Why did the Ten Tribes split off from Malchus Bais Dovid and found their own kingdom?
According to Rav Shmuel Bornstein of Sochotchov (Shem MiShmuel, Parshas Vayeishev 5627), the process was programmed into the Creation at the very beginning, and the seeds of the division between the kingdoms of Yehudah and Yisroel were sown almost eight centuries prior to the split in 2216/1545 BCE, during the quarrel between Yosef and his brothers.
This was when Yosef revealed his dreams to his brothers, informing them that he would one day be king. According to the Shem MiShmuel, Yosef was not only predicting that he would be viceroy of Egypt but also that his descendants would be kings in Eretz Yisroel.
Yosef’s kings would work in parallel with the Dovidian dynasty in bringing Hashem’s sovereignty and sanctity down to the world. Their task would be to rid the world of the negative impact of evil as Bereishis Rabba (73) predicts, “Eisav will not fall except by the hands of Rochel’s sons.”
Then, once evil was eradicated, the kingdom of Yehudah would build the Bais Hamikdash and bring down the Shechinah to the world.
This idea is supported by the Zohar Chodosh (Parshas Balak) that foresees the future redemption:
“On that day, the Ten Tribes will arise to make war against the four directions of the world under the Moshiach [ben Yosef] who is anointed over them… This Moshiach will be from the tribe of Ephraim and from the seed of Yerovom ben Nevat… In the evening of that day, the Shechinah will return to the House, and the Moshiach to his place…”
In other words, first the Ten Tribes, headed by Moshiach ben Yosef, will make war and, afterwards, will come the Shechinah and the Moshiach ben Dovid.
Originally, Shaul Hamelech, Binyamin’s descendant, was supposed to fulfill the task of destroying all Klal Yisroel’s enemies in advance. Dovid Hamelech would then build the Bais Hamikdash while Shaul and Shaul’s descendants would serve as viceroys to the royal house of Yehudah. Thus we find Yonoson, one of Shaul’s sons, telling Dovid that he would be his second-in-command.
However, this plan was abrogated when Shaul disobeyed Hashem’s command to destroy Amalek; the task of destroying Hashem’s enemies was subsequently left to Dovid, and Shlomo completed the Bais Hamikdash in 2935/827 BCE.
At that very time, because of certain actions Shlomo did, the original two-king plan was put back on track.
As Sefer Melochim Alef (Chapter 11:11-12) reports, the trouble started when some of Shlomo’s foreign wives began serving idols. Hashem then tells Shlomo, “Because this happened to you and you did not guard My covenant and the statutes I commanded you, I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. However, I will not do it in your days for the sake of Dovid, your father. I will tear it from the hand of your son.”
YEROVOM BEN NEVAT
This servant who would rise up against Shlomo’s son was Yerovom ben Nevat. He was so righteous at the time that, out of all Klal Yisroel, he alone had the courage to risk his life and rebuke Shlomo for wrongdoing. As the verses (ibid, verses 26-27) relate:
“Yerovom ben Nevat of Efrat… a servant of Shlomo, raised a hand against the king. And this is the matter concerning which he raised a hand against the king, Shlomo, that he had built Millo (an area of large buildings) [and] closed the breach in the [walls] of the city of his father, Dovid.”
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 101b) explains: “Said Rabbi Yochonon, ‘Why did Yerovom merit to become a king? Because he rebuked Shlomo. And why was he punished (by having to flee afterwards)? Because he rebuked him in public, as it says, This is the matter concerning which he [publicly] raised a hand against the king Shlomo, that he had built Millo [and] closed the breach in the [walls] of the city of his father, Dovid.
“’He said to him, “Your father, Dovid, made breaches in the wall so that Yisroel could come up [to Yerushalayim] on the Yomim Tovim, and you closed them [so that the people would have to enter through a narrow entrance] in order to collect taxes [from them] for the daughter of Pharaoh.”’
This Gemara makes it clear that, from the outset, the righteous Yerovom had two conflicting traits. On the one hand, he was willing to risk his neck to do what was right while, on the other hand, his rebuking Shlomo in public revealed an arrogant streak that would eventually lead to his downfall.
Soon afterwards, Achiyah Hashiloni informed Yerovom of the huge reward he would be granted for his courageous deed (Melochim Alef 11:29).
At that time, Yerovom went outside Yerushalayim where Achiyah Hashiloni met him on the way. He covered himself in a new coat, and both of them were alone in the field.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 102a) comments on this, “Said Rav Nachman, ‘Like a new coat. Just as a new coat has no flaw, so the Torah of Yerovom had no flaw. Alternatively, a new coat, because they innovated things that no ear had ever heard.’ What is the meaning of both of them were alone in the field? Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav, ‘That compared to them, all the sages were like grass of the fields,’ and some say, ‘That all the rationales of Torah were revealed to them like a field.’”
The verses (Melochim Alef 11:30-31) continue:
Achiyah seized the new coat that was on him and tore it into twelve parts. He said to Yerovom, “Take ten pieces for so said Hashem, G-d of Yisroel, ‘I will hereby tear the kingdom from the hand of Shlomo and give you ten tribes…’”
Achiyah went on to promise Yerovom that, if he continued going in Hashem’s ways, Hashem would build him a lasting house as He had for Dovid.
