Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 29
We can only speculate what caused the twenty-five year old Hezekiah to go in the diametrically opposite direction to that of his father Ahaz from the moment he succeeded him on the throne. Hezekiah's miraculous delivery from the furnace of the priests of Molech must surely have left a lifelong mark on his very soul. Perhaps this made him particularly open to the preaching the great prophets of his time - Hosea, Amos and Micah - and particularly that of Isaiah, whose mission had begun on the very the day on which Hezekiah's great grandfather Uzziah tried to burn incense in the Temple, and who remained the steadfast champion of the true Torah pathway during the reigns of Yotham, Ahaz and that of Hezekiah himself.
Our texts refer to Isaiah's active involvement in the events of Hezekiah's reign only later in the story (II Kings 19:2 & II Chron 32:20 etc.), whereas the purification of Judah and the Temple from the idolatry of Ahaz on which Hezekiah embarked in the very first month of the first year of his reign is described as having been his own initiative (v 3). He showed his boldly independent spirit even before this, when - according to rabbinic tradition - instead of giving his father an honorable funeral, with the approval of the sages of the time he had his bones dragged on a bed of rope in order to bring him atonement (Pesachim 56a).
"HE in the first year of his reign in the first month OPENED the doors of the House of HaShem." (v 3) - whereas a few verses earlier, at the end of the previous chapter (II Chron 28:24) we read that "Ahaz. CLOSED the doors of the House of HaShem."
We may better appreciate the drama of Hezekiah's address to the Levites and Cohanim whom he immediately assembled in the Temple (vv 4-11, cf. v 36, "suddenly") by referring to some comments of Rashi later in our present chapter and the next. In the course of his comment on v 34 of our present chapter, Rashi writes that "the Cohanim and Levites and all those who feared HaShem had to disguise themselves and make themselves into strangers and even go into hiding all through the days of the wicked kings, and when Hezekiah, who was righteous, came to the throne, they could not immediately sanctify and purify themselves for the Temple service". In further explanation, Rashi writes in his comment on v 15 of the following chapter: "The reason why the Cohanim and Levites delayed coming until now was that they could not prior to that give credibility to the matter [of the reopening of the Temple] because Ahaz had despised and rejected them from serving as priests, and now they said, 'Is it possible that yesterday Ahaz worshipped idols and his son Hezekiah immediately in his first year in the very first month already tells the Cohanim and Levites to serve the One God alone, telling us he needs us?' This was why they were apathetic and delayed coming, and the same was true in the case of the rest of Judah whom Ahaz had despised. However, when they investigated and ascertained that everything was for the sake of Heaven, they all came and sanctified themselves for service" (Rashi on II Chron. 30:15).
Hezekiah's address to the Cohanim and Levites shows the devastation he and Judah faced as a result of Ahaz' idolatry and its disastrous consequences (vv 8-9). To repair the damage, Hezekiah wanted to renew the original Covenant between God and Israel .
Our text relates how representatives of all the Levitical families stood up and volunteered to embark on the work of cleansing the Temple . It was not simply a matter of removing idols. The reason why it took them eight whole days to sanctify the Temple building was because Ahaz had had idolatrous images carved into all the walls (Rashi on v 17). Although a simple reading of verse 19 leaves the impression that they now purified the Temple vessels that in the time of Ahaz had been used for idolatrous rituals, the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 52b) states that those vessels were put in GENIZAH ("hiding", never to be used again) and new vessels were brought in their place, because a vessel used for idolatry is unfit to be used for holy service.
"And they brought seven oxen and seven rams and seven sheep and seven goats for a sin offering" (v 21). The sacrifices brought by Hezekiah to atone for the people's idolatry do not correspond exactly to the sacrifices prescribed in the Torah for this sin (Lev. 4:14; Numbers 15:24) - this was HORO'AS SHA'AH, a "one-time ruling".
It is significant that for Hezekiah, an integral part of the restoration of the Temple was the restoration of the Temple music as established by King David and the prophets of his time (v 25). It is the Temple music that elevates the entire Temple service, as we see clearly from our narrative (vv 27-30).
