Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 10
"And Rehav'am went to Shechem." (v 1). The town of Shechem had already been marked out for troubles from the times of Jacob and Joseph (Gen. ch's 34 and 37:13). Shechem (=" Nablus ") was in the very heartland of the tribe of Ephraim, the tribe of Yerav'am (Jeraboam). Since the book of Chronicles was written to give honor to the House of David, our present text refrains from clarifying why Yerav'am had fled from King Solomon to Egypt . However, what is lacking here is set forth in I Kings 11:26-40, which tells that Yerav'am - who had been handpicked for his diligence by Solomon to serve as his chief collector of taxes from the tribe of Ephraim - had dared to criticize the king for encroaching on the pilgrims' right of way in Jerusalem in order to build accommodations for Pharaoh's daughter and her household. This turned Yerav'am into a traitor, thereby preparing him for his subsequent role as the leading antagonist against the House of David. Thus it was that Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter kindled the popular resentment that culminated with the tearing of the kingdom into two at the start of the reign of his successor Rehav'am, as had been prophesied by Ahiyah HaShiloni (I Kings 11:29ff).
V 4: "Your father made our yoke hard." According to the simple meaning of the text (PSHAT), the people's main grudge against the monarchy was because of the heavy taxes they had to bear. In the words of Rashi (ad loc.): "[Your father] was a man who was preoccupied with the exertion of building, and he put on us the burden of financing his workers and paying taxes."
From Rehav'am's eventual answer to the people's request to lighten their burden, "My little finger will be thicker than my father's loins" (v 10), our commentators infer that the new king had every intention of further enhancing the glory and splendor of the monarchy at the expense of the people. In the words of Metzudas David (on vv 10-11): "I am on a higher level than my father and it is necessary for me to have many horses and to expand my household. And if I am going to have more horses and a bigger household, seeing as my father already put a weighty yoke upon you, I am going to add to the burden because everything will be upon you to finance." From the program of fortifications and military strengthening which Rehav'am later initiated in Judea and Benjamin as described in the following chapter (II Chron. 11:5-12), we can only imagine what he initially had in mind prior to the split in the kingdom in order to fortify the territories of the other tribes and to build Israel into the supreme world power.
One wonders if another dimension of the dispute between Yerav'am and the populace relates to the spiritual "burden" that Solomon had placed upon the people. It is known that certain important rabbinic ordinances were instituted by Solomon and his Beth Din - such as the washing of hands (NETILAS YADAYIM) before eating HULLIN (regular food as opposed to Terumah) and the practice of using an ERUV on Shabbos in order to permit carrying in enclosed public areas even though this is not forbidden MID'ORAISO without an ERUV. Were the people asking Rehav'am to adopt a new course of spiritual leadership that would involve fewer stringencies and greater leniency? If this is so, we may discern an interesting parallel between the split in the time of Rehav'am and the split in today's Jewish "kingdom", where various halachic stringencies (CHUMRAS) pursued in certain sections of the Torah-observant community appear to impel other sectors to seek greater leniency and "freedom" and even to abandon Torah observance altogether.
If there is any validity in this parallel, it may be that the elders who counseled Yerav'am to come towards the people were offering similar counsel to that of Rabbi Nachman, who urged us not to adopt unnecessary stringencies in our practice of the Torah but rather to strive to keep all the commandments according to the simple interpretation of the law without seeking to go beyond it (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #235). However the "children" who had grown up with Rehav'am (who in the age of Solomon would all have been brilliant Torah scholars) advocated what a tough, inflexible front, advising the new king not to loosen up by providing KOOLAS (leniencies) but rather to tighten up and impose even more CHUMRAHS (stringencies, vv 8-11).
In this context it is highly illuminating to consider comments made by R. Baruch Halevy Epstein, author of the "Torah Temimah", about his father, R. Yechiel Michel Epstein 1829-1907, author of ARUCH HASHULCHAN, a brilliant, detailed multi-volume analysis of every law and subject area in the SHULCHAN ARUCH by an outstanding GAON OLAM (luminary of world stature). The Torah Temimah quotes his father - who was a Rav in Belorussia - as having emphasized that while it is much easier to give a stringent ruling than a lenient one, the latter requires greater Torah wisdom, and wherever possible the Rav should endeavor to give a lenient ruling as long as it is fully in accord with all the principles of the Halachah.
Rehav'am promised to chastise the people with scorpions, and this is indeed what happened, because when Yerav'am led the Ten Tribes in their rebellion against the House of David, he decided to stop people going to Jerusalem for the pilgrim festivals (which would have led to their reconciliation) by establishing an idolatrous festival in Beth El to rival the festival of Succoth. Yerav'am's festival was a month after Succoth on the 15 th of Marcheshvan, the astrological sign of which is SCORPIO!!! The month of Marcheshvan has often proved to be a time of chastisement and suffering for the people of Israel .
".and now, David, look to your house!" (v 16). The people's contemptuous rejoinder to Rehav'am was, in the words of Rashi (ad loc.): "We can bear neither you nor your Temple !" With this began the split between the Ten Tribes and those of Judah and Benjamin under the House of David that has been the defining feature of the history of Israel ever afterwards, and which has ramifications until today. In many ways the gulf between today's remnant of Torah-observant faithful and the extensive rainbow of other latter-day orientations to being Jewish or Israeli is a manifestation of this same split.
Civil wars among the tribes of Israel had recurred from the times of the Judges until the war between the House of Saul and the House of David, and only the generously conciliatory attitude of King David had brought peace and unity to the nation. Eighty years after the death of Saul, Rehav'am initially wanted to use military might to coerce the Ten Tribes into returning under his tutelage (our present chapter, verse 1) but he had the good sense to heed the words of the prophet Shemayah and to abstain from unleashing an all-out civil war, which could only have led to disaster because the split in the kingdom was divinely ordained.
Instead Rehav'am had to content himself with a lower-key way of pursuing the expansionist ambitions of his father Solomon by building new and reinforcing existing fortified towns all over Judea and Benjamin (vv 5-12). As we learn from our text, all these towns were well provided with abundant supplies of food and water (see Rashi on v 5) as well as military arms.
With the Ten Tribes under the leadership of Yerav'am deviating ever further into idolatry, they had little use for the Cohanim and Levites, whose entire function and organizational basis were bound up with their service in the Temple in Jerusalem. Ever since the marriage of Aaron the High Priest with Eli-sheva, daughter of Aminadav, Prince of the Tribe of Judah (Ex. 6:23), the priesthood had been closely bound up with the kingship of the royal tribe, and thus it was natural for the priests and Levites to continue their alliance with the House of David and gravitate to Jerusalem (verse 13). Yerav'am established his own religious functionaries to serve in Beth El and other cult centers (v 15), while the remaining Torah-faithful members of the Ten Tribes went to Jerusalem to serve the God of their fathers (v 16).
Rehav'am sensibly used a series of marriage alliances within the tribe of Judah to consolidate his power over his fellow tribesmen (vv18-21).
V 23: "And he DEALT WISELY (VA-YIVEN, lit. 'and he UNDERSTOOD') and dispersed all of his children throughout all the districts of Judah and Benjamin to every fortified city." Metzudas David (ad loc.) explains: "He understood that he was faced with a rebellion and he was afraid of it, and for this reason he consolidated his position by scattering all his sons to all the different territories of Judah and Benjamin and to all the fortress cities in order to guard him from any rebellion. 'And he sought many wives' - to marry them to his sons in order to consolidate his kingship with the help of the fathers of these wives."
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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