Having no theory at all and having too many theories both suggest that you are in the middle of a crisis of knowledge. A year and a half after the Millerites “Great Disappointment,” one former believer, Enoch Jacobs, exclaimed, “O what an ocean of contradictory theories is that upon which the multitudes have been floating for the last eighteen months. Do you not long for rest from these conflicting elements?”
Ti’Ta’anu is our confession of functioning despite our crisis of knowledge despite its consequences:
For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel. The king of Israel had said to his officials, “Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?”
So he asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?”
Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of God.”
So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for God, My Master will give it into the king’s hand.”
But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of God here whom we can inquire of?”
The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of God, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.
So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Bring Micaiah son of Imlah at once.”
Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, “This is what God says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’”
All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for God will give it into the king’s hand.”
The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.”
But Micaiah said, “As surely as God lives, I can tell him only what God tells me.”
When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?”
“Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for God will give it into the king’s hand.”
The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of God?”
Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and God said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’”
The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”
Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of God: I saw God sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And God said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’
“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before God and said, ‘I will entice him.’
“‘By what means?’ God asked.
“‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.
“‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said God. ‘Go and do it.’
“So now God has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. God has decreed disaster for you.”
Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from God go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked.
Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.”
The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son, and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’”
Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, God has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” (I Kings 22:2-28)
“But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of God.” Jehoshaphat insisted on asking the counsel of God. He knew to not believe Ahab’s prophets: “But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of God here whom we can inquire of?”
Jehoshaphat understood that Ahab did not follow God’s word, or the instructions of a true prophet:
“The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of God, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
He rebukes Ahab for his cynicism: “The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.”
Yet, even after he hears, “So now God has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. God has decreed disaster for you,” he went into battle with Ahab! How did this incredibly righteous king err so disastrously?
Too many agendas and too many theories:
Too many agendas: He wanted peace in Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” He also wanted to follow God: “First seek the counsel of God.” He also wanted victory for Israel.
Too many theories: So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?” “Go,” they answered, “for God, My Master will give it into the king’s hand.”
Micaiah even includes this in his prophecy: “One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before God and said, ‘I will entice him.’
The process begins with, “One suggested this, and another that,” all sorts of opinions, and inevitably ends with, “I will (falsely) entice him.” Once we have numerous agendas on the table, and too many opinions and theories, we will move forward only by deceiving ourselves.
“You will succeed in enticing him,’ said God. ‘Go and do it.’” The deceiving spirit was permanently expelled from God’s Presence for its willingness to deceive.
Was Jehoshaphat able to repair his mistake?
“Now Jehoshaphat built a fleet of trading ships to go to Ophir for gold, but they never set sail—they were wrecked at Ezion Geber. At that time Ahaziah son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Let my men sail with yours,” but Jehoshaphat refused.” (I Kings 22:49-50)
Jehoshaphat refused Ahaziah’s help because he recognized that he lost his fleet as a punishment for allying himself with the wicked (See II Chronicles 20:37). He understood that he could not support his multiple agendas, nor continue to live with so many theories and opinions if he was to succeed.
I think of Ti’Ta’anu as the Post Yom Kippur Syndrome: This year I will learn Chumash, Navi, Tehillim, Mishna, Talmud, Midrash, Mussar, philosophy, Halacha... This year I will work on my anger, my speech, my marriage, my work habits...
Many of us develop a huge list of agendas for the coming year, especially after we hear far too many theories about priorities in study and development of a relationship with God. We end up drowning in agendas and theories and losing the fleet.
We often end up deceiving ourselves with all sorts of explanations and excuses for failing to complete the extensive To-Do lists we composed on Yom Kippur.
We need not wait for after Yom Kippur to fall into Ti’Ta’anu; There are so many things we’d like to do and accomplish; more time with family, learn a new skill, take time to relax, develop friendships, become more politically active... The list grows, and we begin to drown in agendas. We get stuck.
We listen to one Rabbi speak of the importance of prayer, while another will speak of the primacy of Mussar, Ethical Development. The list grows, and we begin to be overwhelmed by theories. We cannot move forward.
Jehoshaphat had to choose his agenda: It was more important to avoid evil than to nurture peace with the wicked king of the Northern Kingdom. He set his priorities and began to move forward.
When we reflect on Ti’Ta’anu, and how we flounder in too many theories and agendas, we can declare that we have learned from our mistakes by choosing our most important goal for the coming year. The mistake will be repaired, and the year will be one of Tikkun.