה גביה עד דבנייה לבית המקדש יומא חד הוה קאי לחודיה אמר ליה כתיב (במדבר כד, ח) כתועפות ראם לו ואמרינן כתועפות אלו מלאכי השרת ראם אלו השדים מאי רבותייכו מינן א"ל שקול שושילתא מינאי והב לי עיזקתך ואחוי לך רבותאי שקליה לשושילתא מיניה ויהיב ליה עיזקתיה בלעיה אותביה לחד גפיה ברקיעא ולחד גפיה בארעא פתקיה ארבע מאה פרסי על ההיא שעתא אמר שלמה (קהלת א, ג) מה יתרון לאדם בכל עמלו שיעמול תחת השמש (קהלת ב, י) וזה היה חלקי מכל עמלי מאי וזה רב ושמואל חד אמר מקלו וחד אמר גונדו היה מחזר על הפתחים כל היכא דמטא אמר (קהלת א, יב) אני קהלת הייתי מלך על ישראל בירושלים כי מטא גבי סנהדרין אמרו רבנן מכדי שוטה בחדא מילתא לא סריך מאי האי אמרו ליה לבניהו קא בעי לך מלכא לגביה אמר להו לא שלחו להו למלכוותא קאתי מלכא לגבייכו שלחו להו אין קאתי שלחו להו בידקו בכרעיה שלחו להו במוקי קאתי

