Hoshea 12:13 – 14:10
This week’s haftorah is devoted to the rebuke of the Jewish people for falling into their idolatrous practices. This serious national offense traces back to the days of the Jewish king Yeravam ben N’vat, the first king over the Ten Tribes after the split in the Jewish kingdom. During the first years of Shlomo’s son Rechavam, Hashem revealed through the prophet Achiya that ten of the Jewish tribes would leave the iron hand of Rechavam and be led by Yeravam. The tribes of Yehuda and Binyomin would remain under the reign of Rechavam, a scion of Dovid Hamelech. In those days, the influence of Shlomo Hamelech’s idolatrous wives threatened to corrupt the entire Jewish nation and Hashem responded by removing most of the Jewish nation from under Shlomo’s influence. Unfortunately, their new leader Yeravam misused his privilege and in place of preventing the spread of idolatry he actually developed it beyond the point of return. Eventually, Hashem was left with no choice but to exile the major portion of the Jewish people to bring matters under control. In our haftorah the prophet Hoshea turns to the remaining Jewish tribes and beckons them to return to Hashem and not follow their brothers’ corrupt ways.
It is quite beneficial to study the events which brought about the rise of Yeravam and thereby gain true appreciation for human sensitivity. The prophet Hoshea says, “When (Yeravam from) Efraim spoke frightening words he was elevated over Israel; yet he sinned in idolatry and died.” (Hoshea 13:1) This passage refers to a special incident described in Sefer M’lochim when Yeravam made a stand and reprimanded Shlomo Hamelech for forsaking the ways of his father, Dovid. Dovid Hamelech had designated an area outside Yerushalayim known as the Milo to serve as a communal area for the Jewish people when they visited Yerushalayim en masse during the festivals. However, his son Shlomo Hamelech, opted to utilize this area to build a beautiful palace for his new bride, the daughter of Pharaoh. The Jewish people were quite disturbed over this outrageous demonstration of authority but lacked the courage to respond to it. Taking the law into his own hands, Yeravam demonstrated religious zeal and publicly reprimanded Shlomo Hamelech for his behavior. Hashem responded to Yeravam’s outstanding display of courage in defense of Hashem’s people and elevated Yeravam to the highest position of power.
Our Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni, 196) reveal to us an important insight regarding Yeravam’s rise to power. They reflect upon a passage in M’lochim I (11:27) which describes Yeravam’s act in the following words, “For he lifted his hand against the king, Shlomo.” Chazal reveal that Yeravam actually merited to rise to power because of his outstanding display of courage in opposition to Shlomo Hamelech’s conduct. But, they painfully add that Yeravam was also severely punished because this reprimand was done in public. Apparently, Chazal are pointing a finger to the devastating outcome of Yeravam’s reign. They ask, “Being that Yeravam’s act was a meritorious one, as is evidenced by his appointment over Israel, why did Yeravam’s control result in the Jewish people’s horrible exile? If Hashem truly appreciated Yeravam’s devotion to Hashem and Israel how could such devotion develop so quickly into an encompassing campaign of idolatry?” Chazal answer that although Yeravam’s intentions were proper his insensitivity towards the king’s feelings and esteem reflected a serious fault. This failure to concern himself with the feelings of Shlomo Hamelech was cause for serious catastrophe. Although he was actually guided by religious zeal and truly felt compelled to act immediately he lost sight of the greater picture and permitted himself to publicly shame the honorable king of Israel.
This imbalance played itself out on a broader scope and Yeravam eventually introduced a separate religion for his kingdom. He feared that the Jewish pilgrimage to Yerushalayim would cause his following to forsake him and unite with Rechavam, the king of Yehuda. Based on an halachic precedent in the Bais Hamikdash, greater honor would be shown to Rechavam in the Temple area than would be shown to Yeravam. He reasoned that this would undermine Hashem’s master plan for the Ten Tribes to be led by their own leader. In response to this concern he established alternate sites of worship outside of Yerushalayim and discouraged his people from even visiting the Bais Hamikdash or associating with the kingdom of Yehuda. The result of these measures was that the Jewish people totally abandoned Hashem and became gravely involved in idolatry. Chazal reveal to us that if we analyze Yeravam’s fear we realize that it was rooted in this same insensitivity towards Rechavam. After all, it was certainly feasible for the king of Yehuda, being a scion of Dovid, to be recognized as an authority without interfering with Yeravam’s reign over the ten tribes. But, due to Yeravam’s insensitive attitude beginning with his insensitivity towards Shlomo and continuing with his attitude towards Shlomo’s descendants, Yeravam developed his threatening illusion. Regretfully, we learn that this underlying character, lacking respect for feelings and prestige of others eventually caused the downfall of our nation.
This lesson is most appropriately related to our sedra wherein our matriarch Rochel becomes the paradigm of human sensitivity, totally subjecting herself to the sensitivities of her sister, Leah. Although Rochel recognized the immeasurable spiritual outcome of her exclusive relationship with Yaakov this did not influence her when considering its effect on Leah. If this exclusiveness would cause Leah embarrassment and humiliation Rochel could not permit it and felt compelled to prevent it. She, unlike Yeravam, overlooked her religious fervor and focused on her sister’s pain. Therefore she revealed to her sister, Leah the secret signals of Yaakov and secured that Leah would also become part of his household. This sensitive approach of Rochel became the merit of the Jewish people for all times. In fact, Chazal inform us that Hashem responds specifically to the tefillah of Rochel on behalf of her children in exile. They explain that when Rochel cries over her children Hashem responds to her sensitivities. In her merit Hashem consents to forgive the Jewish people for their insensitivities and promises that the Jewish people will return to the land of Israel. Although their exile was rooted in the insensitivity of Yeravam for others, the merit of Rochel surpasses all of their faults. Her superhuman display of sensitivity becomes the character of the Jewish people and in her merit Hashem promises to return them to their homeland.