Parshas Ki Sisa.




In this week’s Parsha we learn how our nation built the Golden Calf. This sin was considered very great; we lost the high level we had achieved. That generation received a great punishment and our nation paid for this sin it throughout all our history[1]. About 500 years later the Jewish people split into two countries: the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Yehudah. The first king of Israel – Yeroveam son of Nevat forbade the Jews in his kingdom to go to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and constructed two Temples for worshipping each containing a Golden Calf. What was his purpose and how did the Jewish people permit this after knowing what Divine anger the first Gold Calf caused?




Before we even start discussing this topic, it’s important to realize that no matter what reasons we come up with to explain Yeroveam’s actions, these explanations will be just a small portion of all the arguments that he offered to defend his position. We don’t have in our hands “Questions and Answers of HaRav[2] Yeroveam”. If we would see such a book nobody in our generation would be able to reject the arguments. The mistake of Yeroveam was quite subtle while the reasons for his Halachic decisions were rather compelling. This is why he was able to convince all the sages of his kingdom, the elders of Sanhedrins of each tribe and even the great prophet Achia Hashiloni. We can really have no grasp today of all the deep Halachik and Kabalistic reasons that Yeroveam must have used. We will only try to offer some of his possible arguments to the best of our limited understanding.


In the end of his life King Shlomo was severely criticized by prophets for not stopping his numerous wives[3] from worshipping idols. As Shlomo grew older and weaker many of his wives who were themselves daughters of gentile kings returned back to idol worship. This does not mean that they fully renounced their conversion to Judaism. Most likely these women carefully observed most mitzvos. However the desire for idol worship was very strong at the time especially for people who were brought up with it. Many worshiped the idols out of superstition or simply for good luck[4]. At times they did not feel that they are rejecting Hashem by doing so.


Because of Shlomo’s failure to stop his wives’ idolatry, he was foretold that after his death ten of the Jewish tribes will break of from his kingdom and form a country of their own. One of the greatest sages of the time, Yeroveam ben Nevat was anointed by Achia Hashiloni to become the king of Israel after Shlomo’s death. Yeroveam had to run away in a similar way Dovid became fugitive when he was anointed during lifetime of king Shaul. Once Shlomo passed away, Yeroveam came back knowing that he will succeed in becoming a king.


Everything went as predicted by the prophet. The ten tribes rejected the rule of Shlomo’s son Rechaveam because they felt they were paying exuberant taxes to Shlomo’s house. Yeroveam became the king over the Northern tribes. The prophet (Melachim 2:12:26-33) now describes that Yeroveam was afraid that if the people of kingdom will continue  coming to Jerusalem three times a year, he will loose his power. His very first action was therefore to build two new temples in his kingdom and institute apparent idol worship! A number of other sins of Yeroveam are mentioned by the prophet. Besides introducing the new temples with golden calves, he forbade the people to go to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He also instituted a new holiday instead of Sukkos, exactly one month later. At last he allowed the non-cohanim to serve in his temples. Certainly without trying to understand what really happened, the whole story makes no sense. How could a leading sage of Israel fall so low? Even if he did, why didn’t the nation rebel against him?


Most commentators[5] agree that the golden calves made by Yeroveam were not meant to actually be worshiped. They were rather symbolic just as we find two lions in many synagogues today[6]. The reason the lions are chosen is because most of us come from Yehudah who is likened to a lion. Similarly Yeroveam chose the image of bull that symbolizes his tribe - Yosef. Since Yosef actually consists of two different tribes - Menashe and Ephraim, two temples were built. There is actually a much deeper significance in this. In the vision of the Merkava (the "Chariot" of Hashem) certain types of angels are described as having four faces. The face on the right is that of a lion, and the one on the left is that of the bull. Indeed, the North is associated with the left side of Hanhaga and therefore it was appropriate image[7] for the Northern tribes. Yehudah was in the South and this is why the image of a lion is appropriate to it.


Now all the sages and elders of the Northern Kingdom knew that Hashem has turned His face away from "sinful" kingdom of Yehudah. They therefore concluded that the special chosen Temple in Jerusalem does not have its' Holiness any longer, since the Divine Presence left it. If so, the Temple is considered to be destroyed, and it may be permitted to bring offerings anywhere. Indeed there is such a view in the Talmud (Megillah 10a): when the Temple is destroyed the Holy place where it stood has no greater holiness than any other place and it's permitted to bring korbanos outside of it. Most Rishonim don't follow this view, but this was the opinion of the sages of the Northern Kingdom.


