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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Solving the Riddle of Beit-El and Beit-el.

Rav Soloveitchik (ZL) advised that we look to the Haftarah of the Torah portion as a commentary in and of itself, so I use this to delve into the meaning behind the portion read on Pesach outside of Israel as Yom Tov on the second day. On the first day we read the Torah portion to do with the sacrifice immediately preceding the exodus from Egypt. On the second day we read the instructions for sacrifices required in the Mishkan one year later, for the festival of Pesach, in remembrance of the exodus and for the other major holidays.

In the first day’s haftarah we read of Israel’s re-commitment to the covenant through circumcision before they entered Israel 40 years later at the end of their exodus from Egypt. However, on the second day we read about King Yoshiayhu who restored, with full pomp and ceremony, the dwindling festival of Pesach in Yerushalam.

I can understand how the first day connects to the exit from Egypt and the entry to Israel, but for the second day why is this particular haftorah selected? Surely there are other stories in Tanach in the 815 years between entering the land of Canaan (Israel) that would perhaps be more worthy?

To understand this I look to the fact that the second day is only experienced by Jews outside of Israel. Its these Jews that the portions of the 2nd day must be speaking to. Perhaps the Jews in exile would be sufficiently inspired to discover the reasons for this selection. With this in mind I am motivated to try, but before I do it’s important to know the background.

Yoshiyahu was among the last kings in the lineage of King David along the ~400 year kings list that preceded him. His great-grandfather was Hizkiyahu, his grandfather Menashe was banished to exile and his father Amon ruled over the southern kingdom of Yehuda, but was killed by his servants. At 8, on the death of his father he was anointed king of Yehuda.

Yoshiyahu passionately followed the ways of King David, restored monotheistic traditions and renovated the Temple. During the renovation the high priest Hilkiyahu discovered a Torah scroll, written by Moshe Rabeinu, which was open on the section including Devarim 28:36 the curse predicting the exile of the Jewish people. Yoshiahu asked Hulda the prophetess of its meaning and she foretold the imminent destruction of the first Temple and the exile of the Jewish people.

Perhaps it was in an effort to change the nature of the prophecy that Yoshiyahu led the elders of Yehuda and the people of Yerushalam to the Temple where he read from the scroll and made a covenant to observe God’s commandments and the people accepted the same upon themselves. They immediately targeted all idolatry that had been brought into the Temple including vessels, pillars, trees and statues and burned them in the plains of Kidron (outside Yerushalam toward the Dead Sea) and carried their ashes to Beit-El. He banished idol practices, relinquished the Temple rights of priests who had followed any idolatry and defiled their altars. After all was accomplished they reconstituted traditions and made a Pesach celebration like no other before. No king turned to God with all his heart and soul like Yoshiyahu. Such was his genuine commitment to Torah and worship that the prophet Yirmiyahu ben Hilkiyahu managed to secure the return of some of the ten tribes who, for the first time in a hundred years agreed to live under his unifying reign.

On the surface the story sounds like a reasonable basis for selection on 2nd day haftorah, but further investigation into the missing sections of the story that did not make the haftorah reveal deeper mysteries of our exiled state and Jewish connection to the Temple. Firstly the haftorah is an amalgamation of two sections from Kings II 23:1-9 and 21-25, so what does 10-20 contain that it was left out? Perhaps the gory details of idol worship including the sacrifice of children to Molech in the valley of Hinnom. However, verse 17 and 18 stand out among all the destruction of idolatry, the altars and graves noted in these passages, because they describe how one specific monument was saved. An even closer analysis of the section reveals ambiguity, which are subjected here to their Hebrew analysis, which I highly recommend each reader studies. There are at least 4 major commentators who read this in differing ways;

15.Furthermore(וְגַ֨ם), the altar that was at Beit-El and the high place which Yerov’am ben Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, also(גַּ֣ם) that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16.Now when Yoshiyahu turned, he saw the graves that were there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned them on the altar and defiled (וַֽיְטַמְּאֵ֑הוּ) it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed. 17.Then he said,“What is this monument (הַצִּיּ֣וּן) that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave (הַקֶּ֤בֶר) of the man of God who came from Yehuda and who proclaimed such words/deeds upon (עַ֖ל) the altar of Beit-El.” 18. He said, “Let him alone; let no one disturb his bones.” So they left his bones undisturbed (אֶת) the bones of the prophet who came from Shomron. 19. Yoshiyahu also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Shomron, which the kings of Israel had made provoking the LORD; and he did to them just as he had done in Beit-El. 20. All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them; then he returned to Yerushalam.

