If you had to compress the teachings of Tanach into one simple sentence, that sentence would be “you reap what you sow,” or middah k’neged middah. In light of this central principle, we can explain why Hashem punished Shlomo HaMelech by splitting his kingdom (Melachim I Perek 11).
Unlike other kings such as Shaul HaMelech, whose sins cost him his entire kingdom, Shlomo HaMelech lost only half. Malbim (Melachim I 11:11) explains the reason why Hashem metes out this consequence based on a most powerful teaching of Rashi (Bereishit 24:7 s.v. Hashem Elokai HaShamayim). Rashi, citing the Midrash Bereishit Rabba, teaches that Hashem empowers us to crown Him as king of this world. Without our proclaiming Hashem as King, it is as if He reigns solely in the heavens but not on this earth.
Before Avraham Avinu began to spread Hashem’s name in Eretz Yisrael, He is described only as Elokai HaShamayim, God of the heavens. Only after Avraham began widespread promulgation of Hashem in the Holy Land is He described as Elokai HaShamayim and Elokai HaAretz. Powerful teaching indeed!
On the one hand, Shlomo HaMelech took unprecedented steps to announce throughout the world that Hashem is king. Shlomo HaMelech spared no effort to promulgate Hashem’s great name to the nations of the world. Shlomo HaMelech’s goal was no less than “L’ma’an da’at kol amei ha’aretz ki Hashem Hu HaElokim ein od,” bringing all humanity to recognize Hashem as King (Melachim I 8:60).
On the other hand, when Shlomo HaMelech was weakened by old age, he tolerated his wives building shrines to foreign gods on Jerusalem’s outskirts (Melachim I 11:7). Imagine the confusion of visitors to Yerushalayim at this time. On the way to the incredible Beit Hamikdash to witness its glorious offering of extraordinary tribute to Hashem, visitors first encounter the altars to avoda zara on the outer hills of Yerushalayim!
Malbim explains that Shlomo HaMelech communicated mixed messages about his commitment to Hashem. He promoted Hashem but also sanctioned avoda zara. Hashem’s kingdom on earth, as it were, is split as a result during Shlomo’s reign. Middah k’neged middah, explains the Malbim, Hashem splits Shlomo HaMelech’s kingdom in two.
Split loyalty persists as a primary problem in Sefer Melachim. Eliyahu HaNavi famously decries our “Pose’ach al shenei hase’ifim,” flittering between two proverbial branches (Melachim I 18:21). Eliyahu HaNavi denounced our dual commitment to Hashem and the idolatry of Ba’al. Ultimately we lose the Beit Hamikdash due to our flittering fidelity to Torah and mitzvot.
Divided devotion to Hashem wreaks havoc in every generation. It is especially critical for parents and rabbanim/rebbeim to broadcast a message of consistency in avodat Hashem. It is dreadful for youngsters to witness, for example, a respected adult exercising care concerning Birkat HaMazon and dealing deceitfully in business transactions. Inconsistent behavior teaches the younger generation a horrifying lesson that partial commitment to Hashem is acceptable.
Half devotion is not acceptable to a spouse, at a job, or even a sports team. No matter a player’s talent, a coach will not accept a player who agrees to play only half of the team’s games. Our commitment to our Creator deserves no less. The consequences of less than full attention to a spouse or job are horrendous. The terrible results in terms of our relationship with Hashem are no less.
What colossal effort Shlomo HaMelech made to promote the prestige of Hashem throughout the world. What a shame it was for Shlomo to undermine a lifetime of phenomenal avodat Hashem by permitting his wives to serve avoda zara. What a shame for someone of Shlomo HaMelech’s stature to cause the loss of half the kingdom painstakingly created by his father, David HaMelech.
What monumental efforts we make to sustain Jewish life. What a shame it is to undo our extensive efforts by communicating inconsistent messages to our youth. The Jewish present and future are secured only by serving Hashem “b’chol levavecha, u’vechol nafshecha, u’vchol me’odecha,” with all of our heart, soul and resources.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter