|The Torah Connection: Haggadah: The Four-Fifths and Yerovom Ben Nevot|
|Written by Rabbi Yaakov Shlomo Weinberg|
I have often been “fascinated,” and mentioned it before in these pages, that four-fifths of the Jewish people did not make it out of Mitzrayim. They didn’t believe or they wouldn’t change their deeds.
We question Pharaoh, that after seeing all the miracles, how could he not give in? Yet the four-fifths also saw them all and did not change. They died in the three days of darkness, the ninth plague. Pharaoh didn’t change because he had everything to lose if he did – a nation of servants. The four-fifths had everything to gain – their freedom, and yet did not change. Not believing, they also had no hope for an afterlife, for techiyas hameisim. How could they accept this without trying to do something about it?
Which brings me to a second point of “fascination” which was also dealt with before. How do people believe in atheism, which means that life is an accident? Life therefore has no meaning and when it’s over it’s over. I don’t mean someone like Yisro who kept searching and searching. I mean people who just accept no life after death and let it go at that. If someone is, G-d forbid, diagnosed with a life-threatening condition they try their utmost to affect a solution. Yet people accept atheism, which means eternal death when it comes, without a search for possible alternatives.
The Ben Horosho (The Wicked Son)
The Haggadah tells us that if he, the wicked son, would have lived at the time of the Exodus he would not have been redeemed. He would have been one of the four-fifths. But perhaps, after seeing all the miracles, he would indeed have repented? The answer given is that one who wants to believe can believe even without miracles. Life itself is the biggest miracle. One who does not want to believe, because the “here and now” is too much of a lure for him, and he cannot tolerate the surrender of his freedom and independence, will indeed cynically explain away miracles also, just as Pharaoh and the four-fifths did.
Yerovom Ben Nevot
Yerovom ben Nevot was the first king over the ten tribes.
He was great in Torah. “The Torah that Yerovom ben Nevot knew at one time was flawless.”
Yet after he became king over the ten tribes he seduced them to idol worship.
He sinned and caused others to sin. He has no share in the World to Come.
You and The Son of Yishai
Yet he had greatness in him. Therefore, “Hashem (so to speak) seized Yerovom by his garment (to show the seriousness of the offer) and said to him, ‘Do teshuvah (repent) and I, you, and the son of Yishai (Dovid) will stroll together in the Garden of Eden.’
‘Who will be at the head?’ asked Yerovom. ‘The son of Yishai.’ ‘If so, I am not interested.’”
The Lure of Kavod
This seems incredible. Yerovom is faced with the achrayus (responsibility) for not only his own sins but also for that of a whole nation. He has no chelek l’olam habo’oh (no share in the future world). And here he is given an offer which he can’t refuse, and he refuses it. Why? Because Dovid Hamelech (King David) would precede him in honor. Yerovom’s challenge was ga’avoh (conceit) and he failed it. He gave up everything for the kavod (honor) that he desired so intensely.
Play It Again
Commentators remark that what was his question – who will be first? Hashem had already told him, “I and you and the son of Yishai.” He was to be first, not Dovid Hamelech. But he wanted to hear it again. Hashem then answered him, “Oh, you want to hear it again? Then Dovid Hamelech will come first.”
Rav Saadiah Gaon
On a different yet similar track, Rav Saadiah Gaon,
in Emunos Vedei’os, writes that the reason there were so many great philosophers
who rejected the existence of G-d is that they were unable (unwilling) to bear the overwhelming moral consequences that acceptance of G-d would imply.
On a slightly different plane, “When a person has opinions that are deeply ingrained into his psyche, he is not going to be convinced to change his mind as a result of logical arguments , as cogent as they might be.”
Rav Yisroel Salanter
One more thought before we finish. We’ve used this before pertaining to the difficulties in human nature regarding the willingness to change. Rav Yisroel Salanter was once asked, “The Gemara
tells us that if someone feels that he is being led astray by sinful thoughts, he should think about the day of death. If so we would expect that members of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), who stare the ‘day of death’ in the eye constantly, should be the most G-d fearing people in town. Yet we see that they are no different than anyone else!”
Rav Yisroel responded, “What about the horses that pull the hearse to the cemetery every day? Why don’t you ask me why they don’t have a special fear of G-d? The answer is, obviously, that horses don’t really understand what they see or spend much time thinking about it. Man, too, has the capability of staring reality in the eye and being just as oblivious to the implications of that reality as the horses! The Gemara’s advice applies only when the person contemplates the implications of the day of death.”
The above various factors are an attempt to understand the original questions (“fascinations”) that troubled us. There is much more which still needs to be understood.