Read Our Lips: No New TaxesBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Solomon’s son and heir, Rechavam, went to Shechem to be crowned. The people had summoned Yaravam back from Egypt and he was among them. The people said to Rechavam, “The tax burden under your father was very great. If you alleviate this burden, we will be your loyal subjects.” Rechavam showed poor leadership by asking for three days to consider it.
His elder advisors, the ones who had served his father, gave him good advice: Choose your battles. If you give in to this request, you’ll have won their support. But his peers were “yes men.” They advised him to exert his authority and show the people who was boss. Not only that, they told him to be more demanding than Solomon ever was and to make sure the people knew it. Sadly, Rechavam took the advice of the young and impulsive advisors over that of his elder statesmen. (The whole scenario was orchestrated by G-d in order to fulfill the prophecy conveyed to Yaravam by Achiya.)
The problem with saying “My way or the highway” is that, when given that ultimatum, the answer is often “okay, highway.” When they heard Rechavam’s harsh reply, ten Tribes seceded from the union. When Rechavam sent Adoram to collect taxes, the people stoned him to death.
Conversely, Yaravam, who was also a tax collector by trade, was quite popular with the people. So much so that they asked him to rule over them. In response, Rechavam gathered his troops to force the ten Tribes to re-join the nation. G-d sent the prophet Shemaya to tell Rechavam not to go to war, so Rechavam stood down.
Yaravam, however, had a terrible idea. Realizing that the Kingdom of Judah still had Jerusalem and the Temple, he became concerned that his people would gradually long to reunite with them. To prevent that, he decided to offer alternatives to the Temple. What did he come up with? He built two golden calves and placed them at opposite ends of the country, for the people’s convenience.
Now, you and I might think that a golden calf is the worst possible thing one could make, given the obvious association with the golden calf in the desert. But it was easy for Yeravam to rationalize that the golden calf must be an appropriate vehicle. His advisors convinced him that in rejecting Rechavam, G-d was also rejecting Jerusalem and the Temple. And, since Aaron made a golden calf in the absence of Moses, Yaravam should make golden calves in the absence of the Temple…
So Yaravam barricaded the roads to Jerusalem, set up idols, appointed non-Levites as priests, and made up his own holidays. Yeah, his reign was off to a great start.