23:15 וְגַ֨ם אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֜חַ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּבֵֽית־אֵ֗ל הַבָּמָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֜ה יָרָבְעָ֤ם בֶּן־נְבָט֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֶחֱטִ֣יא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל גַּ֣ם אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֧חַ הַה֛וּא וְאֶת־הַבָּמָ֖ה נָתָ֑ץ וַיִּשְׂרֹ֧ף אֶת־הַבָּמָ֛ה הֵדַ֥ק לְעָפָ֖ר וְשָׂרַ֥ף אֲשֵׁרָֽה׃
‎23:16 ‏וַיִּ֣פֶן יֹאשִׁיָּ֗הוּ וַיַּ֨רְא אֶת־הַקְּבָרִ֤ים אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם֙ בָּהָ֔ר וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־הָֽעֲצָמֹות֙ מִן־הַקְּבָרִ֔ים וַיִּשְׂרֹ֥ף עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ וַֽיְטַמְּאֵ֑הוּ כִּדְבַ֣ר יְהוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר קָרָא֙ אִ֣ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר קָרָ֔א אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃
‎23:17 ‏וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מָ֚ה הַצִּיּ֣וּן הַלָּ֔ז אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֣י רֹאֶ֑ה וַיֹּאמְר֨וּ אֵלָ֜יו אַנְשֵׁ֣י הָעִ֗יר הַקֶּ֤בֶר אִישׁ־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֣א מִֽיהוּדָ֔ה וַיִּקְרָ֗א אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֤ים הָאֵ֙לֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֔יתָ עַ֖ל הַמִּזְבַּ֥ח בֵּֽית־אֵֽל׃
‎23:18 ‏וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַנִּ֣יחוּ לֹ֔ו אִ֖ישׁ אַל־יָנַ֣ע עַצְמֹתָ֑יו וַֽיְמַלְּטוּ֙ עַצְמֹתָ֔יו אֵ֚ת עַצְמֹ֣ות הַנָּבִ֔יא אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֖א מִשֹּׁמְרֹֽון׃
‎23:19 ‏וְגַם֩ אֶת־כָּל־בָּתֵּ֨י הַבָּמֹ֜ות אֲשֶׁ֣ר׀ בְּעָרֵ֣י שֹׁמְרֹ֗ון אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשׂ֜וּ מַלְכֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לְהַכְעִ֔יס הֵסִ֖יר יֹֽאשִׁיָּ֑הוּ וַיַּ֣עַשׂ לָהֶ֔ם
כְּכָל־הַֽמַּעֲשִׂ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה בְּבֵֽית־אֵֽל
‎23:20 ‏וַ֠יִּזְבַּח אֶת־כָּל־כֹּהֲנֵ֨י הַבָּמֹ֤ות אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם֙ עַל־הַֽמִּזְבְּחֹ֔ות וַיִּשְׂרֹ֛ף אֶת־עַצְמֹ֥ות אָדָ֖ם עֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וַיָּ֖שָׁב יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם

A very careful reading of this passage, juxtaposes its prophetic counterpart some 330 years earlier during the reign of King Yerovam (Kings 13:11-32), suggesting the man who came from from Yehuda is also the prophet who came from Shomron. Yoshiyahu was refrained after defiling the altar with human bones by his discovery of the monument (‏וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מָ֚ה הַצִּיּ֣וּן הַלָּ֔ז אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֣י רֹאֶ֑ה). The word ha’tziun - used as ‘monument’ in this context, is the only occurrence of the word in Torah/Tanach. Further he was told by the men of the city it is the grave (הַקֶּ֤בֶר) - ha’kever of the man of God who came from Yehuda, another exclusive word.