Now, when bring offerings outside the Temple is permitted, there is no need for a cohen. Yeroveam thus chose some of the Jews from his kingdom and designated them for service in his temples. He himself also brought korbonos during the holiday season.


Once the issue of bringing offerings outside the Temple was resolved, Yeroveam promoted a special Rabinical ordinance to forbid the citizens of his country to come to Yehudah during the holidays in order not to learn from Yehudah's sinful ways. Moreover even one of the holidays was moved by a month. We find in the Torah that Pesach Sheni - Second Passover was the only holiday instituted according to people's demand. Those who could not bring the Pesach offering asked Hashem for a compensation. They were then given a special day - one month after Pesach to bring the korban. Since Yeroveam explained that Israel needed to separate from Yehudah as much as possible, the sages felt that they needed at least one holiday to be observed on a different day. Thus, by popular demand there appeared a "Sukkos Sheni", a compensation of real Sukkos[8].


The reason Sukkos in particular was chosen maybe has to do with the very nature of the Northern tribes. The summer months come from Chesed (kindness) and are associated with South, while the winter months come from Gevurah (the Sefirah of Judgment), associated with the cold of the North[9]. Therefore the Northern tribes may have felt special connection to the Sukkos Holiday which is celebrated in the first of the winter months. Indeed choosing the second of the winter for celebration they were emphasizing their connection to Gevurah[10]. Another reason why Cheshvan was chosen for this new holiday may be because this was the month when Yeroveam built the golden calves[11].


Now that we seem to have partially justified Yeroveam’s “innovations” one question still remains. The Jewish people knew that the first Gold Calf caused a great Divine anger. Why then did they not realize that Yeroveam is plainly wrong? The answer is that indeed the opposite was true. The very fact that the holy man Aharon had allowed to build the calf in the desert was the biggest proof that there is a permitted way to make the golden calves. Yeroveam may have claimed that the reasons for Divine wrath were the fact that some people actually worshipped the calf as an idol[12]. Even though Aharon only wanted to make a (Shemos 32:5) “Holiday for Hashem”, some people descended to actual idolatry[13]. Yeroveam convinced the elders that just as the two golden Keruvim (angels) stand in the Holiest place in the Temple and through them Hashem projects His influence, so too the golden calves will be used by the Northern Kingdom to bring down Divine blessings[14].


The opinion of Yeroveam and the sages of his generation was so established that throughout most of the history of the Northern Kingdom nobody dared to contradict it. Indeed generations later a righteous king Yihu uprooted all idolatry from the kingdom of Israel but he left the golden calves. The Talmud[15] tells us that he saw the seal of Achia Hashiloni affixed to Yeroveam’s Psak and therefore kept the golden calves[16].


Now the prophet testifies that the intentions of Yeroveam were not pure. Had he not been biased, he would have realized that with his “Rabbinical decrees” whose goal was to separate from “wicked” Yehudah, he actually uprooted the most basic laws of Torah. Using the power of Rabbinical laws he came out with almost a new religion with different temple service and new holidays. However Yeroveam was biased, whether he realized it or not. So his decrees seemed logical to him and he remained a leading sage in the eyes of people for many generations[17].


Yeroveam was a very great man who had a potential to be one of the two redeemers of our nation – Moshiach ben Yosef[18]. A great man is judged by the Creator according to his level. Yeroveam is considered a prime example of a sinner who caused Israel to sin[19]. The Northern Kingdom never recovered from the transgressions of Yeroveam. In the end the ten tribes were exiled by Assyria and we still don’t know where their descendants are[20]. According to many opinions we will again be reunited with the ten tribes in the end of days[21]. There again will be two leaders, two Moshiachs: one from Yehudah and one from Ephraim. But this time Moshiach ben Yosef will accept the Moshiach rule of Moshiach ben Yehuda[22]. And there will be only one king who will rule over our nation (Yehezkel 37:22)!



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[1] See Talmud, Sanhedrin 102a.


[2] The reader might be surprised that I used a title Rabbi for Yeroboam. The truth is the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102b) tells us that the great sage Rav Ashi was taught in his dream by another sinful king Menashe. Since then he started calling these kings “Our Rabbis” (see however Maharsha who holds that the word Rabbi only applied to Menashe since according to one opinion he does have a share in the World to Come).


