Shiur #12: The Rebellion of Yerovam - Part II: New Kingdom, New Religion
Sefer Melakhim: The Book of Kings
By Rav Alex
This shiur is dedicated by Mr. and Mrs. Alan Kravitz on behalf of Elie Kravitz
Shiur #12: Chapter 12
Rebellion of Yerovam - Part II:
Rechavam went to Shekhem, for all of
Bnei Yisrael had gone there to make him king. When Yerovam ben Nevat heard this (and
he was still in
Shekhem in particular? First, Shekhem was known as an optimal site for a
mass-gathering. It is Shekhem that
the Torah designated as the site of the ceremony of the national covenant the
blessings and curses - when
functioned as an entry point to the country, as we see in the stories of
it was the first stop for travelers entering the country from
An Old Rivalry: Yehuda and Yosef
Tanna taught a teaching of R. Yossi: Shekhem is a place prone to
There Yosef was sold; there the
The splitting of the kingdom is a story with deep roots. This national division is a resurgence of the ancient tension between Yosef and Yehuda, which is rooted in turn in the rivalry between Rachel and Leah. Yosef and Yehuda are both contenders for the leadership of the family, and subsequently of Bnei Yisrael. This struggle erupts with the episode of Yosef's sale, which was instigated by Yehuda.
that even as the nation moved towards a more coherent national entity, the rift
between Yehuda and Yosef persisted nonetheless.
Evidence to this is that centuries later, in the period of Shaul, there is a
clear division between Yehuda and the rest of
He numbered them in Bezek;
and the sons of
So Saul summoned the men
and counted them at Telaim 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men from
Why was Yehuda counted separately from everyone else? Why were they viewed as a separate unit? Later, after the death of King Shaul, the kingdom split into two for a period of seven and a half years. Yehuda was led by King David, but all the other tribes followed Shaul's son, Ish-Boshet:
Ish-boshet, Shaul's son,
was forty years old when he became king over
For over seven years, Yehuda functioned as a separate sub-state. David eventually united the kingdom, but even then, the seam line between Yehuda and the other tribes was prone to becoming unravelled. When David was deposed by his son Avshalom, allowing an opportunity for charlatans to stir up inter-tribal friction, one such character, Sheva Ben Bichri, manipulated an apparent insult to the tribe of Binyamin and attempted to once again split the nation. His rallying cry:
He blew the trumpet and
said, "We have no portion in David, nor inheritance in the son of Yishai!
Every man to his tent, O
I mention this history, because that very phrase can be found in our chapter:
Yerovam's public rejection of the rule of the House of David preserves and resuscitates a secessionist statement that was declared more than a generation earlier.
We have already discussed the manner in which Yerovam represented the tribes of Yosef in opposition to Shlomo's leadership, which favored Yehuda. This rebellion then, is yet another revival of the historic differences and rivalry between Yehuda and Yosef (Efrayim).
THE WISDOM OF THE CHILDREN
As we proposed at the outset, the very fact that Rechavam held his coronation in Shekhem reflects his understanding that trouble was brewing. He knew he had to make a gesture towards the tribes of Yosef. But here we see his first mistake. When the people asked for a rather sensible and modest request a tax break Rechavam asked for three days to reflect and take advice. This consultation, which ordinarily would be commendable, proved disastrous. The three day wait intensified the malcontents and the opposition. King David, when similarly faced with a tribal revolt, insisted that the army had three days to get into action and to put down any opposition. He knew that the flames of political unrest need to be doused fast. Rechavam, on the other hand, let the unrest fester for three days. By the time he returned with an answer, things had reached a fever pitch, as we can see by the stoning of Adoniram, the reviled tax minister.
Rechavams second mistake was the identity of his advisors. He abandoned Shlomo's sage consultants for the "children with whom he had grown up." What is wrong with young advisors? There are two ways of looking at it:
If elders say "destroy" and children say to "build" destroy and don't build, for the destruction of elders constitutes an act of construction, and the building of youths is, in fact, an act of destruction. The indication of this principle is the story of Rechavam, son of Shlomo. (Megilla 31b)
According to this approach, in general one should prefer the mature wisdom of the elder to the unripe and inexperienced word of the youth, which lacks perspective. In this biting critique of youth, which sounds rather crotchety to a modern ear but is possibly a necessary balance to the contemporary worship of youth, even the attempted achievements of the young are deemed as useless and destructive. One should always consult with those of seasoned years and possessed of the wisdom of experience.
