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Va-Yetze 5773

Haftarah Parshat Vayetze
(Hosea 12:13-14:10)
November 24, 2012
10 Kislev 5773

One characteristic of the rabbinic midrashic tradition is to take Scriptural references which are seemingly abstract and to attach them to specific concrete historical circumstances. At the beginning of chapter 13, Hosea recounts the sins which brought about the demise of the northern kingdom, Israel, in figurative language: “When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling. He exalted himself in Israel, but when he became guilty through Baal, he died.” (13:1 – JPS 1917 translation)

This verse seemingly speaks about a strong king who was brought low on account of his idolatrous behavior. Which king of the northern kingdom might fit this description? This question is not an easy one to answer. The midrashic tradition, however, identifies this king with Jeroboam, who led the northern kingdom to secede from the southern kingdom after Solomon’s death. Basing itself on the verse from Hosea, a whole story evolved to explain the circumstances under which the secession occurred:

R. Yudan said: All seven years during which Solomon built the Temple he did not drink any wine. After he [finished] building it, he married Bitiah, the daughter of Pharaoh. That night, he drank wine. There were two celebrations on that occasion: the one in rejoicing over the erection of the Temple and the other in rejoicing for the daughter of Pharaoh. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Whose [rejoicing] shall I accept, of these [celebrating the erection of the Temple] or of the others [rejoicing over the daughter of Pharaoh]?’ At that moment, God thought to destroy Jerusalem. This is [indicated by] what is written: ‘I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans… and the Chaldeans… shall come and set this city on fire…. For this city hath been to Me a provocation of Mine anger and of My fury from the day that they built it…. Because of all the evil of the children of Israel and of the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me, they, their kings, their princes, etc.’ (Jeremiah 32:28 ff.)

Said R. Hunya: The daughter of Pharaoh danced eighty different dances that night and [on account of the festivities], Solomon slept (late) until the fourth hour of the day. [This created a problem since] the keys of the Temple were placed under his head, as we learn in the Mishnah, that the daily burnt-offering is offered up at the fourth hour. (M. Eduyot 6:1) [Some say] his mother entered [his bedroom] and reproved him [for sleeping late]. Others say that Jeroboam the son of Nebat entered and rebuked him. Was he then powerful [enough to do such a thing]? R. Haggai said in the name of R. Isaac: He rose and gathered together a thousand men of his tribe, and entered and rebuked him. Thus it is written: ‘When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling.’ (Hosea 13:1) – which means that when Jeroboam spoke Solomon trembled. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Jeroboam: How dare you rebuke him? ‘He is a prince in Israel’ (ibid), [namely, Solomon is a prince of Israel.] (This interpretation completely alters the original meaning of this part of the verse from Hosea.) By your life, I will give you (Jeroboam) a taste of his exalted position, and you will see that you will not be able to stand the temptations of the position.’ As soon as Jeroboam became king, ‘he became guilty of worshipping Baal and died’ (ibid). (Leviticus Rabbah 12:5 Margoliot ed. pp. 262—5)

This unusual “rewriting” of the story of the secession of the Northern Kingdom is obviously fictional. Its intention is to teach a message. Solomon is clearly in the wrong in this story. His behavior is sinful and destructive. Nevertheless, Jeroboam is taken to task for challenging him without having an appreciation of the challenges of being king. What was Jeroboam’s punishment? God made him king so that he, too, would fall prey to sin. Hillel seemingly sums up this message in Pirke Avot (2:5): “Don’t judge your fellow until you stand in his place”

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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