ולא ירבה לו נשים ולא יוסר לבבו, “And he (a Jewish king) shall not have too many wives so that his heart shall not turn astray” (17:17).
Midrash Rabbah explains, somewhat sarcastically, how Shlomo Hamelech acted “too wisely.” He said that he could have thousands of wives and still remain on the correct path. How was he acting “too wisely?” Shlomo Hamelech certainly knew that a Jewish king is allowed to have only eighteen wives. He reasoned that since his heart could never be turned astray, this rule did not apply to him. Then he decided that having a lot of wives would be a great opportunity to do Mitzvot. At that time, Eretz Yisrael was the world power. Every country wanted to maintain good relations with Shlomo Hamelech. The diplomatic method of choice in those days was marrying the daughters of neighboring kings in order to encourage relations between countries. Shlomo Hamelech reasoned that this would be a wonderful technique of getting Hashem’s word out to the rest of the world, perhaps hastening the final redemption.
It was a disaster. We learn that when Shlomo was king, there was no corner in Eretz Yisrael where Avoda Zara was not practiced. His wives became importers of Avodah Zara instead of exporters of Torah.
We learn that Shlomo Hamelech knew the reasons for all the Mitzvot of the Torah except the פרה אדומה, the red heifer, of which he said והיא רחוקה, “and it is far from me” (the Gematria ofוהיא רחוקה = פרה אדומה ). Shlomo Hamelech could not understand how the same waters obtained from the פרה אדומה both purified the impure and made the pure impure. Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, Shlita, explains: Shlomo Hamelech was convinced that his impure idol-worshipping wives would become Bnot Torah soon after entering Eretz Yisrael and learning Torah. It never happened. Shlomo Hamelech could not understand how something could be Kodesh Kadashim for one person and worthless for another. Had he lived in our generation, Rabbi Ezriel Tauber says he may have understood. Rabbi Tauber says that we live in the generation of the פרה אדומה. How could it be that two knowledgeable, frum people hear his lecture and one is inspired while the other is thoroughly turned off? How could it be that my neighbor who runs discovery seminars finds that there are a certain percentage of people who leave thoroughly unimpressed? How could it be that the metropolitan area, with its world-class Torah scholarship, Batei Midrashim, and Yeshivot, has a contingent affectionately known as the “Yeshiva trash,” who frequent the parks at night and the video and pool halls during the day.
Rav Simcha Wasserman, zt”l, says that the generations before Mashiach are generations from which the last influences of the ערב רב are to be weeded out. These פרה אדומה generations will be used to differentiate between a servant of Hashem and a complainer in order to eliminate the complainers and Reshaim.