This reading ignores the second characterization of these children, indicated by the phrase: "with whom he had grown up." I feel that the text here is describing a group of youngsters whose entire life experience has been framed by the wealth and luxury of the Shlomo era. They are the palace-set, the wealthy and privileged who have never known a day of hardship in their lives. Maybe their faulty advice is not simply a question of age, but a matter of upbringing. They contemptuously issue their advice, dismissive of the burden of the common peasant:
Say to them, My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. My father imposed a heavy yoke on you; I will add to your yoke; my father flogged you with whips; but I will flog you with scorpions! (12:10-11)
This does not simply ring of conceit; it reflects a detached "Let them eat cake" attitude.
RECHAVAM A POSITIVE PERSPECTIVE (12:20-24)
But Rechavam was not all bad. In fact, he exhibited tremendous respect for prophecy and acted with remarkable restraint. When he saw the northern tribes renounce his authority and withdraw from the kingdom, one would imagine that any normal king would muster his army and re-establish full control. This is precisely what Rechavam did, mobilizing 180,000 troops. But when the prophet Shemaaya, of whom we have never heard before, informed him that this was all God's doing and warned him not to engage in a civil war, Rechavam listened to him and called off his attack. Can you imagine? The king was in the process of losing 90% of his country, and he simply obeyed God's command to back down and let it happen! We should not minimize the depth of the challenge here and the formidable religious faith that Rechavam must have held in order to follow this particular prophecy.
A NEW RELIGION (12:26-33)
Up to this point in the story, Yerovam has been depicted in the most positive terms. It is at this juncture that things start moving downhill and we see the events that bestow upon Yerovam his infamous reputation. It all begins with a specific concern:
to himself, "Now the kingdom may well return to the House of David. If this
people go up to offer sacrifices at the House of God in
worry should not to be minimized.
In the ancient world, there was a close affinity between the king and the
is to create an alternative to
1. Shrines at Dan and Bet-El (v.29-31)
2. Golden calves (v.27-28)
3. The people are invited to be kohanim (v.31)
4. Changing the date of Sukkot (v.32)
5. The king functions as a kohen, performing the Avoda on the mizbeach (12:22-13:1)
Let us examine each of these in turn.
1. SHRINES AT DAN AND BET-EL
These two sites represent the northern and southern extremities of Yerovam's kingdom, and it would be natural for Yerovam to establish royal and religious gathering points at these locations. But this is not the sole reason why these locations were selected. Each location has a rich religious past.
Bet-El, of course, was the site of Yaakov's prophetic dream, in which he saw a ladder linking heaven and earth. He awoke and proclaimed:
God was in this place and I didn't know? How awesome this place is! This is none other than the House of God and this is the gateway to the heavens. (Bereishit 28:16-18)
name Bet-El House of God attests to the fact that it was viewed as a
religious site. It is apparent that even in Shaul's time, it was a place of
worship and sacrifice to Hashem.
Whereas Bet-El's credentials are explicit in the Torah,
Dan also had a rich history of worship. Sefer Shoftim tells us that a syncretic site of worship had existed there throughout the Shoftim period:
The tribe of Dan set up the molten image, and Yonatan ben Gershom ben Menashe and his sons were priests until the day of the exile of the land... all the days of the House of God in Shilo. (Shoftim 18:30-31)
Dan had been an "alternate" worship site to God throughout the Shilo period. From the perspective of Tanakh, it was illicit and illegitimate because it mixed God worship with a molten image. But from the vantage point of the people, who were on so low a religious level, it was most probably viewed it as a legitimate place to worship Hashem and they were unbothered by the mix of contradictory religious elements.
And so, Yerovam could build his new religious sites upon a substantial tradition of history and worship of God in both locations.
