Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II KINGS CHAPTER 21
The account of King Menasheh and his 55 year reign as presented in our present chapter is one of unmitigated negativity, making it appear that he undid everything accomplished by his father King Hezekiah in the latter's whole-hearted return to the authentic Davidic pathway.
Menasheh is portrayed as a voracious idolater who introduced every possible kind of foreign idolatry into Jerusalem and into the very Temple itself, including not only the Baal and Asherah worship followed by Ahab but all the "abominations of Canaan", including Molech-worship and all the different kinds of forbidden divination (v 6).
The divine warnings to Menasheh that the consequent fate of Jerusalem would be one that would make the ears of all who heard it tingle (v 12) were delivered by the prophets Nahum and Habakuk (Rashi on v 10), but the voice of Isaiah was silenced, because Menasheh had him killed (Sanhedrin 103b). Thus among Menasheh's crimes was that "he spilled very much innocent blood until it filled Jerusalem from one end to the other (=PEH LA PEH, lit. 'mouth to mouth'" (v 16). In the words of Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:2): "But how could any mortal fill Jerusalem with innocent blood from one end to the other? What this verse means is that he killed Isaiah, who was the equivalent to Moses, of whom it is said 'Mouth to mouth (PEH EL PEH) shall I speak with him' (Numbers 12:8)".
Yet in spite of the unmitigated negativity of our present chapter, we should avoid jumping to hasty conclusions about Menasheh. We should take a lesson from Rav Ashi, the Babylonian Amora who was the redactor of the Talmud Bavli. One day he was teaching his students the Mishnaic chapter "HELEK" (Sanhedrin ch 10) discussing those who do and do not have a share in the world to come. Leaving off the day's class just before Mishneh 2, which lists the three kings who have no share in the world to come (Jeraboam, Ahab, and, according to one opinion, King Menasheh), Rav Ashi concluded by saying, "And tomorrow we'll start off with our friends (HAVERIM)" referring to the kings as if they were the same kind of people as Rav Ashi and his fellow scholars. That night King Menasheh appeared to Rav Ashi in a dream and said: "So you call us your friends and the friends of your father? Let me ask you where on the loaf should one cut when making HA-MOTZEE (the blessing over bread)?" "I don't know," replied Rav Ashi. "You never learned where to cut the bread when you make HA-MOTZEE and you call us your friends? You cut it where the crust is baked the most..." "Then why did you worship idols" asked Rav Ashi. "If you had been there," replied King Menasheh, "you would have taken hold of the bottom of your robe and come running after me" (Sanhedrin 102b).
In that mishneh, Rabbi Yehudah dissents from the opinion that King Menasheh had no world to come on the grounds that the more detailed account of his reign in II Chronicles chapter 33 tells us that he repented. Menasheh was undoubtedly taught Torah by his father Hezekiah, and he heard the dire warnings of the prophets of his day, yet nothing influenced him to repent except suffering. The remaining Assyrian armies came to Jerusalem and captured him, taking him to Babylon where they put him in a copper pot full of holes and lit an enormous furnace underneath. Targum on II Chronicles 33:12-13 tells how after calling out to all his idolatrous gods in vain, Menasheh finally cried out in pain to HaShem, and despite the protests of the angels, God then cut a tunnel beneath the throne of glory to hear and accept his repentance and prayer.
The remaining narrative in Chronicles tells how Menasheh was restored to the kingship in Jerusalem , where he repented, removed his idols from the Temple , and told the inhabitants of Judah to serve HaShem the God of Israel. "And Menasheh knew that HaShem is the God" (II Chronicles 33:13).
However, Menasheh's son King Amon, with the story of whose two-year reign our chapter concludes, reverted to the ways of the old Menasheh and not only worshipped all his idols but also burned the Torah and committed incest with his own mother (Sanhedrin 103:6).
After the evil of Menasheh and Amon, the reign of King Josiah comes as the last burst of shining light before the inhabitants of Judah followed the Ten Tribes into exile and the Temple of Solomon was destroyed.
The reign and the very name of the saintly Josiah had been prophesied at the very beginning of the split between Judah and the Ten Tribes, when Jeraboam was sacrificing on his idolatrous altar and God's prophet called to the altar saying, "Behold a son is born to the house of David, Josiah is his name." (I Kings 13:2).
