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Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5781

Parashat Hashavua: Tirtza The Story of a Forgotten Capital City

Harav Yosef Carmel

The daughters of Tzlofchad, discussed in the parasha, are symbols of righteous women, in whose merit Bnei Yisrael left Egypt and arrived in Eretz Yisrael. They had the privilege of being the impetus to setting Halacha for all times (regarding inheritance), and their request of a portion in Eretz Yisrael is an example of love of Eretz Yisrael. Chazal praised them in other areas as well, including intelligence (see Bava Batra 119b).

One of the five daughters was Tirtza (Bamidbar 27:1). Tirtza was also the name of the capital city of the northern Kingdom of Israel, during the course of many years, from the time of Yerovam (founder of the break-off kingdom) until the days of Omri, Achav’s father.

The city is first mentioned in Tanach in an inconspicuous manner: “The wife of Yerovam got up and went to Tirtza; as she entered the threshold of the house, the lad died” (Melachim I, 14:17). Let us review the context. Aviya, the son of Yerovam, fell seriously ill. Yerovam knew that the prophet Achiya Hashiloni, who had supported his rebellion against Shlomo and his son Rechavam was very angry at him. Therefore he tried to use subterfuge to obtain information from him. He sent his disguised wife to Achiya for advice about her sick son. Hashem informed Achiya of the royal visit, and Achiya gave a harsh prophecy about the boy – he would die by the time she made it back to the royal palace in Tirtza. Furthermore, Yerovam’s family would be destroyed in the near future (see ibid. 1-20). Despite the general anti-Yerovam approach, the navi does say something positive (“davar tov”) about his rule (ibid. 13).

Let us try to identify the positive element of Yerovam and connect it to the development of Tirtza as the capital of the kingdom. Yerovam, after breaking from Rechavam, set up his kingdom in the historical center of the northern region – Shechem – and also built up Penuel (ibid. 12:25). If Yerovam made Shechem his capital, why did he go to the eastern side of the Jordan (see Bereishit 32:32; Shoftim 8:8) to build Penuel?

In the fifth year since the splitting of the kingdom, Shishak, the King of Egypt, marched on Yerushalayim and forced Rechavam to surrender and give him the contents of his treasure houses (Melachim I, 14:25-26). Unearthed tablets that chronicle Shishak’s exploits tell that he conquered some 150 cities in Israel, and most of these were in the kingdom of Yerovam.

Professor Yehuda Elitzur presented a logical, fascinating explanation. We know that Yerovam fled from Shlomo and went to Egypt. Paroh became a patron of his and promised him support if he rebelled after the death of Shlomo.  The plan was that when Shishak would attack Judea from the south, Yerovam would do so from the north. Yerovam indeed set up his separate kingdom and set Shechem as capital, but when Shishak attacked, Yerovam did not keep his word, as he could not bring himself to attack his brethren. In retaliation, Shishak attacked Yerovam’s kingdom and destroyed Shechem. At first Yerovam escaped to the east and set up his kingdom in Penuel, but when it became possible, he returned to Samaria. Instead of immediately rebuilding Shechem, he made Tirtza his capital. Therefore, Tirtza, named after the daughter of Tzelofchad, was a reminder of Yerovam’s good deed, the willingness to pay the price of not attacking his brethren.

That is a positive lesson we can learn and hopefully apply from Yerovam.

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