We have already spoken (shiur #4) about the bamot, the local altars or shrines that existed prior to the Beit Ha-Mikdash and were considered fully legitimate. Let us quote again the mishna in Zevachim:
Until the Mishkan
was erected, bamot were permitted
When the Mishkan was
erected, bamot became forbidden
They came to Gilgal and the bamot
[When] they came to Shilo, the bamot were forbidden
[When] they came to Nov and to Giv'on, the bamot were [again] permitted
[When] they came to
look back with the perspective of our heritage of a Beit Ha-Mikdash - a
history of a single, central site of worship, with a particular emphasis upon
the city of
2. THE GOLDEN CALVES: AHARON AND YEROVAM
What is unexpected and rather staggering are the two golden calves that were displayed at these shrines. What was Yerovam up to? Did he not know the prohibition against molten images? This certainly appears to be bona fide idolatry! And when we hear about calves, it sounds rather like a repetition of another Golden Calf episode the great sin of the Midbar. There are several parallels:
1. The figure of a molten golden calf
2. The pronouncement here, made by Yerovam:
you to go up to
This statement mirrors precisely the proclamation in Sefer Shemot:
your Gods, O
Recall that the Golden Calf of the wilderness also had altars associated with it, just like each of these calves.
4. Aharon became High Priest. In 13:1, we see Yerovam functioning as a priest on the top of the altar!
Why did Yerovam perpetrate a recurrence of the Golden Calf? It is clear from these parallels that Yerovam cast himself as a second Aharon of sorts. But didn't the people know that the Golden Calf was a severe sin? Why would Yerovam portray his rituals in the light of an act with such negative associations?
One can only conclude that Yerovam successfully portrayed Aharon as a hero, a tzaddik, and that he managed to minimize and rationalize the sin of the Golden Calf. Possibly, he presented the sense that the Egel Ha-Zahav had not been that terrible a crime. After all, the Torah records that God forgave the nation. And Aharon, the actual builder of the Calf, was "promoted" to the position of Kohen Gadol. If Aharon had perpetrated idolatry, why wasnt he executed? One imagines that this type of reasoning legitimized Yerovam's actions.
The Radak adds a further dimension:
[Yerovam's] rhetoric convinced them: "Don't you know that the kingdom has been
split by God's desire, as transmitted by Achia Ha-Shiloni? Therefore, God has
expressed his rejection of the rule of the House of David and also of
Let us add
that in Shlomo's temple, the Yam (water reservoir) stood on a base of
twelve oxen. Oxen were not absent from the arena of sacrifice. Other figures also featured in the
Mikdash. Shlomo had also installed two huge keruvim. And let us not ignore the pagan shrines
built to other gods in
Now, we do have to examine to what degree these calves were, in fact, unadulterated idolatry. We shall relate to this question in our upcoming shiur. At this point, I would like to refer to a number of the other features of Yerovam' reforms.
3. KOHANIM FROM ALL THE PEOPLE
He appointed kohanim from the ranks of the people who were not of Levite descent. (12:28)
In our previous shiur, we noted two features of Yerovam's rebellion:
- His democratic, people-based approach, together with his anti-elitist worldview.
- His insistence upon popular access to the places of worship.
This is expressed here in his desire to allow the people, whoever they were, to gain access to the sacrifices and ritual services. Adding to what we said earlier, the bamot were most certainly democratic; we have no record of kohanim from the tribe of Levi acting as functionaries at bamot. Similarly, Yerovam was able to take up his popular people's uprising and grant access to religion for all.
Interestingly, if we further our Egel Ha-Zahav parallel, we should recall that it was the tribe of Levi in particular that opposed its worship (Shemot 32:26.) Possibly, Yerovam steered clear of Levi for this very reason, or perhaps the kohanim refused to comply. In fact, Divrei Ha-yamim (II 11:13-14) records a huge influx of kohanim and Leviim to the Southern kingdom of Yehuda; as they saw the manner in which Yerovam disdained the kohanim, they migrated to the only place in which they could correctly serve God, in the Mikdash.
