April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Yeravam ben Nevat and No Breakfast Before Shacharit

A Strange Connection

There seems to be little or no connection between Sefer Melachim arch-villain Yeravam ben Nevat and the prohibition to eat before breakfast. Yet, the Gemara (Brachot 10b; its slightly emended William Davidson Talmud translation appears below) insists that there is very much a connection!

Others say that Rabbi Yitzcḥak said that Rabbi Yocḥanan said that Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Chanina, said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov: One who eats and drinks and later prays, about him the verse states the rebuke of the prophet Achiyah HaShiloni to Yeravam ben Nevat in the name of God: “And Me you have cast behind your back” (I Kings 14:9). One who sees to his own bodily needs by eating and drinking before prayer casts God aside, according his arrogance and ego priority over God (Maharsha). Indeed, do not read your back [gavecha]; rather, your pride [ge’echa]. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: After this one has become arrogant and engaged in satisfying his own needs, he only then accepted upon himself the kingdom of Heaven.

Distorted Priorities

Upon reflection, the connection is profound and delivers a potent message. Yeravam did not deny Hashem or His Torah. However, he regarded Hashem and Torah to be (at best) of secondary importance. Retaining his power was far more critical to Yeravam than upholding the Torah.

Thus, Yeravam was willing to violate the Torah in a misguided effort to preserve his rule over Northern Israel. Power was more important to Yeravam than the prohibitions to sacrifice outside the Beit Hamikdash, non-kohanim to offer korbanot, and create a new holiday. Devotion to Hashem’s laws was of much lower priority to Yeravam than asserting control. Achiyah HaShiloni tells Yeravam that he will pay a very steep price for regarding the Torah to be of secondary importance. In the end, Yeravam severely undermined his rule and the rule (and survival) of his descendants by not setting the Torah as his highest priority.

The yetzer hara tempts us to regard expedience and our temporal needs over the Torah. Refraining from eating each morning before we pray Shacharit combats this tendency. It teaches us to first focus on Hashem and only later to tend to our material needs. Shacharit sets proper priorities at the very start of each day!

Yeravam and Achav vs. Menashe

Achav was guilty of the same misguided set of priorities. Achav permitted his wife Izevel to introduce avoda zara into Eretz Yisrael and vigorously promote it with her many false prophets supporting her mission. At the same time, his top aide is the righteous Ovadia. Achav turns a blind eye to Ovadia’s hiding and sustaining many authentic nevi’ei Hashem (it is difficult to imagine this being done without Achav noticing).

Neither Achav nor Yeravam is comparable to the third and final arch-villain of Sefer Melachim, Menashe. Menashe in Melachim II (21:6) sins l’hachis, to anger Hashem. By contrast, Achav cared little for avoda zara. However, he caved to Izevel’s demands since she was a Phoenician princess.

Izevel’s Phoenician connections are in northern Israel’s best interests, Achav reasons. The military and economic benefits of this alliance are vital to the thriving of northern Bnei Yisrael, in Achav’s mind. He is content with Ovadia sustaining the nevi’ei Hashem as long as it escapes the attention of Izevel.

Achav genuinely refers to Eliyahu HaNavi as an ocheir (polluter) of Israel. Eliyahu HaNavi, from Achav’s severely distorted perspective, ruined everything. All was going well, in Achav’s eyes, until Eliyahu HaNavi came along and imposed a severe famine. Achav is genuinely infuriated at Eliyahu HaNavi for harming the nation by taking religion much too seriously. Eliyahu HaNavi, in turn, teaches Achav that he is the ocher Yisrael, undermining the best interest of Am Yisrael.

Achav and Yeravam ben Nevat are reminiscent of the arrogant high-flying bond-trader protagonist of “Bonfire of the Vanities.” He is not hostile to religion. He sends his child to a religious school for a few years for him to receive a bit of religious education, but not too much. Religion has a role in life but not too much, he thinks.

Daily Reinforcement That Hashem And Torah Reigns Supreme

The disappointing dissipation of inspiration after the incredible Har HaCarmel event (Melachim I Perek 18) teaches that the most inspiring incident loses its impact quickly if not sustained by daily reinforcement. Though many complain that they would pray with better concentration if permitted to eat before tefillah, the message communicated by this halacha is utterly indispensable.

No wonder Chacham Yitzhak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef Orach Chaim 89:38) adopts a stringent stand regarding eating before tefilla. He even says that it is preferable to pray alone than praying with a minyan if doing so would require him to eat before Shacharit. Although this ruling is subject to debate, it highlights the halacha’s vital lesson of not eating before Shacharit.

Rav Yehuda Amital told me that Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook was ill with cancer toward the end of his life and was compelled to eat before Shacharit (following Shulchan Aruch Orach Haim 89:3). However, Rav Kook recited Birchot HaShachar, Korbanot, and Mizmor Shir Chanukat Habayit (mainly since it includes the pasuk “mah betza b’dami”—in line with Brachot 10b) before eating to maintain the proper perspective of “Hashem first.” Reciting at least some of tefillah before eating reminds us that Hashem enjoys the highest priority.


Chazal are spot on by connecting Yeravam ben Nevat with the prohibition to eat before tefillah. Each day we are reminded that Hashem reigns supreme. It is deceptively easy to fall into the mindset of Yeravam and Achav. Neither was full of the angst that consumed Menashe and led him to a path of prolonged extreme evil. Chazal (Sanhedrin 102a) teach that Yeravam was a great Torah scholar. If Yeravam ben Nevat could slip into a spiritual morass, so can we. Delaying breakfast until after Shacharit is a potent weapon in our arsenal to maintain the proper perspective on life and sets us up for a successful day ahead.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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