How can one action be both praiseworthy and unacceptable at the same time? Such was the conundrum of Hoshea ben Elah, the last King of Israel (the Northern Kingdom of Ten Tribes).

After the unified Kingdom reigned over by David and Solomon split in two, Jereboam ben Nevat, the northern king, set up two golden calves (one in Bethel and the other in Dan) as roadblocks to prevent Jews from visiting Jerusalem, announcing to the people, “Here is your God!”

The two kingdoms were separated for more than two centuries, and throughout that time, roadblocks prevented access between them. The Jews of the Kingdom of Israel could not go down to Jerusalem to partake of the festivals or to offer sacrifices. (Instead, they did so in Shiloh.) The Talmud describes the situation thus: “Jeroboam had stationed guards on the roads to prevent the Israelites from going up [to Jerusalem] for the festivals, and Hoshea disbanded them, and for all that time the Israelites did not go up to the festivals. Thereupon God decreed that for those years during which the Israelites had not gone up to the festival they should go a corresponding number into captivity” (Talmud Gittin 88a).

Hoshea’s action of removing the roadblocks was praiseworthy and is noted as one of the positive actions that occurred on Tu b’Av, the 15th of Av. However, the sages also note that, upon removing the roadblocks, Hoshea said: “Let them go up to whichever shrine they desire” (Talmud Taanit 31a). He did not tell them to go to Jerusalem as he should have, and therefore the Israelites continued to follow false gods. The fact that they did not choose to return to tradition led to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians.

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