4. CHANGING THE DATE OF SUKKOT OR THE CALENDAR
if the people would decide to make "aliya la-regel" to
And Yerovam established a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month the month he contrived of his own mind to establish a festival. (12:32-33)
If the festival was to be celebrated in the eighth month, a month AFTER Sukkot, then how did that help at all? People would make the trip to the Mikdash for Sukkot in the seventh month! How would this deter people from aliya la-regel? Furthermore, what is "the month he contrived of in his own mind?"
suggestions have been made as to how Yerovam convinced the people to celebrate
in the eighth month. The simplest
and most elegant solution is that Yerovam added a month to the calendar,
instigating a leap-year of sorts (Abarbanel). This is the "month which he contrived
of." Hence, the calendar in the North was running a month LATER than in the
Southern Kingdom. (When it was the
6th month in the North, it was the 7th month in the
South.) At the point in the year at which people ordinarily began to consider
carefully crafted shift, an extensive assortment of religious changes, assured
Yerovam that his subjects would not drift in the direction of
We have discussed the scope of Yerovam's revolutionary reforms and the creation of new religious centers around the country. However, one discussion has eluded us. The commentaries debate the degree to which Yerovam's calves constitute classic idolatry. If they were not idols, what were they? We will open with that discussion next week.
 See Daat Mikra.
 The instruction is found in Devarim 11:26-32 and in ch.27; the historical account of the event is in Yehoshua ch.8.
 Yehoshua ch.24
 On the acoustics of Shekhem and the "natural amphitheatre" that is created by the topography of the mountains, see:
 Bereishit 12:7
 Bereishit 33:18
 Yehoshua 20:6
 Bereishit 37:13 tells us that Shekhem was the place from which Yosef was sold. R. Yossi also mentions that it is the place where Dina was raped. Of course, we have mentioned a number of positive covenantal events that took place there, so Shekhem is not all bad, but the geographical linkage between Yosef's sale, instigated by Yehuda, and its corollary, the rejection of Yehuda by the Tribes of Yosef, is a striking feature here.
 See Divrei Ha-yamim I 5:1-3
 See the excellent article by R. Yaakov Medan, which gives a comprehensive picture to this pan-historic divide: http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/parsha65/11-65vayigash.htm
Recent thinkers have attempted to sketch typological studies of Yehuda as opposed to Yosef. See Rav Kook's "Ha-Misped Bi-Yerushalayim" in Maamrei Ha-Raayah and R. Adin Steinsaltz's wonderful book Biblical Images in the chapters on Rachel and Leah.
 See also Shmuel II 24:9
 See Shmuel II ch.19 and the extreme tribal antagonism found there.
 Many years later, Yechezkel prophesized that at a future time, this split will no longer exist and that Israel will become "one people in the land and a single king over them" (Yechezkel 37:16-30).
We have already noted the parallel with the Sheva ben Bichri story; this three day period is a second parallel. See Shmuel II 20:4.
 Obviously, these were not children but youths, perhaps people in there 20's or 30's. I believe that the text calls them children to emphasize their foolishness and their juvenile wisdom.
 The name Shemaaya translates as "Hear God" and is highly fitting for a prophet. Similarly, Yerovam means "will fight for the people" and is highly evocative, representing with great precision his main identity. Some have proposed that the name Yerovam is a deliberate wordplay on the name of his rival, Rechavam, and was taken up by Yerovam as a political gesture as part of his opposition to the rule of the House of David. Rechavam's name is also significant; it means "wide nation," probably representing the expansive national situation of Shlomo's era, and it resonates retrospectively with a certain irony, as his reign represents the loss of 9/10ths of the nation.
traditional mefarshim (Rashi, Radak etc.), who all quote Chazal to
the effect that at any event in the
 Note the interesting verb "va-yiva'atz," relatively rare in Tanakh. This word has already featured in our chapter in connection with Rechavam's unsuccessful act of consultation with his young advisors. Now it reappears as Yerovam's consults his (anonymous) advisors and emerges with his foolhardy and pernicious religious reforms.
 See Shmuel I 10:3
See Rashi on
Bereishit 28:17: "Yaakov called
 Tel Dan has been excavated by Avraham Biran, who discovered the bama and altar site at the tel. It is an incredibly rich archeological site, and the place at which scholars have discovered the most ancient archeological finds citing of the "House of David."
of the land" in this context indicates the destruction of
 Melakhim I 14:20
 Melakhim I 14:1
 The phrase "rav lakhem" in pasuk 28 is a direct parallel
to the phrases used in Bamidbar 16 in the context of the Korach
rebellion. Korach also sought to
legitimize non-kohanim as candidates for the
(Bava Batra 121b) that Yerovam stationed sentries on the way to forcibly
prevent olei regel from reaching