The following is my translation from Hebrew of an article written by my friend and teacher Rabbi Elizur Segel, republished with his permission. Rabbi Segel is also a Feiglin supporter and libertarian activist like myself, and introduced me to the Jewish sources supporting anarcho-capitalism. I will write about these in future posts. His website is www.elizur.co.il
Lag BaOmer, it turns out, actually commemorates and celebrates the revolt and secession of the Northern Kingdom from Yehuda. See why and how below.
In Kings I chapter 12, and paralleled in Chronicles II chapter 10, the story is told that after King Shlomo’s death, his son Rechavam traveled from Jerusalem to Shechem so that Israel would crown him king there. As a condition of accepting Rechavam’s rule, Israel demanded lower taxes. Rechavam asked for three days to consult with advisors about the request. The elders that served his father Shlomo advised him to listen to the people’s demands and cut taxes, but his childhood friends advised him to threaten the people with even more taxes.
After three days passed, the people came to hear Rechavam’s answer. He said to them, “My pinky is thicker than my father’s genitals – my father whipped you with sticks, and I will whip you with scorpions!”
The people answered, “We have no part in the House of David and no stake in the son of Yishai. Now everyone go home!”
When Rechavam saw this, he sent his chief tax collector Hadoram to the people. He was either the secretary of the treasury or the head of the equivalent of the IRS. Rechavam may have sent him either in order to realize his threat of raising taxes, or possibly because he was shaken by the people’s response and sent him as his messenger to negotiate a tax cut. In any case, all of Israel stoned Hadoram to death, and Rechavam fled to Jerusalem.
The question is, when exactly did this happen?
Regarding the year, our sages say it was a Shmita year. (The exact math can be found in Rabbi Avraham ben Shlomo’s commentary on the Early Prophets, page 265.) This timing explains why they requested a tax cut. In an agrarian society, the Shmitah year, where one many not sow his field, is a critical time.
The Ralbag (Gersonides) and the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) explain that Shlomo’s ships would regularly sail around Africa from Etzion Gaver back to Yafo, and they would always be carrying gold, silver, precious stones, ivory, and coral, and that the trade between Egypt and the Hittite kings in the north was always controlled by the Israelite monarchy, so taxes weren’t that high. But when the relationship with Egypt went sour and the Arameans and the Idumeans revolted, the people could not bear the tax burden.
It is worth noting that the logic here is the opposite of what goes on in today’s States. Today, when there is unrest, the first thing the State does is raise taxes to fund a war. But according to the logic of the State of Israel in Shlomo’s time, if the State does not provide peace and security, the first thing to do is cut taxes.
But back to the previous question, when during the Shmitah year did these events occur? In Midrash Rebbi Eliezer, chapter 5, our sages say that Rechavam was crowned during “Pros Atzeret,” “Atzeret” being the holiday of Shavuot, and “pros” means half a month, from the word “prusah” meaning a piece. Half a month is 15 days, which brings us to 15 days before Shavuot, which is the 36th day of the Omer, or Lav BaOmer. This is the date that Rechavam fled from Shechem and was crowend in Jerusalem. If so, then the day that Israel came to Rechavam to request a tax cut was the 33rd day of the Omer three days beforehand, or Lag BaOmer.
Meaning, Lag BaOmer is the Jewish Tax Revolt Day, which we celebrate by lighting bonfires of scrapwood on mountaintops demanding lower taxes.
This timeline also explains other subsequent events in the Bible. It says that Yeravam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the split, was afraid that the people would travel to Jerusalem on the holiday pilgrimages, so he closed the border with Yehuda. (The job of closing the border was given to his son Aviah (Moed Katan 28B). Now that we know that the secession of the North and the founding of the Northern Kingdom of Israel happened only two weeks before Shavuot, a pilgrimage holiday, it makes sense that Yeravam would be so afraid of the possibility, being that his reign was not solidified yet. He couldn’t allow his subjects to go to Jerusalem so soon.
On Succot of the Shmitah Year, we conduct a special ceremony called Hakhel, or “Gathering”. At this ceremony, the king reads parts of the book of Deuteronomy in front of all of Israel. Our sages say that because of Yeravam’s fear that when Rechavam would read the Torah during that ceremony in public at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he – Yeravam – would just be standing there, a commoner, like every other Israelite. So Yeravam built himself Temples in Bethel and Dan. (Sanhedrin 101B) The Talmud extrapolates from there the negotiations between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Yehuda when Yehuda offers Yeravam amnesty if he returns, but because of his fear of Hakhel and standing in front of Rechavam like a commoner, Yeravam refused amnesty. (Sanhedrin 102A)
Yeravam’s obstinacy makes sense if Hakhel were to have happened within only 5 months after the secession of the North. After all, Yeravam could not allow himself to look so clearly inferior to Rechavam King of Jerusalem at Hakhel, only a short period of time after seceding.
It is said about Yeravam (Sangedrin 102A) that his Torah knowledge was perfect, and nevertheless he prevented the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and established idolatrous temples of golden calves in order to solidify his rule.
When we gaze at the bonfires of the original Israelite tax rebellion and subsequent secession, we are reminded of the damage caused by the State’s desire to squeeze its subjects with taxes. It is endless. And we are reminded of the behavior of politicians, both Yeravam and Rechavam, after their rise to power. They immediately did the opposite of what they promised their subjects.