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.
Renaissance - A Jewish King! •Part 2 (Melachim Bet 23)
When the strengthening of the Temple was underway and he was searching for its treasury, Hilkyah, the Kohen Gadol found a Torah scroll hidden within one of the treasury rooms of the building. This was the same scroll that Moshe himself had written and placed in the Aron Kodesh alongside the Luchot HaBrit (D'varim 31:24-26).Far from this being a new revelation, that scroll had simply been taken out of the Aron for safekeeping when Ahaz, Menashe and Yoram each burnt a Sefer Torah in the Temple. In the spiritual turmoil and physical fear that existed during each of these king's reigns, the kohanim had simply forgotten about that scroll and were frightened to search where they had hidden it. Yoshiyahu latter was to similarly hide "the Ark together with the container of the first measure of manna (Sh'mot 18:33-36), the rod of Aharon with its almonds and flowers (Bamidbar 17:23), and the box of gold that the Philistines had sent as a gift to Hashem when they returned the Ark they had captured in the days of Eli (Shmuel Alef 4). What prompted Yoshiyahu to hide them? He read in the scroll, 'Hashem will lead you and your king… in to a nation that you have not known (D'varim 32:36). Therefore he went and hid all these holy items to prevent them falling into enemy hands" (Yoma52b).
Our Sages were divided as to what text the scroll was open to when it was found by Hilkiyah. "It was rolled to the verse, 'Cursed be the one who will not uphold the words of the Torah' (D'varim 28:36)" (Midrash Hagadol, D'varim 27:25). "That scroll had only the laws of kingship that Moshe wrote in the Torah that every king was supposed to write, as well as the details of the covenant that Yehoshua made between Israel and Hashem" (Sforno, D'varim 31:26). Since both verses promised persecution, destruction and exile if the Torah was not observed, Yoshiyahu's reaction to Hilkiyah's reading of the scrolls was to tear his clothes as an act of remorse, sorrow and mourning.
From the day that he had ascended to the throne of Judah at the age of 8 until the time that the scroll was found 10 years later, Yoshiyahu had diligently striven to pursue G-d in everything that he did. He returned all the money, that as a judge he had ordered one party to pay to another as a result of a verdict he had issued. This was out of fear that he had perhaps erred in judgment out of ignorance before immersing himself in Torah study. The reimbursement was made out the kings own money. It is not surprising therefore that the words of the scroll caused him much religious and spiritual agony, so much so that he sent to Huldah the Prophetess to find out what was the significance of the discovery.
Huldah lived in Yerusalayim where she conducted her own Bet Midrash; some authorities hold that it was limited to women scholars only. Her grave there was one of the few that weren't opened and destroyed with the return to rebuild the Bet HaMikdash. She was descended for the marriage of Yehoshua and Rachav of Jericho as was her contemporary, Yirmiyahu HaNavi. Shaar Huldah in the Eastern wall of Yerushalayim, was named after her. It stands at the summit of the 15 steps on each of which the Levites sang one Shir HaMaalot, the song of degrees-steps every day. Given that Yirmiyahu was around, why did not Yoshiyahu send to him, to inquire what the significance of the find at this particular moment was? Some have given the prophet's youthful age as a reason, since nobody would heed the words of such a young man. Others tell us that Yirmiyahu had gone to return the exiled Ten Tribes and that Yoshiyahu later ruled over them together with the kingdom of Judah. The major reason seems to be the fact that women are far more merciful and kind than men and that therefore they hoped that the approach to Hulda HaNevi'h would perhaps result in a kinder decree. (Megila 4).
Yoshiyahu had sent to her to pray for them even as the Tanach is filled with examples of other leaders who had approached a prophet to pray in times of danger and persecution. This was one of the tasks of the prophets in Israel and we find that from Moshe on they all fulfilled it. Shmuel stressed this role when he departed from the people after giving them the king they had asked for: "G-d forbid that I should now desist from praying for you".
Yoshiyahu had asked Hulda what would G-d's anger kindled and forthcoming as a result of the non-observance of the Covenant as promised in the scroll, mean to him and what would it mean for Israel. Chazal saw it as a shortcoming that Hulda showed great disrespect to the king when she answered. She never referred to him by name rather as that man who sent you even not granting him his royal title; when she does refer to the king, it is to an anonymous one. "There are two prophetess who were arrogant and therefore they both have derogatory names, Devorah was arrogant when she sent for Barak instead of going to him, that is a bee, and Hulda that is the feminine form of rat, for ignoring Yoshiyahu's kingly title and his very name "(Rabbi Nachman, Megila 14b).
The nation was told that the destruction and exile foretold in the Torah (Vayikra 26:14-46 and D'varim 28:1-69) were imminent, the strengthening of the Temple and its purification notwithstanding. However, Yoshiyahu's piety, his pursuit of the Jewish kingly mission to do righteousness and justice both towards Heaven and towards Mankind, and his dedication to Torah, all despite the example of his father Amon and his grandfather Menashe, earned the postponement of the destruction of the Temple till after his death.
This is the 66th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”