OU TORAHDedicated by the Jacobs and Chill Families in Memory of Harold and Pearl Jacobs
Dora Bas Rivka Silver O'H
Business as Usual in the Kingdom of Israel
Azaryah became king of Judah at the age of 16 and he was a righteous king. Like his predecessors, however, he did not dispose of the private altars that people were accustomed to using. He became a leper, so he had to be isolated for the rest of his life. (The reason is discussed in II Chronicles 26. He insisted on offering incense in the Temple, a job reserved for Kohanim. There, Azaryah is called Uziyahu, but it's the same person.) Azaryah reigned for 52 years and was succeeded by his son Yosam.
Zecharyah succeeded his father Yaravam as king of Israel. He was an evil king and reigned just six months. (Back in chapter 10, the prophet told Yehu that his dynasty would last four more generations; Zecharya was the fourth generation from Yehu.) Zecharya was assassinated in public and nobody seems to have protested. His assassin, Shalum ben Yaveish, claimed the throne in his place.
Shalum reigned for one month before he was assassinated by Menachem ben Gadi, who became king in his place. Menachem was another evil king. (That's kind of what one expects from people who ascend to the throne by murder.) Menachem tried to subjugate Tifsach, an adjacent city in Aram. Because they would not submit, he used unnecessary and unacceptable levels of force. (Rashi explains verse 16 to mean that Menachem cut open the pregnant women.)
Pul, king of Assyria, made inroads into Israel, so Menachem paid him off not to invade. He taxed his citizens heavily to cover costs. Pul left. Menachem reigned ten years and was succeeded by his son Pekachyah.
Pekachya was also evil. He reigned two years and was assassinated by Pekach, one of his own officers.
Pekach reigned for twenty years and was yet another evil king. During his reign, Tiglas Pileser, king of Assyria, captured the Tribe of Naftali and exiled them. (This was Assyria's modus operandi; they would exile conquered peoples to other conquered lands, mixing them up in the process. It's how ten Tribes later came to be "lost.") As we will see in Isaiah chapter 8, the Tribe of Zebulon was exiled at this time, as well. Hoshea ben Eilah assassinated Pekach and became the last king of the Northen Kingdom of Israel.
Back to Judah: As mentioned above, Azaryah, AKA Uziyahu, died and was succeeded by his son Yosam. Yosam was righteous but, again, he did not remove the private altars. He did make improvements to the Temple gate. Yosam reigned sixteen years and was succeeded by his son Achaz.
A short Insight into II Kings, Chapter 15The gemora in Succah (45b) reveals to us a unique place that Yosam ben Uzayahu holds for eternity.
The gemora relates in the name of Chizkiya in the name of R' Yirmiyah in the name of R' Shimon bar Yochai, “I could cause all of the world to be exempt from judgment from the day that I was created until today. If my son, Elazar, was taken into consideration [the world would be exempt from judgment] from the day of creation until today. If Yosam ben Uziyahu was with us [the world would be exempt from judgment] from the day of creation until its end.”
Rashi explains that Yosam ben Uziyahu was a righteous person and extremely humble – more than any other of the kings. With regard to Yosam the verse says (Malachi 1,6), “A son will honor his father.” For all of the days that his father was a metzora and Yosam acted as the ruler over the people, he did not take the crown. In addition, any case that he had to judge he quoted his father.
Rabbeinu Chananel adds to the statement of R' Shimon bar Yochai. He says what was so special about Yosam? It was clear to R' Shimon bar Yochai that Yosam never received any payment in this world from his merits. All of the righteous men of our history were payed back, a least a little bit, from their merits. However, R' Shimon was given the insight that neither he, nor his son, R' Elazar, nor Yosam had ever received any reward because of their merits. Therefore, their merits were unique and could protect the world from judgment.