When Hezekiah decided to hold a spectacular Passover celebration in the Temple , the like of which had not been seen since the days of Solomon, he did not summon only the people of Judah . In the true Davidic tradition, he took responsibility for all Israel and sent messengers with letters to the members of the other tribes. This was just six years before the Ten Tribes were taken into exile by the Assyrians (see Rashi on verse 1 of our present chapter; cf. II Kings 18:10). The reason for their exile becomes more understandable when we read that many of them simply laughed at and mocked Hezekiah's messengers (v 10).
"For the king took counsel. to hold the Pesach in the second month" (v 2). There were a number of halachic irregularities in the holding of Hezekiah's first Pesach which were forced upon him by the exigencies of the moment. The first is that Pesach is supposed to be held in Nissan, the first month of the Torah year, whereas our verse states that Hezekiah held it in the second month. This was because the work of cleansing the Temple of idolatry lasted until the sixteenth day of the first month whereas the Pesach sacrifice must be brought on the fourteenth, and in any case, the majority of the priests and the people had not yet had time to purify themselves ritually for Pesach because of the suddenness of Hezekiah's initiative. The Torah itself provides that people who are unable to offer the Pesach sacrifice because of being ritually impure at the requisite time may celebrate PESACH SHENI, the "Second Pesach" on the fourteenth day of the second month, i.e. Iyar (Numbers 9:9-11). There is an opinion in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 12a-b) that Hezekiah had the entire people celebrate Pesach Sheni even though according to the halachah, under normal circumstances only if a minority of the people were impure would those particular people celebrate Pesach Sheni, whereas if the majority of the community is impure they are permitted to bring the Pesach sacrifice in a state of ritual impurity on 14 Nissan.
However, the more accepted opinion in the Talmud is that Hezekiah did not literally hold his Pesach in the month of Iyar but rather that he decided to declare that year a leap year, turning what should have been the month of Nissan into Adar II, thereby gaining an extra month before "Nissan", which came in what would have been the second month were it not for the insertion of the leap month. In the times of the Great Sanhedrin prior to the introduction of the fixed calendar, it was indeed at the discretion of the leading sages of the Sanhedrin to decide which year should be a leap year. The reason why Hezekiah was criticized by the sages for adding the extra month (Pesachim 56a) was because he waited to do so until the first of Nissan, suddenly declaring that the new month was not Nissan at all but Adar II and that the following month would be Nissan, whereas he should have made his declaration a day earlier, prior to the consecration of the New Moon (see also RaDaK on verse 2 of our present chapter).
The second irregularity of Hezekiah's Pesach was that "a multitude of the people. had not cleansed themselves, so that they ate of the Passover sacrifice otherwise than was written" (v 18) - i.e. in a state of ritual impurity (Rashi ad loc.). The halachah provides that if the majority of the people are ritually impure on the first Pesach, they still bring the sacrifice on 14 Nissan - only if a minority are impure are they pushed off to Pesach Sheni on 14 Iyar (Rambam, Hilchos Korban Pesach 7:1). It would appear that on Hezekiah's Pesach more people were ritually pure than impure, yet the ritually impure still joined in the sacrifice. This was what was against the halachah, and this is why Hezekiah had to pray to God to grant them atonement (v 18f). It takes a giant of the stature of Hezekiah to imaginatively transcend the halachah when the circumstances absolutely require it. The fact that he did what he did proves that there are times when this may be done. [However, it is dangerous in the extreme when halachic midgets take Hezekiah's initiative as license to change the halachah any time they want.]
Again we see that the Temple music was a most important part of the Pesach celebration (vv 21f).
Rashi (on v 26) writes that the unique great joy that accompanied Hezekiah's Pesach was not because there were more people present than in earlier times but rather because throughout the days of Ahaz and the other wicked kings of Judah, the people had simply not come to Jerusalem for the pilgrim festivals, which made this Pesach a tremendous novelty. Having not celebrated the festivals for many years, the seven days of Pesach were too few for them and they therefore added another seven days of celebrations (v 23).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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