[3] Shlomo was hoping to achieve a full rectification of the world in his lifetime. He married a thousand wives mostly daughters of kings. This served a double purpose: on physical plane he was thus creating numerous alliances. On spiritual, he was trying to rectify the root of each nation through one of his wives. However as all the “sins for the sake of Heaven” this was a dangerous way that ended up in a failure (see also our words on Parshas Vayechi regarding Shimshon). A more detailed discussion of Shlomo’s error is beyond the scope of this commentary, (see Rekanti, Devarim 17:17).


[4] In general, the “theory” and theology behind idol worship was no less developed than the contemporary “theory of evolution” or the theology of Christianity. Even today many “intelligent” people are found in Japan and other countries practicing pure idolatry and in the ancient times most people did this and the temptations were extremely difficult to resist.


[5] Kuzari 4:13; Meshech Chochma Shemos 32:19; Abarbanel, Melachim 1:12:28. See also Radak and Metzudos on Melachim 1:12:30 that at a later time some people started to actually “worship” the golden claves of Yeroveam.  Malbim claims that Yeroveam told the righteous that the calves are only symbolic, while the wicked were permitted to worship them.


[6] There were some Rabbis that were against putting lions in synagogues, but this custom still exists in many shuls and even some Chasidic ones (see a detailed discussion in “Minhag Yisroel Torah”, 90:4). Even when these lions are not just pictures but are three-dimensional, this may be permitted (as opposed to statues of people, see Yore Deah 144:4)


[7] The reason this image was chosen in the desert is since the Divine Rule over deserted areas is also associated with the left side (see Ramban, Shemos 32:1). Gold was the appropriate material used since this is the metal associated with Gevurah (see for instance Tikuney Zohar 106b; Arizal, Shaar Hapesukim, Vayeshev).

[8] Don't be too surprised at this institution. We also have Rabinical ordinances that move holidays to a different day. When Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos, we don't blow the Shofar on the day when the Torah commands. The reason is that the sages were afraid that one might forget that it is Shabbos and carry it outside. On the other hand we do blow it on the next day, which is a weekday according to the Torah law, and we recite a brocha: “You commanded us to blow the Shofar”, meaning You commanded us to listen to the sages who instituted that we blow the Shofar on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The same year, the first day of Sukkos falls on Shabbos. So we don't pick up the lulav on the day commanded by the Torah, but we do pick it up in the next six days when the Torah does not command us to do so. This is the power of Rabinical ordinances, that they can uproot a positive command of the Torah (see for instance Yevamos 90b; see also Gilion Hashas on 88a that according to the Tosafos the sages can sometimes uproot even the negative commands of the Torah).


[9] Both sets of six months are projections of each other. The six summer months correspond to Sefiros from Chesed will Yesod and then again the winter months in “reflected light” which comes from judgment. See our article About_Tamuz_and_Av.htm.


[10] See the note above that the second of the months (Iyar in the summer and Cheshvan in the winter) come from Gevurah. Indeed the Pesach Sheni is also Gevurah compared to Pesach Rishon (see Zohar 3:152b).


[11] See Bnei Issachar (Cheshvan).

[12] The number of people actually killed by Levites for idol worship was ½ of 1 percent of the nation.


[13] See Ramban 32:5.


[14] The truth is that the mitzvah of putting the two golden Keruvim in the Holy of Holies was a special law that applied only to the Temple. If more than two Keruvim were made or the two Keruvim were made of silver, this would be tantamount to idolatry (see Yalkut Shimoni, remez 303).


[15] Sanhedrin 102a.


[16] See Rashi on Melachim (2:3:3) that Yihu was also afraid that if he removes the golden claves, the kingship will come back to Yehudah. This does not contradict the Talmud, since Yihu should have known that Achia made a mistake and later was criticizing the house of Yeroveam severely. With all that since Yihu was biased he closed his eyes on the obvious truth and “relied” on Achia’s seal (Questions and Answers Divrey Yoel, Choshen Mishpat 143, 5).


[17] This may be the reason why another man in Yihu’s dynasty was also named Yeroveam. Had they thought Yeroveam was wicked, they would not name their child after him.


[18] Ramchal in the second part of Kinas Hashem Tzeva-os explains this in depth starting with Maamar: Yeroveam was supposed to be Moshiach ben Yosef, in the standard edition of Ginzey Ramchal it’s on page 104)


[19] See also Rambam, Laws of Repentance 5:2, where he lists Yeroveam as the primary example of a wicked person.


[20] See our words in Parshas Noach.


[21] See Talmud, Sanhedrin, 110b.


[22] See also GR”A on Sifra Detzniusa – Perek 1.