“The words of Koheles the son of Dovid” (Koheles 1:1). Although Sh’lomo HaMelech wrote three of the Biblical books, only two of them, Koheles and Mishlay, are introduced by mentioning that he was the son of Dovid; Shir HaShirim does not. It can be suggested that this is because Shir HaShirim is an expression of Sh’lomo’s love for G-d, and by extension the relationship between G-d and His chosen people, while the others are Sh’lomo sharing some of his extreme wisdom with us. Being that Sh’lomo attributed G-d offering him anything he wanted to the righteousness of his father, Dovid (see M’lachim I 3:5-7 and Divray HaYamin II 1:7-9), when he shares the wisdom he chose to receive with us, he includes his father’s name in the attribution. Nevertheless, the Midrash (Koheles Rabbah 1:1 and Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:9) says that all three, including Shir HaShirim, were the result of the extreme wisdom that G-d bestowed upon Sh’lomo.
Earlier in the Midrash, a parable is given to help us read between the lines of the conversation between G-d and Sh’lomo: A king offered a beloved advisor anything he wanted. The advisor thought to himself, “if I ask for silver, gold or precious stones, he will give them to me. [If I ask for fancy or royal] clothes, he will give them to me. Rather, I will ask for his daughter (in marriage), and then everything will be given to me for his daughter’s sake.” So too, when G-d appeared to Sh’lomo in Giv’on in a night dream and said to him “request what I should give to you,” Sh’lomo thought to himself, “if I ask for silver and gold and precious stones, He will give them to me. Rather, I will ask for wisdom, whereby everything is included.” G-d responded, “you asked for wisdom and you did not ask for wealth or honor or the life of your enemies (i.e. that they should die), therefore wisdom and knowledge is given to you, and through it, wealth and possessions and honor I will also give you.”
There are several questions that can be asked on this Midrash, one of which is asked by Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, sh’lita (Rinas Yitzchok, Koheles 1:1). How could G-d have responded that because Sh’lomo didn’t ask for mundane things he will get what he asked for, if the reason he (and the advisor in the parable) didn’t ask for those things directly is because asking for wisdom (or the king’s daughter) is a better way of getting it, and getting more of it, than just asking for riches directly? It isn’t presented as if Sh’lomo asked for wisdom instead of wealth, but that he asked for wisdom because it included wealth!
To answer this, Rav Sorotzkin references Rambam’s explanation of the blessings promised in this world to those who follow the Torah (Hilchos T’shuva 9:1), that they are not given as a reward, but to enable the person who chooses to do the right thing to continue to do so without being distracted by anything. Being blessed with wealth means that time and effort that would have otherwise been spent making a living can now be devoted to continued spiritual growth. Being healthy means sickness will not inhibit this growth. Getting back to Sh’lomo, he didn’t consider asking for wealth for wealth’s sake, but in order to be able to devote his time and energy to increasing his wisdom, which is what he really wanted. However, the wording of the Midrash implies otherwise, as the reason given for the advisor asking to marry the king’s daughter, and for Sh’lomo asking for wisdom, is because they include the wealth that they considered asking for. If the intent of the Midrash is what Rav Sorotzkin suggests, we would need to find a way to explain its wording, or why not actually asking for wealth directly is enough, even if it was originally considered.
Other issues with this Midrash that should be addressed include the fact that the things Sh’lomo considered asking for (silver, gold and precious stones) do not exactly match what G-d seems impressed with Sh’lomo not actually asking for (wealth, honor and the life of your enemies). Is silver, gold and gems not the same as wealth? Additionally, the verses (M’lachim I 3:11 and Divray Hayamim II 1:11) also mention G-d being impressed with Sh’lomo not asking for long life; why does the Midrash omit this? Finally, G-d said that besides wisdom, He would give Sh’lomo wealth too (M’lachim I 3:13 and Divray Hayamim II 1:12); if wealth is automatically included with wisdom (and, based on Rav Sorotzkin’s explanation, necessary in order to attain it), why does G-d have to specifically mention that besides giving Sh’lomo wisdom, He will also give him wealth?