Solomon said to the sages: How shall I make it so that the stone will be precisely cut without using iron? They said to him: There is a creature called a shamir that can cut the stones, which Moses brought and used to cut the stones of the ephod. Solomon said to them: Where is it found? They said to him: Bring a male demon and a female demon and torment them together. It is possible that they know where, and due to the suffering they will reveal the place to you. Solomon brought a male demon and a female demon and tormented them together, and they said: We do not know where to find the shamir. Perhaps Ashmedai, king of the demons, knows. Solomon said to them: Where is Ashmedai? They said to him: He is on such-and-such a mountain. He has dug a pit for himself there, and filled it with water, and covered it with a rock, and sealed it with his seal. And every day he ascends to Heaven and studies in the heavenly study hall and he descends to the earth and studies in the earthly study hall. And he comes and checks his seal to ensure that nobody has entered his pit, and then he uncovers it and drinks from the water in the pit. And then he covers it and seals it again and goes. Solomon sent for Benayahu, son of Jehoiada, a member of the royal entourage, and gave him a chain onto which a sacred name of God was carved, and a ring onto which a sacred name of God was carved, and fleeces of wool and wineskins of wine. What did Benayahu do? He went and dug a pit lower down the mountain, below the pit dug by Ashmedai, drained the water, and plugged it with the fleeces of wool so that Ashmedai’s pit was emptied. And he dug a pit higher up the mountain, above Ashmedai’s pit. And he poured the wine into it so that the wine filled Ashmedai’s pit, and he plugged the lower and upper pits that he dug. He climbed up and sat in a tree. When Ashmedai came he checked his seal, opened the pit, and found it to be filled with wine. He said that it is written: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is riotous; and whosoever wallows in it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1), and it is written: “Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the heart” (Hosea 4:11). He concluded: I will not drink this wine. Eventually, when he became thirsty, he was unable to resist the wine and he drank, became intoxicated, and fell asleep. Benayahu descended from the tree, came, and threw the chain around Ashmedai, and enclosed him within it. When Ashmedai awoke he struggled to remove the chain. Benayahu said to him: The name of your Master is upon you, the name of your Master is upon you, do not tear the chain. God’s name is written on this chain, and it is forbidden to destroy it. When Benayahu took Ashmedai and came to Jerusalem he reached a palm tree and Ashmedai rubbed against it and knocked it down. He reached a house and knocked it down. He reached a small shack [kuva] belonging to a certain widow. This widow emerged, 68b and she begged him not to knock down the house. He bent his body away from her, to the other side, and broke one of his bones. He said: This is as it is written: “Soft speech can break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15). Ashmedai saw a blind man who was lost on the road and he brought him to the correct road. He saw a drunk who was lost on the road and he brought him to the correct road. He saw the joy of a wedding celebration in which they were celebrating, and he cried. He heard a certain man say to a shoemaker [ushkafa]: Make me shoes that will last for seven years, and he laughed. He saw a certain sorcerer performing magic, and he laughed. When Ashmedai arrived there, in Jerusalem, they did not bring him before Solomon until three days had passed. On the first day he said to them: Why doesn’t the king want me to come to him? They said to him: He drank too much and was overcome by drink. Ashmedai took a brick and placed it on top of another brick. The servants came and told Solomon what he had done. Solomon interpreted the action and said to them: This is what he said to you through this allusion: Return and give the king more to drink. The following day Ashmedai said to them: And why doesn’t the king want me to come to him? They said to him: He ate too much and was overcome by food. Ashmedai took the brick off the other brick and placed it on the ground. The servants came and told Solomon what Ashmedai had done. He interpreted Ashmedai’s actions and said to them: This is what he said to you through this allusion: Take his food away from him. At the end of three days Ashmedai came before Solomon. Ashmedai took a reed and measured four cubits [garmidei], and threw it before him. He said to Solomon: See, when that man, Solomon, dies, he will have nothing in this world except the four cubits of his grave. Now you have conquered the entire world and yet you are not satisfied until you also conquer me? Solomon said to him: I need nothing from you. I want to build the Temple and I need the shamir for this. Ashmedai said to him: The shamir was not given to me, but it was given to the angelic minister of the sea. And he gives it only to the wild rooster, also known as the dukhifat or the hoopoe, whom he trusts by the force of his oath to return it. And what does the wild rooster do with it? He brings it to mountains that are not fit for habitation, and he places the shamir on the craggy rock and the mountain splits. And he takes and brings seeds of trees, throws them there, and it becomes fit for habitation. And this is why we interpret the word dukhifat as a cutter of mountains [naggar tura], i.e., the Aramaic translation of the word dukhifat in the Bible is naggar tura, cutter of mountains. They investigated and found the nest of a wild rooster in which there were chicks, and he covered its nest with translucent glass. When the rooster came it wanted to enter the nest but was unable to do so. It went and brought the shamir and placed it on top to crack the glass. Solomon’s servant threw a clump of dirt at the rooster and the rooster knocked over the shamir. The man took it and the wild rooster went and strangled itself over the fact that it had not kept its oath, by not returning the shamir. Later, Benayahu said to Ashmedai: What is the reason that when you saw that blind man who was lost on the road you brought him to the correct road? Ashmedai said to him: They proclaim about him in heaven that he is a completely righteous man, and anyone who does good for his soul shall merit to enter the World-to-Come. Then Benayahu asked: And what is the reason that when you saw the drunk man who was lost on the road you brought him to the correct road? Ashmedai said to him: They proclaim about him in heaven that he is a completely wicked man. And I did good for his soul so that he will consume his reward in this world and not have any reward in the World-to-Come. Benayahu continued and asked him: What is the reason that when you saw that joy of the wedding you cried? Ashmedai said to him: I knew that this man will die within thirty days. And his wife is required to wait for the yavam, the husband’s brother, who is a minor, to reach the age of thirteen years, the age of majority, so that he can release her through ḥalitza, the ritual through which the yavam frees the yevama of her levirate bonds. In addition, he asked: What is the reason that when you heard that man say to a shoemaker: Make me shoes that will last for seven years, you laughed? Ashmedai said to him: That man does not have seven days to live; does he need shoes that will last for seven years? Benayahu then asked: What is the reason that when you saw that sorcerer performing magic you laughed? Ashmedai said to him: Because he was sitting on the king’s treasury [bei gaza]. Let him use his magic to know what there is buried underneath him. Solomon kept Ashmedai with him until he completed building the Temple. One day he stood with Ashmedai alone. He said to Ashmedai: It is written: “For him like the lofty horns of the wild ox” (Numbers 24:8), and the Sages say in explanation of the verse: “Like the lofty horns”; these are the ministering angels. “The wild ox”; these are the demons. In what way are you greater than us? Why does the verse praise your abilities and powers over those of human beings? Ashmedai said to him: Take the chain engraved with God’s name off me and give me your ring with God’s name engraved on it, and I will show you my strength. Solomon took the chain off him and he gave him his ring. Ashmedai swallowed the ring and grew until he placed one wing in the heaven and one wing on the earth. He threw Solomon a distance of four hundred parasangs. With regard to that moment Solomon said: “What profit is there for a person through all of his toil under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). With Solomon deposed from the throne, Ashmedai took his place. With regard to the verse: “And this was my portion from all of my toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:10), the Gemara asks: What is the meaning of the expression: “And this”? This expression is always an allusion to an item that is actually in his hand or can be shown. Rav and Shmuel disagree with regard to the meaning of this phrase. One said: This is referring to Solomon’s staff that remained in his hand. And one said: This is referring to his cloak. Solomon circulated from door to door collecting charity, and wherever he arrived he would say: “I, Ecclesiastes, was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:12). When he finally arrived at the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem the sages said: Now, an imbecile does not fixate on one matter all of the time, so what is this matter? Is this man perhaps telling the truth that he is Solomon? The sages said to Benayahu: Does the king require you to be with him? Benayahu said to them: No. They sent to the queens and asked: Does the king come to be with you? The queens sent a response to them: Yes, he comes. They sent a request to the queens: Check his feet to see if they are human feet. The queens sent a response to the sages: He always comes in socks [bemokei], and it is not possible to see his feet.

