Leap of Faith: what would the Queen of Sheba say about exams?

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Leap of Faith: what would the Queen of Sheba say about exams?

A stimulating series where our progressive rabbis consider how biblical figures might act when faced with 21st century issues

Sometimes even being king of Israel can’t spare you the pain of having to sit exams. The opening of 1 Kings 10 tells how the Queen of Sheba heard of King Solomon’s fame and came to test him with perplexing questions.

While any student who has recently endured exam season (including student rabbis) can imagine the scene all too easily, especially the imposing figure of the examiner, most students can only aspire to Solomon’s ability to rise to the challenge: he is able to answer every question the Queen puts to him. Her examination is also practical – she observes everything from what he eats and drinks to his religious observance. The totality leaves her breathless; Solomon passes the test with flying colours.

Apparently, the Queen had heard of Solomon’s wisdom (and wealth) but didn’t fully believe it until she came to see it for herself. This is perhaps one of the reasons we need to not just learn but also to be assessed on what we have learned – the assessments help others to know just how much we have learned. Passing exams reassures others that they can trust our wisdom, at least in the areas on which we have been examined, so that they don’t have to rely on hearsay.

Even more than that, however, exams might also be a reason for someone to offer praise and blessings. When the Queen of Sheba finishes examining Solomon, she states how impressed she is that “your wisdom and wealth surpass the reports that I heard”. She says how fortunate Solomon’s people are, and praises God “who delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel… to administer justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:7-9).

It can be hard, amid the very real stress and huge amount of hard work that exams entail, for students to remember that often examiners hope to give us the chance to show what we know, rather than to catch us out on what we don’t know. The Queen of Sheba’s example suggests that exam season might actually be what makes graduation season possible – the demonstration of what we have learned creates a reason to celebrate students, those who taught them, and even God, the ultimate source of all our learning.

The Queen of Sheba would wish all students undergoing exams this summer the reward of good results, public praise and many blessings.

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