Eitz Yosef (on Koheles Rabbah and Shir HaShirim Rabbah), likely because of the question Rav Sorotzkin poses, understands G-d’s words as a rhetorical question; “did you ask only for wisdom but not wealth?” And since G-d knew that Sh’lomo really wanted wealth (which is why he asked for wisdom), He gave it to him. Although this explains how G-d could imply Sh’lomo didn’t really want wealth (as it never was implied), and would also explain why G-d specifically mentions that Sh’lomo will also receive wealth, in other ways it makes matters worse. Aside from Sh’lomo’s request now being a more mundane one (as a means of getting physical wealth), the rhetorical question G-d was asking must then also have included honor and the death of his enemies (“and you didn’t want those too?”), yet only wealth is mentioned (besides wisdom) as part of G-d’s gift to Sh’lomo.
It would therefore seem that, as Rav Sorotzkin suggested, what Sh’lomo really wanted was wisdom, and for the right reasons (not because being wise would allow him to become rich). When the Midrash says Sh’lomo considered asking for silver, gold and precious gems, it was because he knew that, under normal circumstances, being wealthy was a prerequisite for attaining wisdom, as otherwise too much time and effort must be spent on financial matters. (Asking for silver or gold or precious gems would have just been a more specific means of becoming wealthy.) Other things would also be needed, such as not having to deal with any enemies, either internal and external. But if he were to ask G-d for one thing and one thing only, the first thing he considered asking for was not having to worry about financial matters, which is the thought process the Midrash shares with us. Realizing that that would not be enough to guarantee wisdom, rather than asking for any of the factors necessary to attain wisdom, Sh’lomo decided to ask directly for the wisdom itself.
G-d’s response was that since he didn’t ask for any of the factors usually needed to attain wisdom — which included not only the wealth that Sh’lomo originally considered asking for, but being respected enough by others to preclude having any self-esteem issues, as well as not having any enemies to distract his focus — those things weren’t what Sh’lomo really wanted. He only wanted what they could bring — wisdom. [Long life is also usually a factor, as wisdom is gained over time, year by year, even day by day, so G-d mentioned it as one of the factors Sh’lomo could have asked for. The Midrash, though, which already listed things that are necessary for wisdom before living a long time can bring that real wisdom, did not need to.]
Since Sh’lomo was granted this wisdom directly, without having to also receive the stages (wealth, lack of enemies, respect and long life) usually needed to attain such wisdom, none but one of them were mentioned as also being given to him. But despite not needing wealth to attain this wisdom, G-d gave it to Sh’lomo anyway, in order to help him accomplish what his wisdom dictated should be done. It was therefore mentioned separately as also being given to him.
There is a similar Midrash (P’sikta Rabbasi 14:7), which is quoted by Midrash Tanchuma (Chukas 6) and Yalkut Shimoni (M’lachim 173), and the wording of this Midrash is more explicit that Sh’lomo chose to ask for wisdom directly, bypassing requesting any of the factors usually needed to attain wisdom. There, the request by the advisor (called “one who is loved by the king”) also matches this idea better, to the extent that, at least the way it is quoted in Midrash Tanchuma, afterwards the king says he was hoping the request would be to marry his daughter. Putting this back into the Midrash discussed above, the advisor was saying that the king will give me whatever I ask for, so rather than asking for just one thing, I’ll ask for something that encompasses everything, similar to the way Sh’lomo asked for something that encompasses everything (even if Sh’lomo wasn’t really interested in the factors needed for wisdom except for their value in attaining wisdom). And just as the king was really hoping that his trusted and beloved advisor would ask to marry his daughter, G-d wanted Sh’lomo to ask for the wisdom that would help him to lead the nation properly, including leaving us his legacy of Koheles, Shir HaShirim and Mishlay.