12 יב

Solomon is cut down at the moment that is meant to symbolize his greatest triumph. In building a house for God -- a symbol of bringing together the earth and heavens -- he becomes obsessed with controlling or overcoming the element of destruction (note that in the stories Ashmedai is not evil or an angel of death. He breaks everything in his path, and when prevented from doing so out of pity or kindness, he still has to break something, even if it's his own bones). Solomon is not content to build or create. He wants to negate the opposite principle. When he challenges Ashmedai to prove himself better than mortals, Solomon's own self-doubt and weakness becomes clear: he cannot learn in the heavenly and earthly study halls, or live with one wing in heaven and one on earth, despite all of his investment in trying to create a temple for the divine on earth. This realization "throws" him into a despair of loss and humility, a conviction of utter powerlessness, and the old Solomon becomes a pauper, from which vantage point he writes the book of Kohelet (the new Solomon, meanwhile, is a demon destroyer interested only in sleeping with the harem -- a not-so subtle rabbinic critique of Solomon's later days).

According to this interpretation, Solomon didn't write Kohelet as an old, jaded man who has seen it all, but rather as a young king at the height of his spiritual and temporal power. This is a fascinating read on the dangers of striving to create and control without allowing space for loss and destruction (see the explanation for Ashmedai's laughter and tears on the road to Jerusalem, or the disruption of natural forces symbolized by the story of the dukhifat), and on the paradoxical, sometimes self-defeating challenge of bridging between "everything under the sun" and whatever transcends the material world.

Why is Solomon obsessed with destruction? He claims that he just wants the tools to build the Temple, and that it is not his own mortality that bothers him. However, he keeps Ashmedai by his side after the task of building is created, and then in a sense becomes Ashmedai. Because of the spiritual and psychological baggage he brings to the Temple, his most crushing defeat occurs during what should be the pinnacle of his power and fulfillment.

There's a lot more here (Solomon's interpretation of the bricks is satirical gold), but this explanation is going to become longer than the text. If you have more questions, 1. Good. 2. Read it again.