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Friday, May 2, 2014

Understand Good and Evil!

Maimonides (Rambam) elaborates on the fundamental Jewish tenet of free will*, the fact the Almighty grants each individual the capacity to choose between good and evil. Rambam rejects outright and unequivocally the notion of predestined virtue or sinfulness; he asserts that it is possible for all people to be righteous like Moshe, or wicked like Yerovam ben Nevat” (5:2)

Of all the evil characters that span the pages of Tanach, the 24 books of the Bible, why would Rambam choose Yerovam as the person to juxtapose Moshe? Rambam is one of the most knowledgeable Jewish scholars ever to have lived, so his choice of Yerovam deserves investigation.

Most people know who Moshe (Moses) was, that he was chosen by God and led the enslaved descendants of Jacob out of Egypt. Over 40 years he forged them into Israel, the Jewish nation and transcribed and made Torah, the nation’s constitution. The story of the exodus is re-told at Passover every year by Jewish families and remains the most popular of all Jewish holidays among the secular and religious. However, in the Haggadah the book from which the story is retold Moses name is never mentioned. A great Rabbi taught me that the reason is each Jewish child has the same opportunity as Moses to feed directly from God’s manifestation. Therefore, the Haggadah was written to open, on this holy night a window for the participant to be enjoined in the same way and to rise to the same stature as leader of the Jewish nation.

Some 400 years after Moses, King Solomon died and  his son Rehavam was challenged by Yerovam for national leadership. Incredibly Yerovam led the northern tribes to a revolt and promoted two golden bull idols, their gods to compete with the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. The idols, reminiscent of those that once elicited a similar revolt in which Moses brother in-law was killed and his brother threatened, existed north of Jerusalem. Moses grandson once served as a priest in the presence of one of these idols when the rear-guard tribe of Dan promoted their worship among the northern tribes. The political power vested in these gods was enough for Yerovam to advantage his revolution and successfully split the kingdom. In Beit El (north of Jerusalem), Yerovam built an altar and a temple for his divided nation to serve these gods and he prevented pilgrims heading south to Jerusalem.

Rambam connected free choice with these characters because they epitomise the breadth of its manifestation. Jewish nationalism may orient toward righteousness, but it accommodated Yerovam and Rehavam becoming leaders of the divided nation. The tribes of Israel split, they followed different teachings, they prayed in different temples, they bordered their lands and went to war. Ever since this time, the nation Israel has never reconciled. The nation that had once been redeemed from Egypt was and remains to this very day locked in its second exiled state.

A man from Yehuda (south) that came as a Prophet from Shomron (north) once froze Yerovams right arm as he revealed that his altar would be destroyed by a King from the future. That King, Yoshiyahu discovered the last surviving Torah scroll written by Moshe, it was open at the curses that foretold the impending destruction of the temple. Yoshiyahu repented deeply, he immediately defiled and destroyed Yerovam’s altar, traveled the nation destroying its idols and re-instituted Passover including the most glorious Pesach celebration in Jerusalem. Yoshiyahu’s efforts were so genuine that for the first time since Yerovam some of the northern tribes began to return to Jerusalem. Then Yoshiyahu became overwhelmed, he buried the Ark of the Covenant in a secret chamber and denied Pharaoh Neco permission to travel through Israel to attack the advancing Assyrians. Neco’s army killed Yoshiyahu piercing his body with 300 arrows. Twenty two years later the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the divided nation led into captivity.

I believe Rambam chose Yerovam because the concepts so deeply imbued in his choice speak through these events and this prophecy to this very day. I wrote extensively about it connecting it with Yerovam’s Beit El obfuscation that he so cleverly used to divide the nation. Once this obfuscation is removed the nation will finally return to its center, ultimately from exile and eventually it will unify its views and fulfill its longstanding cultural and national commitments. That time is approaching.

* fifth and sixth chapters of his Hilkhot Teshuva,