Why did Achiyah have to tear his coat into twelve pieces while delivering this message? The Malbim explains, “When a prophecy is accompanied by an action, it will inevitably occur and will never be nullified. By tearing the coat, the matter became inevitable and could not be altered even if Shlomo repented.” This supports the Shem MiShmuel’s contention that the split of the kingdom was not merely a punishment but a historical process that had to run its course whether Shlomo repented or not.
Shlomo decided that Yerovom’s high-handed criticism of his behavior constituted an act of moreid bemalchus (rebellion against the kingdom) and Yerovom had to flee for his life. As the verse (Melochim Alef, 11:40) informs us:
“Shlomo wanted to execute Yerovom. Yerovom rose up and fled to Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and he remained in Egypt until Shlomo’s death.”
Chapter 12 (verses 3-4) then relates how Shlomo’s son and successor, Rechovom, had a showdown with the people in Shechem.
They sent and they called for him (Yerovom), and Yerovom and all the congregation of Yisroel came and spoke to Rechovom saying, “Your father laid his yoke harshly on us. As for you, lighten from us your father’s harsh work and his heavy yoke, and we will serve you.”
After three days, Rechovom told the people his decision (ibid. 12:14): “My father made his yoke heavy on you and I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, and I will chastise you with scorpions.”
The people’s response was to split away from the royal house and create their own kingdom under Yerovom who later “sinned and led the people to sin” (Pirkei Avos 5:21).
A ROOT OF EVIL
The Shem MiShmuel asks how the righteous Yerovom could subsequently become so wicked. Doesn’t Shlomo guarantee, in Mishlei (12:21), that no evil will happen to the tzaddik?
He explains that Yerovom’s fall was rooted in the quarrel between Yosef and his brothers. The purpose of Yosef’s royal dynasty was to bring redemption and unity to Klal Yisroel. Yosef flawed the process by speaking lashon hara against his brothers, which is the epitome of separation, as the Gemara (Arachin 16b) writes of the baal lashon hara who is punished with tzara’as, “Because he separated man from wife, etc., he shall sit alone outside the camp.”
This seed of imperfection later erupted in Yerovom, leading him to totally separate his followers from the house of Dovid. As the Ramban (Devarim 29:17) comments on the verse, “Lest there be in you a fruitful root of rosh and la’ana,” “Lest there be among you a root that will be fruitful and grow and, in days to come, produce evil flowers and sprout bitter shoots.”
Just as the Ramban says that a small wrong can end up sprouting into great evil, Yosef’s small flaw led to Yerovom’s sinning and bringing people to sin.
In fact, the brothers had perceived this seed of imperfection in Yosef that would eventually lead to Yerovom’s evil, and this is why they tried to forcibly forestall his dreams from coming true.
In support of the idea that establishment of Yerovom’s kingdom was predicted in Yosef’s dreams, we find incredible parallels between Yosef and Yerovom.
Chazal inform us that after the brothers saw how much misery they had caused their father, the brothers lowered Yehudah from his greatness, saying to him, “You told us to sell him. If you had told us to return him to his father, we would have listened to you.” This lowering of Yehudah’s greatness by his brothers parallels the split of the Ten Tribes from Rechovom.
It is intriguing to note that the only brother not involved in lowering Yehudah from his greatness was Binyomin who knew nothing of the whole story. This was reflected later when Binyomin was the only tribe to remain with Yehudah after the Ten Tribes pledged allegiance to Yerovom.
Also, just as Yosef’s flaw was his speaking against his brothers, so Yerovom’s shortcoming was a form of lashon hara, his rebuking of Shlomo in public instead of privately.
Another parallel is that just as Yosef was sold by his brothers in Shechem, so the Ten Tribes split away from Rechovom in Shechem. Furthermore, just as the brothers dipped Yosef’s coat in blood after selling him, so Achiyah Hashiloni symbolized the tearing apart of the tribes by tearing his coat into twelve pieces. Also, just as Yosef went down to Egypt, so Yerovom went down to Egypt to escape Shlomo’s punishment.
The ultimate redemption will include the reunification of the Ten Tribes with Yehudah and Binyomin as Hashem tells Yechezkel (37:16-17, 21-22):
And you, son of man, take for you one stick and write on it, “For Yehudah and for the sons of Yisroel, his companions.” And take another stick and write on it, “For Yosef, the stick of Ephraim, and all the house of Yisroel, his companions.” And draw the sticks together as one stick that they become one in your hand…
And say to them, “So says Hashem G-d, ‘Behold, I will take the sons of Yisroel from amongst the nations to which they went there, and I will gather them from around and I will bring them to their land. And I will make them one nation in the land, in the mountains of Yisroel, and one king will be over them all as king, and they will no longer be two nations and will never again be divided into two kingdoms.’”
(Please note that this discussion does not incorporate the full spectrum of Chazal’s opinions that deal with these issues.)