Ethical Issues in the Historical Books of Tanach;
JOSHUA, JUDGES, SAMUEL, KINGS (Nevi’im Rishonim)
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.
He restored the sanctity and beauty of the Mikdash, cleansed the country of idolatry, and organized the collection of trumot and ma'asrot to certain depots throughout the country, so that the Kohanim and Leviyim whether in those towns allocated to the Kohanim or not, could more easily benefit from them. "He hung a sword at the entrance of the Bet HaMedrash saying, 'One who does learn Torah may they be pierced by this sword'. Indeed, from Dan to Be'er Sheva there was not a boy or girl, man or woman, who was ignorant of the laws of tum'a and tahara [perhaps the most complicated areas of halakha]" (Sanhedrin 94b). All these were indicative of Chizkiyahu's devotion to the spreading and teaching of Torah and to G-d's worship. The text records this devotion: "And thus did Chizkiyahu throughout Judah, and he did all that was 'tov' [good] 'yashar' [right] and 'emet' [faithful] before HaShem… in Avoda, in Torah, and in mitzvot, to seek out G-d with all his heart; hatov - between Man and G-d, hayashar - between Man and Man, haemet - in his thoughts and philosophies" (2nd Chronicles 31:20-21 [Malbim]). It is not surprising that he, like all the righteous kings of the Davidic dynasty, had a close positive relationship to the prophets; in his case to Yeshayahu, who in addition to the books of Kings and Chronicles, is our source for the picture of Chizkiyahu and his many faceted personality.
Our Sages expressed their
opinion of this saintly king in a number of ways:
The verse from Eishet Chayil Chazal understood as follows: "Sheker HaChen, is the generation of Moshe; and vain is beauty is the generation of Yehoshua; a G-d fearing woman she should be praised is the generation of Chizkiyahu. The generations of Moshe and Yehoshua studied Torah but that of Chizkiyahu exceeded them" (Rashi).
"Bar Kapara of Tzipori [on the main road to Lavi of today] taught: HaShem considered making Chizkeiyahu Mashiach and Sancherev Gog and Magog [who will battle the last war before Mashiach]" (Sanhedrin 94a). They applied the verse (Isaiah 11:1), "There shall come forth a shootout of the tree [stock] of Jesse" to him; in reference to the Perfect King who will come in the End of Days. That prophecy was not fulfilled because of midot hadin, in view of 3 wrong things that Chizkiyahu did.
1] Although HaShem warred against Sancherev through a great miracle, Israel's success in rebelling against Assyria, the dominant power in the Middle East, redounded throughout that world in the same way as the Six Day War of '67, making Chizkiyahu an international figure; as such he was paid state visits. "Now he had exceedingly much riches and honor" (2nd Chronicles 32:27-28). He showed all his treasures as well as those of the national treasury and of the Mikdash to the visiting king of Bavel, who was later to destroy the State and the Temple. This was unlike Shlomo HaMelech who only showed the Queen of Sheba the glories of his palace. Chizkiyahu, apart from the folly of revealing his wealth and thus arousing the jealousy, greed, and therefore the enmity of Bavel, sinned in that this showing off was a sign of his pride and arrogance. He was conveying that his own cleverness, hard work and abilities were the source of that wealth. It was a fundamental error in all people but especially in government with its natural tendency and unlimited possibilities for self-aggrandizement and contradicts the whole concept of Jewish kingship. "He [the king shall] write himself a copy of this law [Torah] that his heart be not lifted up above his brothers and he turn not from the commandments" (D'varim 17:18-20).
2] It is common practice for kings and heads of governments to seek out and conclude treaties of mutual protection and assistance with friendly states against a common enemy. Our Sages tell us that the prototype for our behavior political diplomacy is that of Yaakov when preparing himself for the danger of meeting his archnemy, his brother Eisav. "He prepared with prayer for Divine assistance, with gifts [i.e. appeasement] and for war" (Ramban on B'reishit 32: 4). However, having the benefit of the prophets of their day, the political leaders should have had enough faith in HaShem not to need or rely on allies. As Yirmiyahu said to the king and nobles when they plotted against Bavel, "What have you to do with Egypt or with Assyria" (Jeremiah 2:18). Chizkiyahu, however, busied himself in the intrigues, politics and alliances of the rulers of the surrounding state as a means of protecting himself, instead of trusting in the words of His prophets.
3] "In those days, Chizkiyahu became critically ill and Yeshayahu the prophet came to him and said 'you are going to die and you shall not live'; die in this world and not live in the world to come, because you have not married" (Berachot 10b). Chizkiyahu did not want to marry, fearing having an evil son. This is a strange punishment since we do not find a death penalty for non-observance of a positive mitzva. However, this happened only 3 days before HaShem defeated Sancherev and the whole people were in a turmoil of fear, defeatism and suffering; in such times there is such punishment even for such non- observance. People could learn from him to say that, "I cannot keep this or that mitzva because I or the results of my actions are not worthy". Throughout history and even today, Chizkiyahu's reasoning has been the basis for many social and religious movements frightened as they have been at the evil, tragedy or misfortune that exists in our world. Monasticism, zero birthrates and euthanasia are only some such applications of that reasoning. It is not for us human beings to question or doubt the wisdom and justice of HaShem's ways or their results and this is what Chizkiyahyu did.
In effect, Chizkiyahu's problem was that he did not busy himself solely with the task of Jewish kingship, government or leadership: "To establish it [the kingdom] and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness (Isaiah 9:6).
This is the 60th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”