Ethical Issues in the Historical Books of Tanach;
JOSHUA, JUDGES, SAMUEL, KINGS (Nevi’im Rishonim)
These four books ostensibly are merely the history of Israel from the entry into the Promised Land until the destruction of the Temple and the temporary loss of independent statehood. In fact they are actually, in a specifically Jewish sense, the most deeply religious and spiritual books of the Bible. One does not have to be specifically Jewish to see or feel the religion and spirituality in the revelations of the prophetic writings or in the words of the Tehillim. They speak to all people, as evidenced by the fact that the Bible is still the world's bestseller and there are millions of non-Jews who regularly recite the Psalms. However, it is specifically and intrinsically Jewish to understand that G-d is revealed in the prosaic material, in the political, social and military events in the lives of ordinary men and women, kings and leaders that are described in the Nevim Rishonim. Here are described the ideology and religious thoughts in Judaism, while in Chronicles we have the purely historical.
From Tish'a b'Av to Tzom
Gedaliya, Melachim Bet 25:11-27
In this book we have no details of Gedaliya beyond his grandfather's and father's names, and very bare ones concerning his subsequent fate, but in Yirmiyahu(40:10-43:7) the story is told in full.
Gedaliya's family had always been close to the Davidic royal house as part of the royal family and amongst its trusted advisers. Gedaliya's father had been a minister under both Yoshiyahu and Yehoyakim his son, and had been the one to release Yirmiyahu from the prison where he languished for prophesying the failure of the proposed revolt by Tzidkiyahu against Nevuchadnezzar.
Gedaliya set up his center at Mitzpa [Northwest of Yerushalayim; Shmuel Hanavi's town and residence], towards which the remnants of the army, the urban population and the poor made their way in their zeal for some form of community, even if it was a mere shadow of the state that had been. Indeed, so powerful was the call of the Land and the Nation that upon hearing of the Jewish governorship of Eretz Yisrael, those Jews who had fled to Trans-Jordan to escape the various invasions of the Babylonians, now came back and joined the remnants of Judah. Gedaliya, realizing the precariousness of the Jewish settlement and of his own status as not being of the Davidic dynasty, took an oath wherein he promised to respect the rights of the various nobles and army leaders. However, peace was not to come to the shattered people and land. Despite their oath of loyalty to Gedaliya, when Yishmael of the House of David together with a band of nobles, came to the festive meal on Rosh HaShana at Mitzpa, they assassinated him. They also murdered the Babylonian soldiers in Mitzpa as well as many Jews. Many of the nobles had refused to join the plot against Gedaliya and had even warned him of Yismael's intentions. Gedaliya dismissed the warnings, seeing them as Lashon HaRa and unjustified. As to Yishmael's motives, the sources are divided in their explanations. According to Radak, he was motivated by the belief, that as a scion of the royal family he was more entitled than Gedaliya to rule, while it would appear from the text in Divrei HaYamim that he was in the service of Baalis, king of Amon in Trans-Jordan.
Irrespective of the particular cause in this case, similar political assassinations had not been uncommon in the histories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. All of them, essentially, were conceptually different from the fratricide that characterized the last days of the Second Temple. While they flowed from personal career considerations or political policy, the actions of the Zealots and the Sicarri of Bayit Sheini were only motivated by nationalism or by a yearning for messianic redemption. All of them, however, were basically expressions of the centrifugal trait of a lack of Ahavat Yisrael, which has been and still is a characteristic of the Jewish People. This must not be understood, as it often is, as the same thing as 'sinat chanim', needless hatred, but rather as the inability to subordinate oneself to another. "This unwillingness and inability of Israel to subjugate themselves to others, is a source of strength since it enables them to exist and flourish even under difficult and hard conditions. However, it is also a major source of spiritual weakness as it prevents the tzadik being a leader unless he has the pride necessary to guide and to rule. That explains why David HaMelech had to have an ancestress from Moab, Ruth; she could give the pride necessary to rule over Israel. The need for Ahavat Yisrael does not obligate us to love or to relate to those with whom we agree but only to the people with whom we disagree" (Shem Mi Shmuel).
After the assassination of Gedaliya there was not only dismay among the remnant of Israel in Eretz Yirael but real fear of the revenge of the Babylonians at the murder of their appointed governor. Their dilemma was an age-old one, yet an ever-present one, even today. Whether to leave the Holy Land because of the serious danger involved in staying or to remain within the Land of Israel because that is Israel's home. Yishmael and his band were determined to go down to Egypt, as far as possible from the hands of The Babylonians as possible. It meant nothing to them that G-d through Yirmiyahu told them to stay and prophesied the sword and persecution if they went willingly into exile, rather than the peace and security that they believed awaited them there. They were not prepared to listen to the prophet and took him and the rest of the Jews with them to Egypt.
Tzom Gedaliya, is the concluding fast of the four fasts that mark the destruction of our national independence. The Land now lay desolate. "How has the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger; and cast down from heaven into the earth the beauty of Israel" (Eicha 2:1).
This is the 71st installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”