Melakhim Alef Chapter 11
Shelomo begins the final and most tragic stage of his descent in this chapter. In clear violation of the Torah, he marries many women, for a total of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. This far exceeds the number of wives permitted to a king by Jewish law. Moreover, a number of these women hail from nations with which the Torah explicitly forbids us to intermarry, even following a proper conversion.
Like Shimshon before him, Shelomo allows his passion for women to blur his judgment and loses sight of his mission as king of Israel. Under their influence, he authorizes the construction of altars dedicated to various idols, seemingly so that his wives can continue their countries’ religious traditions even though they have relocated to Israel.
Hashem decrees that, as a result of this unfaithful behavior, He will take the kingdom away from Shelomo’s descendants; however, this will occur only after the death of Shelomo himself. Moreover, one tribe – Yehuda – will remain under the rule of Shelomo’s dynasty so as to honor the promise that Hashem made to King David. The rest of the tribes will follow another king.
The chapter proceeds to describe three sources of opposition and stress that confronted Shelomo as punishment for his sin. Hadad the Edomite and Rezon ben Elyada were both survivors of military campaigns conducted under David’s direction in Edom and Aram, respectively. Through a complex series of seemingly random events and changes in each of their lives, by now they had risen to positions of prominence and leadership and used their power to create much trouble for Shelomo’s kingdom toward the end of his life.
The third source of resistance comes from within the ranks of the Jewish people. Yarovam ben Nevat, who possesses significant managerial and leadership skill, has been appointed as one of the top officers and tax collectors in Shelomo’s government. However, Yarovam expresses harsh criticism of Shelomo’s rebuilding of the breaches in the wall of the City of David and his investment in the fortification or improvement of the Millo. As we mentioned previously, whatever exactly the Millo is, the implication of the text is that this project set up a barrier between the residential area of Jerusalem on one side and the royal residential complex and Temple on the other.
This was naturally perceived as misguided, elitist, and an inappropriate use of communal funds for the personal aggrandizement of Shelomo and, even worse, for the aggrandizement of his most controversial wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. Closing off the breaches in the wall of the city sounds like a noble effort but, in fact, this limited access to the Temple and to the king’s palace, something unheard of in the times of David who was supremely accessible to the nation and ensured that the main place of worship was, as well. These grievances, fueled by the public perception of an increasingly imperial, extravagant, and self-involved Shelomo, emboldened Yarovam to confront his boss in an open and perhaps overly forward manner.
The prophet Ahiyah HaShiloni approaches Yarovam, who is wearing a brand new cloak, and tears the cloak into twelve pieces, handing ten of them to Yarovam. He informs Yarovam that Hashem plans to tear the kingdom away from the son of Shelomo and to transfer ten of the tribes of Israel to him instead. One tribe will remain faithful to the Davidic dynasty in order to uphold the Divine promise made to them and in order to maintain Jerusalem as the center of Jewish worship selected by God. If Yarovam adheres to the Torah and commandments of Hashem, he is promised a bright future as a co-monarch of Israel, including his very own royal dynasty. If he fails, however, then he, too, will lose the privilege of governing Hashem’s people.
Yarovam’s aspirations for the kingship become known and he must flee to Egypt, where he finds refuge with the King, Shishaq. Shelomo passes away after forty years of reign over Israel, passing the throne to his son, Rehavam.
It is important to note that it is not necessary, nor is it reasonable, to assume that Shelomo himself participated in the pagan worship that he permitted to take place in the land of Israel. It is more likely, and strongly supported by the language of the verses that emphasize his wives’ service to their gods, that he merely sponsored the building of the shrines, either for political reasons (to honor the families of his wives, many of which were probably royal families with whom he had contracted treaties) or for emotional reasons (to placate his wives who were likely sentimental about their religious heritage and conflicted about giving it up). However, the fact that the king of Israel endorses the establishment of state-sponsored idolatrous altars in the Holy Land is equivalent to having actually served idols.
The whole purpose of the selection of the nation of Israel and of their settlement of the land, not to mention the whole objective of the elaborate and long-awaited construction of the Temple, was to proclaim the existence of One God to all of humanity. The erection of idolatrous shrines under the auspices of Shelomo’s government, with the “royal seal” emblazoned upon them, so to speak, amounts to undermining the Divine purpose that was so close to being achieved. Visitors to Jerusalem who have arrived in search of knowledge of the unique and transcendent God of Israel will be totally confused by the multitude of idols and alternative places of worship that now dot the landscape. The message has officially been diluted and contaminated.
The language of Ahiyah HaShiloni indicates that Yarovam indeed had potential to be a great Jewish king, faithful to the Torah of Israel. Hashem articulates the same lofty expectations of Yarovam that he expressed to the kings of the House of David. This supports the Rabbinic tradition that Yarovam was, in fact, a pious and learned Jew who was quite capable of establishing a dynasty in his own right. Notwithstanding the very negative reputation Yarovam acquires later on, he clearly had tremendous potential, enough to qualify as the Almighty’s choice for the position of monarch. Had Yarovam been satisfied with the mission assigned to him and willing to work alongside (rather than in competition with) the Kingdom of Yehudah, he may have gone down in the books as one of the great kings of our history.
One question we can pose about this chapter is why Hashem insists on preserving a remnant of the Davidic dynasty in spite of the sins of his children. What is the benefit of perpetuating the legacy of David once it has been tarnished? Of course, Hashem swore to David that his descendants would never be totally rejected by Him, but why?
We may conjecture that there is an analogy between the covenant Hashem made with the Patriarchs and the covenant made with King David. In fact, in several places in the Tanakh, these promises are compared to one another, either explicitly or implicitly. In recognition of the outstanding wisdom and noble behavior of Avraham, Yitzchaq and Yaaqov, they were promised that their descendants would never perish from the face of the earth and would one day become a holy nation that deserved to inherit the land of Israel.
Although those children will surely falter and sin along the way, they will ultimately return to the path of Hashem and fulfill their divine purpose in the world. The fact that the Jewish people identify with the Patriarchs and view them as parental figures and role models to be emulated ensures that the nation, no matter how far removed it may be from the ideals of Torah at any given time, maintains some level of connection to the values of their ancestors. This, in turn, means that the Patriarchs are guaranteed that their life’s work will not have been in vain – their legacy, even if sometimes neglected, will never be forgotten or rendered obsolete.
The same is true of King David. The merit of his devotion to Hashem and Torah-true leadership made him worthy of becoming the example of genuine Jewish kingship for all time. The reward he is promised in Hashem’s covenant with him is that, like the Patriarchs before him, he can rest assured that the effect of his deeds will never be erased. His descendants will always look back to their roots and their heritage and, identifying with their great ancestor David, will have his legacy as an ideal to inspire and guide them.
To allow the dynasty of King David to be eliminated would neutralize the eternal impact he was meant and promised to have on generations of leaders after him. It would diminish the place that David had earned the right to occupy in the history and the destiny of Israel. The perpetuation of David’s monarchy in some form through his children holds out the hope that they will eventually awaken to the esteemed legacy they represent, embrace it, return to it, and restore the kingdom of David to its former glory.
Yarovam’s challenge to Shelomo’s leadership centers on the building projects the king undertook that were for no clear public purpose but for his own personal benefit. He capitalizes on the growing dissatisfaction with Shelomo that is fomenting in Israel. In this way, Shelomo’s punishment is “measure for measure” – he reaps exactly what he has sown. In isolating and elevating himself above the nation, he has provoked a level of resentment against the throne that will quickly propel Yarovam to power. This is yet another illustration of the Biblical principle of reward and punishment that we have observed many times in our study of Tanakh. There is no need for supernatural intervention here; the natural consequences of sinful or foolish behavior are a more than sufficient punishment for the perpetrator.