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A Second Look at Beit El


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Cheshvan 13 5780
Last week we looked at the machloket between the supporters, in the time of the kings, of Yerushalayim as the center of Judaism and those who saw Beit El, which was featured prominently in Bereishit, as an alternative.

Yeravam ben Nevat, the first king of the Northern (Israelite) Kingdom of the Ten Tribes and a notorious sinner, who caused others to sin, championed the cause of the Beit El devotees. He built a major altar and also erected a statue of a calf, all too reminiscent of the Sin of the Golden Calf at Sinai. Yeravam apparently felt that the calf was a good mitzva, as is hinted at by the fact that he named his sons Nadav and Aviya, reminiscent of the first sons of the builder of the first calf (albeit, reluctantly), Aharon.

The first one who tried to stop Yeravam’s sin was the prophet from Yehuda (Melachim I, 13:1). Chazal identify him as Ido, one of the important prophets of the time. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in having Yeravam do teshuva because of the old false prophet from Beit El, part of the city’s religious apparatus.

More than 150 years later, we find out indirectly that the prophet Amos also was involved in a struggle against the distorters of Hashem’s word in Beit El. Amos was a prophet who came from the Judean town of Tekoa. His main activity was with the Northern Kingdom, whose capital was Shomron, and the king in his time was Yeravam ben Yoash, or Yeravam II. Amos prophesied about the execution of members of the House of Yeravam and the destruction of the temples of the Israelites (Amos 7:9). These temples were situated in Beit El, and their priest, Amatzia, felt threatened and turned to Yeravam with the claim that Amos was rebelling against him (ibid. 7:10-11). We should point out that Yeravam refused to accept the lashon hara against Amos.

Amatzia urged Amos to return to Judea, join the religious apparatus there, and receive a salary from them (ibid. 12). Amos responded: "I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I am a cattle breeder and a tender of sycamore figs." In other words, Amos rejected the idea that he become a salaried member of the religious establishment (see Avot 4:5, which speaks against using Torah as a "spade with which to dig"). A true prophet does not take money for his prophetic activity, and he does not allow anyone to impact the way he thinks or expresses himself based on financial considerations. His prophecy is given by Hashem, and the prophet answers only to Him. Amos was a laborer with his hands and maintained his independence.

This type of language reminds us of what Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim did when he thought that the State of Israel gave too much leeway to the pope, who visited Israel during his time. Rav Nissim refused to take part in a ceremony that he considered disgraceful. When someone threatened to fire him, Rav Nissim said that he was not dependent on his salary and refused to be programmed by others.

Let us pray that we will succeed in avoiding having the Torah become a "spade with which to dig" and follow instead the lead of Amos and Rav Yitzchak Nissim.
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