`180 - Contemporary Lessons from Melachim: A Special Merit
Chananya Weissman
January 24, 2022

Yaravam ben Nevat had tremendous spiritual potential. He risked his life and took a public stand against Shlomo HaMelech for the sake of Hashem's honor. Because of this Hashem chose Yaravam to be the king of the ten tribes when He split Israel into two kingdoms.

Once he rose to power, however, Yaravam quickly turned bad. He feared that the regular Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem would render his kingdom inferior, and eventually lead to its dissolution. In order to strengthen his political position, Yaravam placed two golden calves in his territory to serve as substitutes for the Beis Hamikdash. To ensure that those who learned anything from history wouldn't torpedo his plans, he also set up military checkpoints to prevent his citizens from ascending to the Beis Hamikdash.

He didn't “force” the Jews to serve the golden calves, but he didn't give them much choice if they wanted to remain part of society, either.

Even after he sinned so terribly and caused countless others to sin, Hashem offered him a lifeline:

  אחר הדבר הזה לא שב ירבעם מדרכו הרעה מאי אחר אמר ר' אבא אחר שתפשו הקב"ה לירבעם בבגדו ואמר לו חזור בך ואני ואתה ובן ישי נטייל בגן עדן אמר לו מי בראש בן ישי בראש אי הכי לא בעינא

“After this matter Yaravam did not repent from his evil path” (Melachim I 13:33). What is it referring to by “after”? Rabbi Abba said, after Hashem grabbed Yaravam by his garment and said to him, “Return! Then I, you, and the son of Yishai will stroll in the Garden of Eden.”

He said to Him, “Who will be at the head?”

[Replied Hashem] “The son of Yishai.”

“In that case, I'm not interested.” (Sanhedrin 102A)

These golden calves would continue to drag down the ten tribes for many generations until they were finally exiled. All because Yaravam couldn't bear the thought of being second after tasting power.

There is much to learn from this, but what comes next is even more instructive for our times. Yaravam's son, Aviya, became ill and eventually died. The prophet Achiya HaShiloni foretold as follows:

וספדו לו כל ישראל וקברו אתו כי זה לבדו יבא לירבעם אל קבר יען נמצא בו דבר טוב אל יהוה אלהי ישראל בבית ירבעם

And all of Israel will eulogize him and bury him, for this one alone of Yaravam's [house] will come to be buried, because in him was found something good to Hashem, the God of Israel, in the house of Yaravam. (14:13)

What special merit was found in Aviya?

  רבי זירא ורבי חיננא בר פפא, חד אמר שביטל משמרתו ועלה לרגל, וחד אמר שביטל פרדסאות שהושיב ירבעם אביו על הדרכים שלא יעלו ישראל לרגל

Rabbi Zeira and Rabbi Chinina bar Papa: One says that he canceled his guard duty and went up for the pilgrimage, and one says that he canceled legions that Yaravam his father placed on the roads so that the Jews would not go up for the pilgrimage. (Moed Katan 28B)

Aviya was one of the soldiers whose job it was to prevent Jews from going up to Jerusalem. He left his post and went up himself. According to one opinion, he even got other soldiers to follow his example. It's true that, as the king's son, he could get away with more than most people, but this still required incredible courage. He was rebelling against a mandate that Yaravam believed was the key to his entire rule.

This was Aviya's special merit: a valiant act of civil disobedience for the sake of Hashem.

It must be noted that his disobedience did not make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. It didn't lead to a social movement, let alone the abolition of the military checkpoints. Indeed, the checkpoints remained for approximately two hundred years.

Aviya was a rare dissenter in a society that turned idolatrous. In a world gone crazy, where they were once again serving golden calves, Aviya did something remarkable for Hashem. He was unable to save his society – but don't be fooled. His civil disobedience was not for nothing.

He saved himself.