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.
Three Kings Do Not Have a Share in
the World To Come (Divrei HaYamim Bet 33:12-17, Sanhedrin 101b-102b)
The very name Achav tells us that he was an 'ach' a brother who was born to be an enemy and 'av' a father to idolatry. His most trivial deed was like the sins of Yeravam, yet he refused to hand over the Torah, his most precious possession, when demanded to by Ben Hadad, king of Aram. His father Omri merited fathering four generations of kings in Israel by adding a new town Shomron, [that the Romans later called Sebastia and lies close to Shechem] whereas Achav's merit that earned him generations of kingship was his support and respect for Torah scholars.
Furthermore, when rebuked by Eliyahu for the murder of Navot and then stealing his vineyard, Achav repented and Hashem postponed the destruction of his dynasty, till after the death of his sons. So Rav Nachman said that Achav's evil deeds were actually balanced by his good ones. However, Rav Yosef objected to this since of Achav we are told "And he did evil in the sight of the Lord more than any before him" (1 Kings 16:30). This is evidenced by Jezebel his wife, who every day weighed Achav and donated his weight in gold to avoda zara. Perhaps the consequences of Navot's murder would have been even more serious so that his teshuva would not have availed to postpone the punishment were it not for the deceit by the spirit of Navot. When Hashem called for somebody to cause Achav to go to the war with Ben Hadad in which he was mortally wounded, the spirit volunteered, "I shall be a lying spirit in the mouth of all [Achav's] prophets [who will prophesy victory over Ben Hadad] " (Melachim Alef 22:21-22). Because of this, Hashem, "before whom one who lies cannot remain in His Presence" (Ps. 101:7), while allowing the spirit of Navot to draw Achav into battle, dismissed the spirit from His Presence and retained the postponement of the punishment on Achav's dynasty. However, despite his teshuva, there was something that denied Achav of the World to come. Said Rabbi Yochanan, "Achav wrote on the doors of Shomron, 'Achav has denied the G-d of Israel', so he has no share in the World to Come".
The very name Menashe tells us that he removed (nasha) Israel from G-d or that his actions removed, as it were, G-d from Israel. When Menashe did everything 'lehachis' and spread evil and idolatry, Hashem brought the generals of Assyria up to Yerushalayim and they caught him, bound him with copper chains and brought him down to Babylon. This was fulfillment of the words of the prophet: "Menashe has exceeded the sins of the Emorites [the 7 nations] whom G-d displaced from Eretz Yisrael before Israel came into the Land, and also has caused Israel to sin with him. Therefore I will bring such punishment upon them that whosoever hears of it their ears will resound to it. Judah and Yerushalayim will be destroyed as was Shomron. And I will eradicate them even as one wipes his plate clean and then overturns it" (Melachim Bet 21:11-15). The text in Chronicles tells us of Menashe's distress but for details we turn to the Talmud where we read, "His captors placed him in a copper pot and lit a fire beneath it" (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 10:2). His distress led Menashe to do teshuva. First he called on all the idols he had worshipped, but naturally to no avail. So he turned to G-d in prayer and said, "If You do not or cannot save me then it will be obvious that You are as false as the others'". The ministering angels formed a wall around Hashem's Throne in order to prevent his prayers from reaching Hashem, saying that such a one as Menashe was beyond redemption. However, the gates of teshuva are like the sea and always open to all, unlike the gates of prayer which require an "et ratzon", a propitious time. So Hashem made a tunnel behind His Seat of Gory and accepted Menashe's prayers and teshuva which was a teshuva out of fear of punishment and not out of love of G-d, but nevertheless teshuva. Midat HaRachamim overruled Midat HaDin.
So Rabbi Yochanan taught if we say that Mensashe has no share in the World to Come, we are closing the gates of teshuva before penitents. So we have to accept that the verse, "Hashem heard Menashe's prayers and restored him to rule over Yeraushalayim for 22 years" means that He accepted his teshuva and therefore he has a share in the World to Come.
The Sages held that Menashe did teshuva and G-d therefore restored him to his kingdom but not to the World to Come. This, because sometimes, although there is teshuva and therefore there is Hashem's forgiveness, there are some crimes for which the World to Come is still denied. In addition to his idolatry, Menashe had also murdered and shed blood; that Hashem does not overlook, even though He is prepared to forgive the insults to His own Honor inherent in idolatry. "Even though Menashe had repented of idolatry and was forgiven for those sins, the teshuva could not clear him of his sins towards his fellow men" (Malbim, Melachim Bet 21:16).
This is the 64th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”