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The Renegades of Beit El


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Cheshvan 6 5780
When Avraham arrived in the Land that Hashem promised to show him, Avraham had to pick a place to set up his tent (see Rashi on Bereishit 12:8). He chose Beit El, which was also the place in which he would build an altar to Hashem and call out in His Name (ibid.).

In the first stage, this place would serve as the setting for Avraham and Sarah to renew their great project of returning mankind to belief in Hashem. On another level, they would also set the foundations for the nation that would come from them, about which the pasuk says: "For he would command his sons and his household after him, so that they would keep to the path of Hashem to do charity and justice" (ibid. 18:19). The capital of the state that this nation would form would be in Yerushalayim (the place of Akeidat Yitzchak – Har HaMoriah).

The beginning of our parasha stresses the centrality of Beit El in Avraham’s mission. "He moved from there to the mountain, to the east of Beit El, and he pitched his tent. Beit El was to the west and the Ay was to the east, and he built an altar to Hashem, and he called out in the name of Hashem" (ibid. 12:8). Later on, the pasuk says: "He went on his travels, from the Negev to Beit El, to the place he originally pitched his tent, between Beit El and the Ay, to the place of the altar that he originally made, and Avraham called out in the name of Hashem (ibid. 13:3-4).

Two generations later, before Yaakov Avinu was forced to leave the Land because of fear of his brother, he merited to experience an incredible revelation. He came upon a place where he slept surrounded by rocks and woke up with fearful excitement: "‘How awesome is this place? This is nothing but the house of G-d and the gateway to the heaven.’ He called this place Beit El and said, ‘This place will be the house of G-d’" (ibid. 28:11-22).

Chazal dealt with the apparent contradiction – which place is the center of the service of Hashem, Yerushalayim or Beit El? Rashi cites two answers found in Chazal. 1. The ladder in Yaakov’s dream stood in Be’er Sheva and reached the heaven above Beit El, and the middle of its incline was over the Beit Hamikdash. 2. Mt. Moriah was uprooted and came to Beit El for Yaakov’s dream.

Who did not accept either of Rashi’s answers? It was the people of Beit El over generations. They continued to claim, sin, and cause others to sin, with the contention that Beit El was the place that Hashem chose, not Yerushalayim. We find a few examples of this in Sefer Melachim. When Yeravam ben Nevat rebelled against the House of David, he chose Beit El to build there an altar for the renewed worship of a calf (Melachim I, 12:32). A prophet was sent to Yeravam to urge him to stop this sin. The people who toiled to ruin the mission of the prophet were the false prophet from Beit El and his family, referred to as "a prophet, who was old, and sat in Beit El" (ibid. 13:11). This elder was apparently one of the leaders of the alternative religious apparatus who spread their false ideas in Beit El, opposing the religious leadership from Judea.
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