Melakhim Alef Chapter 14
Yarovam’s son, Aviyah, falls seriously ill. Yarovam sends his wife in disguise and bearing gifts to approach the prophet Ahiya HaShiloni and inquire as to the child’s future. Hashem has informed Ahiya in advance that he will be receiving a visit from the wife of Yarovam, so when he hears her footsteps (he is blind) he addresses her immediately and questions her choice to come in disguise.
Ahiya foretells not only the imminent death of Aviyah but the downfall and annihilation of the House of Yarovam because of his abandonment of Hashem who appointed him as king. Aviyah will be the only member of the house of Yarovam who merits a proper burial and mourning rites. Not only will the royal line of Yarovam be extinguished, the nation under his control will be punished severely because of the sins into which he has led them.
As soon as the wife of Yarovam arrives home, the child dies, precisely as predicted by Ahiyah, and is mourned by the entire nation. Yarovam dies after reigning in Israel for a total of twenty-two years, and his son, Nadav, rules in his stead.
Meanwhile, in the kingdom of Yehudah, the people in Rehavam’s jurisdiction have strayed from the path of the Torah, engaging in rampant idolatry and immorality. Shishaq, the King of Egypt, rises up against Israel and captures all of the treasures in the House of God and in the king’s palace, including the golden shields that had adorned the royal residence. Rehavam replaces them with brass shields that are carried to protect him when he travels to the Bet Hamiqdash and are then kept by the guards who defend his house. They apparently no longer serve a purely decorative function. Constant tensions between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Yehudah mar the rest of Rehavam’s career. He dies and is succeeded by his son, Aviyam.
The episode with Yarovam is undoubtedly reminiscent of the actions of Shaul, who twice went out in search of the prophet Shemuel – once, before his anointment, bearing gifts and a second time, illicitly, when he disguised himself as a commoner, consulted the medium in En Dor and sought, to raise the prophet from the dead. Yarovam, like Shaul, allowed his desire for power and recognition to eclipse his devotion to God and, like Shaul, Yarovam had been out of communication with his prophetic mentor ever since he departed from the path of Torah.
Circumstances forced both of these wayward monarchs to finally confront their dependence on the word of Hashem and the authority and authenticity of the prophet whose messages they had disregarded and dismissed for quite a long time. Shaul and Yarovam exemplify the dangers of the monarchy that were initially predicted by Shemuel – the potential for political power and the craving for honor and glory to interfere with the king’s sense of his divinely appointed mission. The separation of powers into “religious” and “secular” or “prophet” and “king” had disastrous results in both cases, since the kings became too preoccupied with their own achievements, exploits and popularity to remain grounded and focused on Hashem’s kingship and their responsibility to sanctify His name.
On the positive side, though, we do see that, deep down, Shaul and Yarovam recognize Hashem and the legitimacy of his messengers. They may have struggled to deny the implications of Divine communications conveyed to them because of their inner character flaws, but in the end they were still Jews with some level of belief in God, Torah and prophecy; like many unaffiliated Jews today, they sought comfort from the religious institutions of their youth in times of crisis.
The description of the unraveling of Rehavam’s regime, presented in far greater detail in Divrei Hayamim, emphasizes that he ruled in Jerusalem, the city chosen by Hashem as home for His presence. Unlike Yarovam, whose motive for his “reforms” of Judaism derived from the fact that the Temple was not located in his territory, Rehavam had no such “excuse”. He permitted the slow infiltration of idolatrous cults, local sites of worship (Bamot), and immoral practices (either prostitution or cultic rituals involving immoral behavior) into the land, creating a distance between Hashem and the Jewish people.
This led to the domination of Israel by its former friend, Egypt, who stripped Rehavam of the wealth that had characterized the opulent and extravagant years of his father, Shelomo. Rehavam continues to leave his palace in order to visit the Bet Hamiqdash, but neither his palace, nor the Bet Hamiqdash, nor the entourage that accompanies him is nearly as illustrious or as impressive as it once had been. This diminished material wealth and political independence is, of course, the fulfillment of the Torah’s prediction that such blessings would be granted only as long as the nation was totally committed to the laws of the Torah. The deviation from Torah that continued to grow unabated on Rehavam’s watch was the cause of the faltering of his kingdom.
