Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
I KINGS CHAPTER 11
"AND KING SOLOMON LOVED MANY FOREIGN WOMEN" (v. 1)
Foreign "women" - in the form of the religions, worldviews, philosophies, arts, sciences, cultures and lifestyles of the other nations - have had an irresistible allure for many Israelites in generation after generation despite the solemn Torah injunctions against their pursuit. It is surely impossible for ordinary people to understand precisely what the wisest man that ever lived really intended in going after so many foreign women, but Rabbi Nachman of Breslov - who also attained supreme heights of wisdom - teaches that reliance on wisdom alone is intrinsically dangerous:
"When a person follows his own mind and clever ideas, he can fall into many pitfalls and errors and come to great evil. Tremendous damage has been caused by such people, like the infamous great villains who, through their intelligence and cunning, have led the entire world astray" (Likutey Moharan II, 12). For Rabbi Nachman, the very essence of Judaism is simplicity: "Throw aside all wisdom and clever ideas and serve God with simplicity. Make sure that your deeds are greater than your wisdom, because the main thing is not study but its practical application. This obviously applies to most ordinary people's clever ideas, which are mere folly, but it even applies to genuine wisdom. When it comes to serving God, even a person whose head is filled with genuine wisdom should set it all aside and serve God simply and innocently" (ibid. II, 5).
The Talmud indicates that Solomon did not necessarily actually marry the "many foreign women" that he "loved": he is considered to have done so only because he permitted himself to become entranced by them (Yevamos 76b). "Everyone who says Solomon sinned is simply mistaken, as the verse says, 'His heart was not perfect with HaShem his God like the heart of his father David' (v 4): this means that he was not wholehearted with God like David, but HE DID NOT SIN. Then how are we understand the verse that says, 'In the time of Solomon's old age his wives inclined his heart after other gods' (ibid.)? They inclined his heart, but he did not actually follow after" (Shabbos 56b).
The Torah forbids the king from marrying too many wives "lest his heart turn astray" (Deut. 17:17). According to the Talmud, Solomon's flaw lay in believing that he was so saintly that he had the power to flout the Torah and multiply wives while remaining immune to their allurements (Sanhedrin 21b). The rabbis said that Solomon himself did not actually build the idolatrous temples listed in vv 7-8, but is only credited with having done so because he did not protest when his wives built them (Shabbos 56b). Perhaps his multi-cultural enthusiasm was so great that he IMAGINED he had brought these foreign women under the wings of the Shechinah while willfully blinding himself to the fact that they never truly emerged from the idolatrous attitudes from which he hoped to wean them.
"And God spoke to Solomon." (v 11). According to RaDaK, God spoke to Solomon through the same prophet who enters the narrative later in our present chapter (vv 29ff) - Ahiyah HaShiloni. According to tradition, Ahiyah was a Levite and had been a boy at the time of the Exodus from Egypt . He had heard Torah from Moses and later received Torah from David and his court (Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah). Not only was Ahiyah the teacher of Elijah the Prophet (ibid.); his soul also came regularly to teach Rabbi Israel the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement (Shevachay HaBesht).
The prophet's grim message to Solomon was that because he was divided in his own heart, the very kingdom itself would be divided and torn into two so soon after the establishment of the House of David and the building of God's Temple in Jerusalem . The glorious age of Solomon's international empire and Israelite cultural hegemony proved to be very short-lived indeed. Yet the House of David's loss of their rule over all the tribes of Israel was different from the collapse of the House of Saul, for while the latter disappeared completely, the House of David always retained the loyalty of Judah and Benjamin, and is destined to regain its rule over all Israel in the end of days. Indeed Ahiyah's prophecy to Jeraboam that God would afflict the seed of David "BUT NOT FOR ALL THE DAYS" (v 39) is taken as a promise that eventually Judah will once again be reunited with Ephraim and the Ten Tribes (RaDaK).
Serious trouble did not break out until after the death of Solomon, but already in the twilight years of his reign God's providence was at work preparing the adversaries who would come to test and try the House of David. Isaac had long before told Esau that whenever Jacob would fall from his level and give Esau cause to resent his having received the blessings, "you shall break his yoke from upon your neck" (Genesis 27:40). Thus the very first "satan" against Solomon was the Edomite prince Hadad, who had escaped to Egypt during David's campaign against Edom and who was willing to give up a life of royal splendor in Egypt in order to stir up his remaining people against the Israelite "occupiers" (vv 14-22). At the same time Razon was at work in the Syrian provinces of Aram to undo their subjugation by David (v 23f).
Most serious of all was the rupture between the Kingdom of Judah and the Ten Tribes under the leadership of Ephraim, the consequences of which are with us until today and the first premonition of which also came in Solomon's lifetime. Unlike the prophet Samuel, who physically anointed David as king during the lifetime of Saul, Ahiyah HaShiloni did not actually anoint Jeraboam son of Nevat as king over the Ten Tribes. His dramatic ripping of the "new garment" (v 29 - whether it belonged to Ahiyah or Jeraboam is unclear, RaDaK) and giving ten of the twelve shreds to Jeraboam was intended to indicate that Jeraboam had the power to lead the Ten Tribes but not that he necessarily had to rebel.