The simple reading underscores this action occurring in Beit-el Shomron. However, if the text exclusively refers to Beit-el Shomron why would a grave of a man of God from Yehuda be at an altar in Shomron - the kingdoms were at war? Who fits the description - the man of God who came from Yehuda that is also the prophet who came from Shomron? To discover the answer we must try to understand the location of Beit-El or Beit-el to which this man came.

Today there is enormous confusion over place names in modern Israel with their origin in Torah. The confusion occurs because of mystical or literal interpretations, or through local or foreign competition or intervention through the millennia including as a result of the in-fighting between the Kingdoms of Yehuda and Ephraim for the temples ultimate location. In any event, (K2-23:20) we learn Yoshiyahu defiled the altar then the high places in Shomron before he returned to Yerushalam. Further, we understand, the act of Yoshiyahu was prophesied at the time of King Yerovam who lived in Shchem (K1-12:25), that Beit-el in Shomron was the location at which Yerovam dedicated the idolatrous altar. This was also the high place of one of the golden calves used by him to compete (K1-12:28) with Temple worship in Yerushalam and the southern kingdom of Yehuda. Finally, from an alternative reading of 23:15 the altar Yoshiyahu defiled near the monument at Beit-El could be counterpart to the idolatrous altar at Beit-el in Shomron.

Analogous to competing Beit-El/el’s of Yerovam and Yoshiyahu, the prophecy and message crystallizes. The man of God from Yehuda usurped King Yerovam with a prophetic proof when he split his altar at Beit-el, then he succumbed to the persuasion of his false prophet nemesis from Shomron, went against his own prophecy and was mauled to death by a Lion that was also at peace with the Donkey (Kings 13:11-32). The false prophet buried the man of God in his grave and requested his sons to bury him together in the same grave. Surely this points the reader to recognize the pathological condition that locks Israel in its exiled state and perhaps Beit-El is a key.

In the simple reading one is left to believe these events occur in Beit-el Shomron. In the alternative reading of 23:15 Yoshiyahu first defiles the altar at Beit-El before defiling its counterpart altar at Beit-el. Then the encrypted description of the man who came to Beit-El, as a man of God, from Yehuda who returned to Beit-El, as a prophet, from Shomron could also relate to Yaakov and the monument he dedicated to God at Beit-El? And where is this monument? It is located beside the altar of Beit-El in the City of David, Yerushalayim, not in the modern city of Beit-el (Shomron).

We can just begin to sense the fledgling and broken state of Jewish culture, interrupted through generations of wayward kings each of whom flavored Torah life, temple tradition and belief to benefit their plans. The Torah portion for 2nd day Pesach that instructs the holy days sacrifices of the Mishkan is linked to Yoshiyahu because he fervently restored Jewish life and culture prescribed in Torah. Yoshiyahu’s heightened sensitivity to Torah led him to destroy idolatry, restore The Temple, celebrate Pesach and hide the Ark of the Covenant in its still secret location, yet at 39 his body was pierced by 300 arrows of the lame Pharaoh Neco who was refused clear passage through Israel to attack the looming enemy, the king of Assyria who dominated Babylon. Approximately 22 years later the First Temple was destroyed.

Pesach, the one holiday Jews are commanded to remember their redemption from exile had almost been forgotten in Yerushalam. The monument, erected 1100 years earlier by Yaakov in the location he named Beit-El adjacent to which The City of David was built had also been forgotten. The men of Yerushalayim (the City of David) confused by the Yoshiyahu's statement at Yerovam’s altar at Beit-el about the man of God from Yehuda, the Prophet from Shomron. Their confusion reflecting Yerovam’s prerogative, the segmentation of the nation - the exiled state!

Today we have identified the location of the City of David, ancient Yerushalayim, the Gihon Spring, the fortified upper ridge (bama) at the Gihon which I maintain is Beit El - once called Luz, including the monument of Yaakov and even the adjacent altar on which Yitzchak was offered and which Yoshiyahu defiled. Perhaps this location holds within it ‘the stone the builders despised that will become the chief cornerstone’ and which if we care to remember it, will reorient our understanding of ancient Yerushalayim and through it the importance of Beit-El to the future development of the city.

See Part II - Solving the Riddle - continues...