How the eight-year old Josiah was able to turn from the corrupt ways of his evil father and grandfather is unknown. Perhaps the penitent Menasheh (who died when Josiah was six) saw his wayward son Amon and tried to do everything he could to inculcate in his little grandchild, third in line to the throne, the truth of HaShem as Menasheh now knew it.
Josiah's restoration of the Temple structure is reminiscent of that of his ancestor, King Joash (II Kings ch 12), the Hebrew letters of whose name are contained in the letters of the name YOSHIAHU (="Joash"). Joash's restoration of the Temple had taken place 224 years earlier (RaDaK on v 4 of our present chapter). Since that time the evil kings (such as Joash's son Ahaz and Menasheh) had seriously modified and damaged the original Temple structure for idolatrous purposes, and even the saintly Hezekiah cut down the golden doors of the Sanctuary to pay off Sennacherib (II Kings 18:16). This was why the Temple was badly in need of repair, and its restoration was emblematic of the tremendous spiritual revival that occurred under Josiah, exemplified by the great national Passover celebration he held in Jerusalem, as described in II Kings:21ff and II Chronicles ch 35.
Our present chapter describes how, in the course of the Temple renovations the High Priest Hilkiah told the king's scribe, "I have found the scroll of the Torah in the House of HaShem." The "discovery" of this scroll has provided grist for the mills of Bible commentators of all colors, not least those who have set themselves up as the "Bible Critics", who gleefully point to this chapter in support of their claims that the Five Books of Moses were (HAS VE-SHALOM) composed by a variety of later writers to support their own interests, and that the scroll of Deuteronomy with its dire warnings of destruction and exile which the priests now sent to the naïve young king was in fact a scam because the priests were simply interested in keeping the Temple going for their own sake.
To lovers of the Torah who revere and caress every letter of the sacred text in their search for God's truth, these claims are patently absurd, as well as being negated by the very text of the Book of Kings, where when King Amatziah killed the assassins of his father Joash, he specifically did not kill their children "as is written in the book of the Torah of Moses that HaShem commanded saying, fathers shall not die because of their children and children shall not die because of their fathers." (II Kings 14:6). The words of Moses quoted here appear precisely in the book of Deuteronomy (24:16), which was in the possession of King Amatziah two hundred years before its "discovery" in the time of Josiah.
The authentic Torah commentators explain that because Ahaz and some of the later wicked kings actually burned Torah scrolls, the priests were concerned that they might try to seize the Torah scroll that lay by the side of the Ark of the Covenant, which Moses had written from the mouth of God, and for this reason they hid it away. Later generations no longer knew where it was until it was discovered during the Temple renovations under Josiah (Metzudas David on v 8; cf. RaDaK at length ad loc.).
Our sages had the tradition that the scroll found now in the Temple was rolled up so that it opened at the curse in Deuteronomy 28:36: "HaShem will take you and the king that you shall set up over you to a people that you did not know." (Yoma 52b).
Hearing the reading of the curses of Deuteronomy so moved the tender young Josiah that he sent to Huldah the Prophetess. The question is asked why he sent to her since the Tzaddik of the Generation was now the prophet Jeremiah, who began to prophesy in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign, five years before the discovery of the scroll (see v 3). According to some opinions, Jeremiah was then absent from Jerusalem on his mission to try to restore the Ten Tribes, some of whom he did indeed succeed in bringing home to the Land of Israel . Others say that Josiah sent to Huldah because women are more compassionate (Megillah 14b).
Hulda was one of the descendants of Rahab the harlot (Joshua ch 2ff). The "second quarter" where Huldah sat in Jerusalem - BA-MISHNEH (v 14 of our present chapter) - was outside the gate of the Temple courtyard that was called after her (Middos 1:3), where she taught the MISHNEH (Oral Law) to the elders of the generation (Rashi on v 14). Until today the bricked up gate in the southern wall of the Temple Mount is called Hulda's Gate, and those who meditate near this holy spot may feel something of the spirit of the ancient prophetess.
With all her compassion, Hulda could not hide the decree of doom and destruction hanging over Judah and Jerusalem , but could only assure the king that it would not be fulfilled in his days. The wise, saintly king took her message to heart. Although it is not recorded here, he took the precaution of hiding away the Ark of the Covenant and the Torah scroll of Moses that lay with it (together with the flask of the Manna and Aaron's rod) in the underground channels that Solomon had ingeniously built into the structure of the Temple Mount (see II Chronicles 35:3 and Yoma 52b).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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