Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II KINGS CHAPTER 11
Athaliah - the wife of King Jehoram of Judah and the mother of King Ahaziah of Judah, whom Jehu ben Nimshi had slain when he came to Jezre'el - was the daughter of King Ahab of Israel. She had brought the plague of Ahab into the Holy City of Jerusalem itself in the form of a functioning temple to Baal complete with a high priest bearing the pleasant-sounding name of Matan, "giving". Athaliah ruined part of the structure of Solomon's Temple and pillaged its treasures to bring them to her own temple of Baal (II Chron. 24:7). RaDaK (on II Kings 12:5) states that through her influence there was an overall weakening in public support for Solomon's Temple to the point where the income from the people's half-shekel contributions was insufficient to cover the daily sacrifices, which were suspended for a time. [Athaliah's conception of Jerusalem would probably correspond to that of the contemporary secularists who take pride in its shopping malls, sports stadiums, theaters and multi-religious character, while the Temple of God lies in ruins.]
When Athaliah realized the implications of the death of her son Ahaziah king of Judah at the hands of Jehu ben Nimshi, she made a bloody attempt to assert the supremacy of the House of Ahab over Jerusalem itself by wiping out all descendants of King David (v 1) with the goal of ruling all by herself, which she did for six years.
At this fateful moment the entire future of the House of David until Mashiach hung in the balance, and his line would have been wiped out completely but for the heroism of Yehosheva daughter of Jehoram king of Judah and paternal sister of the slain King Ahaziah. Taking his one remaining son, the infant prince Jo'ash, she hid him and brought him up in HADAR HA-MITOTH, the "chamber of the beds" (v 2). This was certainly with the cooperation of the High Priest, for according to tradition, HADAR HA-MITHOT was none other than an upper storey above the Temple Holy of Holies (Rashi, RaDaK on v 2). The Holy of Holies is called by this allusive name in accordance with the verses in Songs 1:13, "He lies between my breasts" and ibid. 1:16, "also our couch is green". (See Rambam, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 4:3 on the place of this upper storey in the Temple structure.) This would indeed have been an ideal place for concealing the baby prince from the tyrannical Athaliah since it was strictly off bounds to all - the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies only once a year on Yom Kippur, while the upper storey was checked for maintenance purposes only at very long intervals, and in any case from the following chapter it would appear that the Temple was not maintained at all during the time of Athaliah.
It was for the boy prince Joash hidden away above the Holy of Holies that King David had prayed in Psalms 27:5: "For He will hide me away in his Tabernacle, He will conceal me in the secrecy of His Tent" (Rashi on v 2).
When Joash was seven years old, the initiative to restore the kingship of the House of David came from Yehoyada the High Priest, an outstanding Tzaddik who showed the zeal of a Pinchas in extirpating the plague of Athaliah. (The long-established bond between the priesthood and the royal tribe of Judah dated back to the marriage of Aaron the High Priest to the sister of Nahshon ben Aminadav, the prince of Judah, Exodus 6:23.) In a daring coup against a woman who had certainly greatly strengthened her power-base in six years of tyranny, Yehoyada mobilized all the priests in Jerusalem, using the classic stratagem employed by many of the Judges in dividing his "forces" into three, this time to surround and protect the new boy king at his surprise "unveiling" and coronation in the Temple. The creative boldness of Yehoyada in overthrowing Athaliah equaled that of Jehu seven years earlier in destroying the priests of Baal in Shomron (see previous chapter), but because Yehoyada was a true Tzaddik, his enterprise (unlike that of Jehu) did not backfire. "And he brought out the king's son and put upon him the crown and the testimony" (v 12) - the "testimony" is the Torah scroll, which the king "must read all the days of his life" (Deut. 17:19). After Athaliah was put to death, Yehoyada renewed the Covenant that bound the king and the people together in the service of God.
It is clear from the present chapter that there was a very sizeable "grass roots" of AM HA'ARETZ (v 14) - "ordinary" members of the tribe of Judah - who were faithful to the House of David and everything it stood for and who were only too happy to support the High Priest's initiative against Athaliah and her idol-based regime. They all came up to destroy the temple of Baal and its priest (v 18), after which the new king was conducted to the royal palace, the people rejoiced, and the city became calm (v 20).
King Joash ruled for forty years, and he "did right in the eyes of God all his days as Yehoyada the priest instructed him" (v 2). This verse must be understood in the light of II Chronicles 24:17, from which we learn that after the death of Yehoyada (at the ripe old age of 130), "the leaders of Judah came and prostrated to the king; then [AZ] the king listened to them". The leaders of Judah reasoned that if this man had survived being brought up in the Holy of Holies, of which it is said that "the stranger who draws near shall die" (Numbers 18:7), he must be divine - and they began to worship him like a god. [One wonders whether some overenthusiastic followers of certain contemporary leaders may not be making a similar mistake.] Not only did Joash stray into idolatry; he became so enraged by criticism that he had Yehoyada's son, the prophet Zechariah, who stood up in the Temple to castigate him, murdered on the spot (II Chron. 24:21) - for generations his blood boiled in the Temple courtyard where it had been shed, refusing to subside, until Nebuchadnezzar came and destroyed the Temple.