Hashem only granted material strength and political influence to the king of Israel as a means to the end of sanctifying His name in the world. When that objective was no longer the primary focus of the king’s activities, the means provided to him for achieving it would slowly be withdrawn. This gradual process allowed the monarch the opportunity to repent and reverse his fortune before it was too late.
The receding of the Divine Presence from Israel affected even the Bet Hamiqdash itself. The value of the Temple is dependent upon its context, how it is viewed and understood by the community in which it is situated. When it serves as a reminder of the relationship between the Creator and the Jewish people and as a testimony to the dedication of the Jewish people to their mission of sanctifying His name in the world, it is a magnificent spectacle indeed.
But as the nation loses sight of the real meaning of the Miqdash and its purpose, it becomes just another beautiful building in Jerusalem. Even worse, the Temple can become a spiritual liability that stands in the way of repentance and growth. The continued existence of the Miqdash in Israel implies that the bond between Israel and Hashem is robust and that the Divine Presence dwells among them. When this is not true, the Temple may provide a false sense of security that everything is alright rather than inspiring the nation to correct what is wrong.
One last observation worth making is the role of Egypt in this narrative. Throughout the description of the construction of the Bet Hamiqdash and at its dedication ceremony, there were many references to the Exodus from Egypt and its culmination in the establishment of the House for the Divine Presence in the Holy Land. However, at the same time, there were several mentions of Shelomo’s intermarriage with the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt and of his purchase of horses and chariots from Egypt.
When Yarovam first becomes rebellious and is forced to flee from Shelomo, he finds refuge with Shishaq, King of Egypt, which is especially ironic, since Shelomo himself is married into the royal family of Egypt. It is similar to the way in which David, branded a rebel against the regime of Shaul, was warmly welcomed by Akhish, the Phillistine King who would eventually defeat Shaul in his final battle. In our chapter, the same Shishaq who granted asylum to the renegade Yarovam ultimately lays siege to Rehavam and confiscates much of the wealth of his kingdom.
One wonders if the alliance between Shelomo and the Pharaoh was a long-term ruse on the part of the Egyptian King who was simply waiting for the balance of power to shift so that he could take advantage of his influence and conquer some or all of Israel. In fact, the Midrash states that from the day it was installed, the King of Egypt had coveted the ivory throne of Shelomo, desiring it for himself; with this, the Sages mean to suggest that his jealousy of Israel and nefarious intentions toward them were longstanding. However, when Shelomo was alive and the kingdom was aligned with the will of Hashem, the Jewish people were so prosperous and powerful as to be untouchable. With the faltering of the kingdom in the days of Rehavam – a direct result, of course, of their faltering in their relationship with Hashem – they were now exposed to the Egyptian attack that had been so many years in the making.
When the Jewish people were devoted to the service of Hashem, even the alliances they made with other nations were instrumental to that end and gained for them a superior position. However, when they descended to the level of ordinary politics and pursued the conventional goals of dominance and material wealth, those alliances fell apart and gave the upper hand to their adversaries. Egypt, the nation from which we were redeemed and from which we departed with wealth and a dream of constructing a Sanctuary for God had returned to us with a vengeance, put us in our place and robbed us of our possessions. This metaphoric “undoing” and reversal of the Exodus could have been avoided had we remained on the Torah’s track for success and not lost sight of our true mission as a holy people.
Of course, even on the level of practical wisdom there is a lesson to be learned here – alliances and treaties, like human beings, are in a constant state of flux and should always be taken with a grain of salt. With shifting circumstances come shifting alliances, and overnight one’s friend can become one’s foe. But the Book of Melakhim aims to derive the theological and moral lessons from the events of history and is not meant to serve as a textbook on political science.
Shelomo surely erred in welcoming the Pharaoh’s family into his confidence and inner circle, and this reflected poorly on his political and religious judgment. From the very beginning, as the Midrashim observe, Shelomo’s involvement with and intermarriage with Egypt showed that his personal redemption from the values and culture of Egypt was incomplete and thus set the stage for the eventual destruction of the Temple and Exile to Babylonia.