It is hard to understand how immediately after the tremendous Torah revival in the time of King Hezekiah, his own son Menasheh could have simply undone all his work and filled Jerusalem and the Holy Temple with every kind of idol and altar.

According to tradition, when Hezekiah was mortally ill, he asked Isaiah why he had said: "You shall die [in this world] and you shall not live [in the world to come]" (II Kings 20:1). The prophet told him it was because Hezekiah had failed to marry and fulfill the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply". Hezekiah told Isaiah that the reason he did not want to have children was because he had seen with holy spirit that his son was destined to be a terrible sinner. The prophet told him that this was not his business, after which Hezekiah asked Isaiah for his daughter's hand in marriage, and out of this union Menasheh was born.

It is unimaginable that Hezekiah taught Torah to all Judah but did not teach his own son. In fact, Menasheh was an outstanding Torah scholar, who was able to expound on the book of Leviticus in 55 completely different ways corresponding to the number of years of his reign (Sanhedrin 103b; compare the story about the lesson Menasheh taught Rav Ashi, redactor of the Babylonian Talmud, when he appeared to him in a dream, KNOW YOUR BIBLE II Kings ch 21). Nevertheless, the rabbis (Sanhedrin 90a) listed Menasheh together with Jeraboam son of Nevat and Ahab as among those who have no share in the world to come, although Rabbi Yehudah (ibid.) dissents, arguing that Menasheh did gain a share in the world to come in the merit of his repentance, which is described in our present chapter.

It was not the castigation of the prophets of the time that brought Menasheh to repent. On the contrary, he killed his own grandfather Isaiah, alleging that his prophecies contravened the Torah, as when he said, "And I SAW the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne", Isaiah 6:1, whereas the Torah says "For no man can SEE Me and live" (Ex. 33:20; Yevamos 49b). Menasheh kept on refining his idolatry - starting off by making a one-faced statue in the Temple and ending up by carving four faces on it in order that the Shechinah should see and become enraged (Sanhedrin 103b).

The only thing that brought Menasheh to repent was the suffering he endured when the Assyrians captured him and took him in chains to Babylon , where "they closed him inside a perforated copper pot and lit fires all around it. And when he was in agonizing pain, he begged all the idols he had worshipped but they did not help him. Finally he prayed to HaShem his God and was very greatly humbled before the God of his fathers. But when he prayed to Him, all the angels appointed over the gates of prayer in heaven immediately closed all the gates and windows in heaven in order that his prayer should not be accepted. But the compassion of the Creator of the World was aroused, because His right arm is outstretched to receive those sinners who return and break the evil inclination in their hearts through repentance, and He created a lattice and a channel in heaven beneath the throne of His glory and heard his prayer and accepted his request, and He shook the world with His mighty word and shattered the pot. A spirit went forth from between the wings of the cherubs and brought him back, and he returned to his kingdom to Jerusalem , and Menasheh knew that HaShem is God" (Targum on vv 11-13 of our present chapter).

"And he removed the strange gods. and cast them outside the city" (v 15). Rashi comments that Menasheh failed to smash these idols to bits or hide them away out of sight, and this was why his son and successor King Ammon stumbled, as we find later in this chapter (v 22): "And Ammon sacrificed to all the idols that Menasheh his father had made". He simply took them from the place where Menasheh had cast them out (Rashi on v 15). The rabbis said that Ammon burned the Torah scroll and had relations with his own mother. When she asked him what benefit he could possibly have from the place from which he came forth, he retorted: "I am doing it for no other reason than to enrage my Creator" (Sanhedrin 103b). Punk culture???


The same swing from idolatry and degeneracy to repentance and national restoration that had been occurred time after time in the earlier history of the House of David - as when Yo'ash was installed instead of Athaliah and when Hezekiah succeeded Ahaz - took place when the eight year old Josiah was chosen by the people to succeed his murdered father Ammon.

Unlike Hezekiah, who initiated his radical turnabout from the ways of Ahaz as soon as he ascended to the throne, the young Josiah implemented his change in direction in stages. He was sixteen when he seriously began to "search out the God of David his father" and twenty when he started purifying Judah and Jerusalem of private altars and idolatrous cult-centers and images (v 3). He took responsibility to do the same throughout the Land of Israel , traveling to the territory of Naftali in the far north east of the country in order to supervise the work personally (v 6).

It was at the age of twenty-six that Josiah initiated much-needed repairs to the Temple , which had been damaged during the ravages in the reigns of Menasheh and Ammon. Our chapter lists the Levitical officers who supervised the Temple restoration work, including Levites who were chosen purely because of their deep understanding of music (verse 12), because "everyone who had a masterly understanding of music and song stood by with musical instruments in order to play during the time of the building work" (Metzudas David ad loc.). Once again we see the central role of music in the Temple , which even had to be built and repaired to the sounds of song.

It was when going to an inner Temple chamber to take money to pay for the work that "Hilkiah the High Priest found a scroll of the Torah of HaShem by the hand of Moses" (v 14). Metzudas David (ad loc.) says: "It is likely that when King Ahaz burned the Torah scroll, the Cohanim feared that he would try to get at the Torah scroll that was placed at the side of the Ark of the Covenant, which had been written by Moses from the mouth of HaShem, and they therefore took it and hid it away. After Ahaz' death they searched for it but could not find it until the High Priest was searching for the money when the Temple was restored." The rabbis had a tradition that the scroll was found rolled in such a way that it fell open at the verse in the curses: "HaShem will lead you and your king that you shall establish over yourself to a nation that you have not known" (Deut. 28:36; Yoma 52b). When this verse was read to King Josiah, he tore his garments, fearing that it applied to him, since he himself had been put on the throne by the people and not by a prophet (Rashi on v 19; cf. II Chron. 33:25).

Our rabbis taught that the reason why Josiah sent to enquire of the prophetess Huldah in preference to Jeremiah, who was also prophesying at that time, was "because a woman is more compassionate than a man" (Megillah 14b; Rashi on v 22). Huldah had her own chamber in the Temple , adjacent to the seat of the Sanhedrin in the Chamber of the Hewn Stones, though it was screened off for reasons of modesty (Maseches Middos; Rashi on v 22).

Huldah's grim message that the fate of Jerusalem was already sealed was softened for Josiah only by the news that the disaster would not strike in his lifetime. He immediately summoned all the elders of Judah to the Temple , where he renewed the Torah Covenant and brought the entire Israelite population to serve HaShem loyally for the rest of his life.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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