Although Jeraboam later became the archetype of those who lead others into sin, he started off as "a mighty man of valor" (v 28): he was one of the outstanding Torah sages of all time. "Jeraboam's Torah had no flaw" (Sanhedrin 102a). The reason why he and Ahiyah are described as having been "alone in the field" is because "all the other Torah scholars were like the grass of the field in comparison with them" (ibid.). As the officer in charge of tax collection from the tribe of Ephraim, Jeraboam was energetic and efficient. According to the sages, his main flaw was his pride. "God said to Jeraboam: 'If you will only repent, I, you and the son of Jesse will stroll in the Garden of Eden.' Jeraboam asked, 'Who will be at the head?' When God said, 'The son of Jesse will be at the head,' Jeraboam replied, 'I don't want to'." (Sanhedrin ibid.)
The rumblings that began to be felt in the last years of Solomon's life broke out into the open as soon as he died. Evidently knowledge of Ahiyah's appointment of Jeraboam as leader of the Ten Tribes had become public, and he was seen as the one person who could redress the people's grievances over the heavy yoke of the monarchy. Jeraboam's public criticism of Solomon over requisitioning parts of Jerusalem for Pharaoh's daughter's household (ch 11 v 27) put him in the status of a MOREID BEMALCHUS ("state traitor") whom the king sought to kill, but Jeraboam escaped to Egypt, where the new king Shishak was probably only too happy to give protection to a potential counterweight to the expansionist House of David (ibid. v 40). With the death of Solomon, the people recalled Jeraboam from Egypt , indicating that their resentment was already seething.
Solomon's successor Rehaboam showed the same kind of inexperience as many new rulers heady with their first taste of power: he thought the best way to suppress popular resentment would be through a resolute display of heavy-handedness. One wonders if the yoke about which the Israelites were complaining was purely economic - they were being taxed heavily, but it was to pay for the army to maintain the peace - or was it perhaps the yoke of halachic stringency represented by the House of David? (Solomon and his court had introduced a number of new "rabbinic" enactments to safeguard Torah law, such as EIRUVEY HATZEROS on Shabbos etc.) If so, one might see a parallel between Rehaboam's response to the hankering for greater laxity on the part of the Israelites and the response to the laxity of many of their coreligionists by those sectors of the Torah community who seem to be taking refuge in a fortress of ever greater stringencies, which often merely increase the rebelliousness of those outside the fortress.
When Rehaboam told the very people who were hoping for greater laxity that "my father chastised you with whips but I will chastise you with scorpions" (v 14) he surely did not realize that he was with his own mouth sealing the decree against the House of David. It was under the sign of the Scorpion that Jeraboam began the rebellion of the Ten Tribes: "And Jeraboam made a festival in the EIGHTH month on the 15 th day of the month". The eighth month is Marheshvan, coinciding with the astrological sign of Scorpio (Heb. AKRAV). Ever since, the month of Marheshvan has been a period when the sting of exile has often been particularly painful. This month is also especially associated with Rachel, mother of Joseph (Ephraim): Rachel's YAHRTZEIT ("death anniversary") is on 11 th Marheshvan. Rachel was Jacob's favorite wife, his IKAR BAYIS ("essential house"): the Hebrew letters IKaR Beis are the same as AKRAV.
The two golden calves that Jeraboam set up in Beith El and Dan in order to discourage people from going up to the Temple in Jerusalem "became a sin" (v 30) but they were not set up as idols from the very outset. If they had been, it is highly unlikely that the super-intelligent Israelites would all of a sudden have simply bent the knee to the very kind of idols the Torah loudly proscribes. RaDaK explains that in order to "compensate" people for not being able to go up to Jerusalem to experience the Shechinah in the Temple, Jeraboam set up these golden calves much in the same way as Aaron the Priest made the Golden Calf in the wilderness as a kind of visible sign of the Shechinah in the absence of Moses (RaDaK on vv 28-29).
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the idolatry surrounding these golden calves was not something simple and primitive but was supported by theoretical underpinnings and rationalizations that were so deep as to be totally overwhelming and convincing to most ordinary people. Out of mercy for the world God has arranged it so that the literature justifying this idolatry has been totally erased in order to save people from its allure (Likutey Moharan II:32). Not only is the ox one of the animals of the divine chariot, which by representing in gold the perpetrators of this idolatry were separating from the divine unity, turning it into a power of its own. The root of the word EGEL is also related to the root IGUL, a "circle" or "cycle", alluding to the great cycle of creation (cf. the comparison of an angel to an "ox", EGLA, in Taanis 25b).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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