Avraham ben Yaakov


Our chapter traces the beginning of Judah 's descent into degeneracy, which started in the reign of Rehav'am, and the consequences to which it led.

"And it came to pass that as Rehav'am established the kingdom and strengthened himself, he forsook the Torah of HaShem and all Israel with him" (v 1). The conventional printed Bibles make this verse the first verse of a new chapter, but in the Hebrew text as written in the parchment scroll it is actually the closing verse of the previous section, which runs continuously from II Chron. 11:18 until 12:1, while the new section (PARSHAH PESUCHAH), which opens at 12:2, relates the consequences of their deviation from the Torah - the attack on Jerusalem by Sheeshak king of Egypt. In concluding the previous section, which explained how Rehav'am consolidated his hold over Judah, by saying that he then forsook the Torah, our text seems to imply that the reason was because he fell into complacency, saying that "My power and the strength of my hand have gotten me this might" (Deut. 8:17).

The parallel account in I Kings 14:22-24 specifies in what way Rehav'am and the people forsook the Torah - by making private altars after the Temple had already been built, establishing Asherah (tree-worship) cults, and permitting the spread of prostitution and immorality, all of which were strictly forbidden under Torah law. We need not assume that the people totally forsook all kinds of Torah practice in the same way that today many have become completely "secularized". The flaw lay in the fact that while they continued following the commandments, particularly those relating to the Temple, they simultaneously opened themselves to other cults and practices, which weakened their loyalty to HaShem, who wants us to serve Him with undivided hearts.

In retribution God sent Sheeshak with a vast army of Egyptians, Libyans and other African peoples to invade Israel . It appears that Sheeshak may have been a Libyan general who had replaced the previous dynasty of Pharaohs with whom Solomon had been allied in marriage. Sheeshak had already showed his hostility to the royal house in Jerusalem by giving hospitality to Yerav'am when he fled from Solomon (I Kings 11:40). It appears that Sheeshak now wanted to take advantage of Rehav'am's weakness in order to turn Israel back into being essentially a province under the dominion of Egypt as it had been in former times.

Sheeshak's invasion caused a wave of repentance in Rehav'am and his officers when the prophet Shemayah explained to them that they had brought it upon themselves because of their own backsliding. After two generations of national independence and dominion over others in the reigns of David and Solomon , Israel would once again taste the bitterness of threats from and subjugation to other nations in order to learn the difference between serving God and serving the kingdoms of the various lands (cf. verse 8). As a result of the repentance of Rehav'am and his officers, God did not let Sheeshak realize his imperial ambitions, but the Egyptian king did succeed in looting many of the treasures amassed by David and Solomon. Despite being chastened, Rehav'am did not repent completely and is criticized in our text for failing to set himself wholeheartedly to search out Hashem (v 14).

"Now the acts of Rehav'am. are written in the book of Shemayah the prophet and of Iddo the seer." (v 15). Rashi (ad loc.) writes that each prophet wrote his own book containing his prophecies. In the following chapter (II Chron. 13:22) Iddo's book is called a MIDRASH. It seems possible that the Book of Kings consists of a weave (MASECHET) of such writings.


Having reigned for seventeen years, Rehav'am was succeeded by his son AVI-YAH, who in the parallel account in I Kings 15:1 is called AVI-YAM. There in Kings only the barest outline is given of the brief three-year reign of Avi-yah, who is simply described as having followed all the sins of his father before him and as having not been whole-hearted with HaShem in the way that David had been (I Kings 15:3).

Our present text gives us a closer look at Avi-yah, who apparently sought to bring back the Ten Tribes under the tutelage of the House of David through a combination of military might (or bluff?) and intense psychological pressure. He was bold enough to take an army of four hundred thousand soldiers against an opponent who was able to field double that number (verse 3). In his speech to Yerav'am and the Ten Tribes, Avi-yah asserts the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy against Yerav'am's rebel regime, whose sham idolatrous priesthood of upstarts he contrasts with the authentic Cohanim and Levites who practiced all the Temple rites in Jerusalem exactly as ordained in the Torah. In the merit of their service Avi-yah was apparently confident that he would be granted an easy victory, but his army was in great danger when Yerav'am sent a detachment to attack them from the rear. They rose to the occasion with a display of trust in God, and Avi-yah was able to deliver a mighty though not decisive blow to the Ten Tribes. According to Midrash Rabbah cited by RaDaK on v 17 of our present text, "the great blow" with which Avi-yah struck them was more than just killing five hundred thousand of them. He intentionally left the bodies of the slain Israelites until their faces were unrecognizable so that they would not be able to be identified, with the result that women whose husbands had gone to the battle would not know definitely if they had been widowed or not and would thus be left as AGUNAHS never able to remarry.

"Nor did Yerav'am recover strength in the days of Avi-ah AND HASHEM STRUCK HIM AND HE DIED" (V 20). The simple meaning appears to be that HaShem struck Yerav'am, who died, but in fact it is clear from our texts that Yerav'am lived for two years after the death of Avi-yah, and the Midrash learns that AND HASHEM STRUCK HIM refers not to Yerav'am but to Avi-yah, who was punished because after capturing Beth El he failed to uproot the idolatrous cult of the golden calf, and also because in his speech to the Ten Tribes he castigated Yerav'am publicly (see Rashi on v 20 and RaDaK at length ibid.).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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