"But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the L-RD has said to you, 'You shall not return that way again.' "Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself" (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).
At first glance, what could possibly be the connection, if any, between the two passages of Scripture quoted above? It may be helpful to consider a discussion that has been preserved in ancient Rabbinic literature:
When G-d gave the Torah to Israel, He inserted positive and negative commandments and gave some commands for a king, as it is written: Only he shall not multiply (yarbeh) horses to himself . . . Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away . . . (Deut. 17:16-17). But Solomon arose and studied the reason of G-d's decree and declared that he would multiply and yet his heart would not turn away . . .
Our sages said: At that time the letter yod of the word yarbeh (he shall not multiply) went up on high and prostrated itself before G-d and said: 'Master of the universe, have You not said that no letter shall ever be abolished from the Torah? Behold, Solomon has now arisen and abolished one. Who knows? Today he has abolished one letter, tomorrow he may abolish another until the entire Torah is nullified! G-d replied: "Solomon and a thousand like him will pass away, but the smallest tittle will not be erased from you.' (Exodus Rabbah 6:1, emphases mine).
The idea is that in all his great wisdom, Solomon supposed that he understood the reasoning behind the commandment thinking that "If I keep my heart from going astray then I am free to multiply wives!" In other words, he reasoned that since he understood the principle of the law he did not need to obey the literal meaning of it. A line of thinking that is all too prevalent today.
There are some who may object to the exegetical method of midrash as exemplified above. After all, where did the Sages get the silly notion that the letter yod ascended to heaven and prostrated itself before G-d? Preposterous! But that is to miss the point.
Midrash is an exegetical method which faithfully mirrors the world of ideas in which the Jews lived during the great formative period from the third century B.C.E. to the end of the fifth century C.E. Therefore, the midrashic exegesis above provides us with valuable insight into the thinking of the rabbis and sages, while highlighting, illustrating, and emphasizing the truth of the eternal nature of the Torah, a truth with which Yeshua agreed and was reaffirming in Matthew 5.
Yeshua's audience would have been very familiar with this midrash, from the common fisherman to the most erudite Torah scholar. In other words, Yeshua was teaching the people about the nature of the Torah (and Himself, for that matter) from within a framework and context with which His contemporaries would have been most familiar.
Combined with Yeshua's words in Matthew 5, this midrash about the greatest and wisest king of Israel who thought he was above the Torah would have not only served to remind His audience that they too were not exempt from breaking the least of these commandments, but also would have testified to the reality that the promised Messiah for Whom they had been waiting was now walking in their midst.