Despite the negativity of these later developments, they followed a most important period while Yehoyada was still alive in which the king and the priests not only renovated the Temple but also made important innovations in its management, some of which endured for a long time thereafter. These innovations were centered on the reorganization of the financing of the Temple maintenance and its day-to-day running through the annual half-shekel contributions of the people and their other dedications.
Thus the closing verses of the previous chapter (II Kings 11:17-20) together with the better part of our present chapter (vv 1-17) are the Haftara of Shabbos Shekalim, the first of the four special Shabbosos during the six weeks leading up to Pesach, when in addition to the usual weekly parshah we also read MAFTIR from Exodus 30:11-16 on the half-shekel Temple "poll tax" on the population. (Shabbos Shekalim comes either immediately before or on Rosh Chodesh Adar, late Feb./early March.)
King Joash came to the throne only 155 years after the building of Solomon's Temple , which in the days before the kinds of emissions and pollutants in the atmosphere today was not long enough to case a marked deterioration in the stone and timber building. It was largely the ravages of Athaliah (II Chron. 24:7) that had caused damage to the Temple structure, giving rise to the urgent need for BEDEK HA-BAYIS, "checking" of the Temple to see what was required to restore it to its rightful glory. Besides the need for maintenance of the building, there was also a need for funds to cover the expenses of the regular sacrifices each day, on Sabbaths, New Moons and festivals etc. As discussed in the commentary on the previous chapter, it appears that for a time during the rule of Athaliah, the regular sacrifices may have been suspended as the system for collecting the funds to pay for it had fallen into disuse.
Initially Jo'ash called on the priests to collect all the income from the annual half-shekel contributions and other dedications for use on the Temple renovation project. Since each priest had his own circle of Israelites who would give him their tithes, the initial idea was that the priests themselves should collect the funds for the renovation work from their regular supporters (v 6). However, by the twenty-third year of Jo'ash's reign the work had still not been done and the king apparentlhy suspected that the priests were filching off the money for themselves (v 8). This was not so - the priests had been saving the contributions until there was a large enough sum to complete the work (RaDaK on v 8) - but to avoid all suspicion, the priests were perfectly content to agree to a new system in which the public made their contributions directly to the Temple, placing their coins in a chest placed conveniently in the Temple courtyard (v 10). This new system became the basis for the system of half-shekel collection that is described at length in the Talmudic Tractate Shekalim.
The money collected in the time of Joash was used initially to restore the Temple building (vv 12-13). According to v 14 the money was NOT used for Temple vessels and musical instruments etc. but this contradicts II Chron. 24:14, from which we can infer that these were purchased AFTER the building restoration was complete (Kesuvos 106a; RaDaK on v 14).
From verse 16 we learn that the financial affairs of the Temple were all based on trust (which makes a refreshing change from today, when almost nobody can or will trust anyone else).
From verse 17 the rabbis teach that Yehoyada darshened that the KOHANIM priests were allowed to have personal benefit from the skins of animals sacrificed on the Temple Altar as OLAH (burnt) offerings (Temurah 23b, see Rashi on v 17).
"THEN HAZA-EL KING OF ARAM ROSE UP." (v 18)
"Then - AZ - Haza'el rose up." This happened because "then (AZ) the king listened to them" (II Chron. 24:17) - i.e. to the leaders of Judah who wanted to worship him as an idol. This is what gave strength to Haza'el as God's rod to chastise the House of David after his many years of chastising Israel . Now he took the Philistine town of Gath , which King David had taken for himself more than a hundred and fifty years earlier.
Haza-el wanted to advance on Jerusalem itself, but Jo'ash bought him off using the Temple treasures (v 19) thereby undoing much of what had been achieved during the lifetime of Yehoyada the High Priest.
In II Chron. 24:24 we learn that Haza-el made a second attack on Jerusalem , in which he succeeded in doing considerable damage, "and they carried out judgments on Jo'ash", who was severely wounded. He was killed in a conspiracy by two of his servants whose mothers - according to II Chron. 24:26 -- were respectively a Moabitess and an Ammonitess. The Moabites and Ammonites were descended from Lot, and showed great ingratitude to Abraham, who had rescued Lot , when they hired Bil'am to curse his descendants. It was thus MIDDAH KE-NEGED MIDDAH, "measure for measure", that two servants from Moab and Ammon should take vengeance on Jo'ash, who failed to show gratitude to Yehoyada the High Priest for saving his own life as a child when he went on to kill his son Zechariah.
Let us strive to live righteously so that God will repay us measure for measure with good!
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved