Avraham ben Yaakov
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 35
In the eighteenth year of his reign - the same year as the discovery of the Torah scroll in the Temple and the subsequent prophecy of doom by Huldah the Prophetess, as described in the previous chapter - King Josiah held a Pesach celebration in the Temple "the like of which had not been celebrated in Israel since the days of Samuel the Prophet" (verse 18).
Yet even as Josiah celebrated the Pesach, he knew that it was impossible to avert the decree hanging over Jerusalem . "And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel , who were holy to HaShem: Put the holy Ark in the House which Solomon the son of David king of Israel built." (verse 3). According to the simple meaning of the verse, it would appear that King Menasheh may have taken the Ark out of the Holy of Holies when he placed an idol in the Temple (or if Menasheh returned it after his repentance, his successor King Ammon may have removed it again), and that would be the reason why Josiah now gave instructions to put the Ark back in its place (Rashi, RaDaK ad loc.).
However, the Talmudic rabbis interpreted this verse as hinting that on the advice of the prophet Jeremiah, Josiah had the Ark hidden away in a secret underground chamber that King Solomon had constructed at the time of the building of the Temple , knowing that it was destined to be destroyed. The Foundation Stone at the western end of the Temple in the Holy of Holies covered over the entrance to the narrow, winding passages leading down into this chamber. Josiah had the Ark put away there together with the Two Tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Flask of the Manna, the Flask of the Anointing Oil, Aaron's Rod and the chest which the Philistines sent as a gift when they returned the Ark, in order that they should not be taken into exile with the destruction of the Temple (Yoma 52b). For Josiah knew that if they would be taken into exile, they would never be brought back (Shekalim 16a).
Despite the threat of doom hanging over Jerusalem , Josiah and the people celebrated the Pesach wholeheartedly. Josiah himself provided 30,000 paschal lambs and goats for the people - which indicates that many more than that number of people ate of them, because a HAVURAH of up to a hundred people could all be registered to eat an olive-size quantity each of the meat of a single lamb. Leading officers of the people and the Levites provided the Cohanim and Levites with their paschal animals. The oxen mentioned in vv 7, 8 and 9 were for SHALMEY CHAGIGAH, the festive peace-offerings consumed prior to the Pesach offering so that its meat may be eaten in a state of satisfaction and not out of hunger (Rashi & Metzudas David on v 6; Rambam, Hilchos Korban Pesach 8:3).
All the details of the Pesach celebration - eating the sacrifice roasted, accompanying the offering with the chanting of the Hallel by the Levites, etc. - were observed in strict accordance with all the relevant Torah laws.
Rashi on v 18 offers an explanation as to why "the like of this Passover had not been celebrated in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet, nor did any of the kings of Israel keep such a Passover as Josiah kept." - "As long as the people were split into two kingdoms, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin used to celebrate Pesach in Jerusalem in the name of HaShem, while the other tribes celebrated in the name of idols in Beth El and Dan. However, in the days of the judges it had never happened that Israel was split into two families, for in each generation they never had more than one judge, and that judge made them all go in the way of Hashem. Thus in the times of the judges, all the Ten Tribes used to go to Shilo to celebrate Pesach in the name of HaShem, but throughout the period of the kings of Israel there was never a Pesach in which Israel and Judah were together. However, by the time of Josiah the kingdom of the Ten Tribes was already defunct, and when Jeremiah brought members of the Ten Tribes back from their exile, he did not establish a separate king over them, but Josiah ruled over them and they all celebrated Pesach together in Jerusalem in the name of HaShem.
After this Pesach Josiah lived on for thirteen more years before his tragic end at the hands of Pharaoh Necho, who was marching his armies through the Land of Israel on his way to Karkemish on the River Euphrates in order to strike a blow against Assyria . The king of Egypt had no hostile intentions against Judah , but Josiah still went out to intercept him because he darshened the verse, "No sword shall pass through your land" (Lev. 26:6) to mean that in times of blessing, even the sword of a nation who is at peace with Israel should not pass through their land, let alone the sword of their enemies (Ta'anis 22b). Josiah thought he was sufficiently worthy to have this blessing fulfilled in his time. What he did not know was that the people still worshiped idols in the privacy of their own homes. He used to have inspectors visit each house to check for idols, but the people craftily had the idols carved on the insides of the two doors that opened up into their homes. When the inspectors threw open the doors in order to enter, the carvings were concealed from them, but as soon as they left, the people in the house would shut the two doors, thereby bringing the two carvings together to make one image, which they then proceeded to worship (Midrash Eichah Rabbah 1:53).
Josiah failed to consult the prophet Jeremiah as to whether he should go out against Pharaoh Necho, and he was shot with three hundred arrows that left his body full of holes like a sieve. As the king lay dying, Jeremiah noticed his lips moving and stooped down to try to hear what he was saying. What he heard was, "HaShem is righteous for I have rebelled against His mouth" (Lamentations 1:18; Ta'anis 22b). With the death of Josiah the sun went down on the House of David, and Jeremiah instituted the mourning elegy that he composed in honor of the slain king to be recited by all Israel (v 25). This is contained in Chapter 4 of the Book of Lamentations (Eichah), which is recited on the Fast of Tisha B'Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple .
V 1: "And the people of the land took Yeho-ahaz son of Josiah and made him king." It appears that Yeho-ahaz was two years younger than Yeho-yakim, yet the people preferred him as king (RaDaK on II Kings 23:30). It seems that Yeho-ahaz invaded Egypt and struck a heavy blow there in order to avenge the death of his father at the hands of Pharaoh Necho, but when the latter returned from his campaign against Assyria, he captured and exiled Yeho-ahaz and replaced him with Yeho-yakim (RaDaK on II: Kings 23:33). It was Pharaoh Necho who changed the new king's name to Yeho-yakim, just as Pharaoh had changed Joseph's name to the Egyptian name of Tzophnas Pa'neah and Nebuchadnezzar gave Babylonian names to Daniel, Hananiyah, Mishael and Azariah. The purpose was to show the ruler's supremacy over his officers, whose names he changed at will (see Rashi on v 4 of our present chapter).
Yeho-yakim was the object of many rebukes and prophecies by Jeremiah, whom he tried to kill and eventually put in prison, while killing the prophet Uriah son of Shemayah (Jeremiah 26:23). It was in the fourth year of Yeho-yakim's reign that Baruch ben Neriyah wrote the Book of Lamentations at the dictation of Jeremiah. After he read it to the people, it was brought to King Yeho-yakim, who on hearing what was written in it, tore the scroll to shreds with a razor and threw the pieces into the fire (Jeremiah 36:23).
".and his abominations that he did and WHAT WAS FOUND UPON HIM." (v 8). The rabbis stated that Yeho-yakim had the name of an idol (or, according to another opinion, the Name of HaShem) inscribed on his member (Sanhedrin 103b).
Jeremiah had prophesied that Yeho-yakim would receive the burial of a donkey (Jer. 22:19) - i.e. his flesh would be eaten by the dogs. After the rise of Nebuchadnezzar, Yeho-yakim served him for three years but then rebelled, after which the Babylonian king laid siege to Jerusalem and captured him. Yeho-yakim died as he was being dragged off into exile and his corpse was thrown into an open field where he suffered his prophesied end.
Yeho-yakim's son Yeho-yachin ruled for only three months before Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the Sanhedrin deliver him over to be taken into exile to Babylon . Before leaving Jerusalem , Yeho-yachin took all the keys of the Temple and went up to the roof of the House, saying: "Master of the World: Since we are not worthy to be the guardians of Your treasures, here are Your keys before You." Yeho-yachin threw the keys upwards, and a hand of fire came down to receive them (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 19:6).
Together with Yeho-yachin, Nebuchadnezzar took all the leading royal officers, warriors, sages and elders of Jerusalem into exile in Babylon, including Ezekiel the prophet, Mordechai, Daniel, Hananiah, Misha'el and Azariah, so that only the poor and lowly people were left in Jerusalem. Thus when Nebuchadnezzar installed Yeho-yachin's uncle Tzedekiah as king of Judah (and governor of Edom , Moab , Ammon, Tyre and Sidon as well), the population of Jerusalem over whom he ruled were on a low moral level. Tzedekiah himself was considered by the rabbis to have been exceptionally saintly: he was counted (together with Jesse, Saul, Samuel, Amos, Zephaniah, Elijah and Mashiach) among eight "princes among men" (Succah 52b), and his original name of Shaloom (I Chron. 3:15, see RaDaK ad loc.) indicated that he was perfect (SHALEM) in his deeds (Horayos 11b). The reason why it is written of Tzedekiah that "he did evil in the eyes of Hashem" (II Kings 24:19) was because he failed to protest against the deeds of his contemporaries, as when they freed their slaves only to re-enslave them immediately afterwards.
"And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God." (v 13 of our present chapter). According to tradition, once Tzedekiah had chanced upon Nebuchadnezzar precisely while the latter was ravenously devouring a rabbit when it was still alive. Nebuchadnezzar made Tzedekiah swear an oath that he would never reveal what he had seen, but eventually Tzedekiah asked the Sanhedrin to annul his oath and told what he had seen (Nedarim 65a). It was in vengeance for this that on capturing Tzedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar had his eyes put out for revealing what he had seen, while the members of the Sanhedrin who annulled his oath were tied to horses tails and dragged from Jerusalem to Lod (Eichah Rabbah 2:18).
With the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple and the exile of all the people to Babylon , it might have seemed as if the Royal House of David - in whose honor Ezra the Scribe wrote DIVREY HAYAMIM, the Book of Chronicles - would soon become extinct. However, God's watchful eye was on the seed of David, and even as Yechoniah rotted away in solitary confinement in his narrow cell in Babylon , God opened a way to facilitate a visit to him by his wife. She conceived and gave birth to She'altiel, who was the father of Zerubavel (see KNOW YOUR BIBLE, Ezra ch 2). It was Zerubavel, scion of the House of David, who went up to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple after Cyrus of Persia gave the signal for Judah to return there, as described in the closing verses of Chronicles and as told in detail in the Book of Ezra. The whole of DIVREY HAYAMIM was written to explain where Zerubavel came from and why it was his mission to build the Temple .
And just as Zerubavel went up to Jerusalem to build the Second Temple , so may our Righteous Mashiach quickly reveal himself and lead all Israel up to Jerusalem to build the Temple very soon in our times. Amen.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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