Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Yotam Ben Uzziah - the view from Daf Yomi

Daf Yomi a day or two ago, had a facinating line on the next King of Yehuda; Yotam ben Uziah. In this piece of Massechet Sukka, Rabbi Shimon bar Yoachai is talking about the manner in which the greatness of a few lone individuals can hold sway for the entire world:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף מה עמוד ב
ואמר חזקיה אמר רבי ירמיה משום רבי שמעון בן יוחי: יכול אני לפטור את כל העולם כולו מן הדין מיום שנבראתי עד עתה, ואילמלי אליעזר בני עמי - מיום שנברא העולם ועד עכשיו, ואילמלי יותם בן עוזיהו עמנו - מיום שנברא העולם עד סופו.
Hizkiyah quoted Rav Yirmiyah in the name of R. Shimon b. Yochai: I could save the world from judgement from the time I was born unto the present moment; and together with my son Eliezer, from the moment of creation until the present time; and in conjunction with Yotam ben Uzziah we could exempt the world from Judgement from Creation until the end of time."
Now, if we may ignore the apparent self congratulatory nature of this statement; we find the name of Yotam ben Uzziahu mentioned here in an enormously positive context. Who was this man?

יותם בן עוזיהו - צדיק היה, ועניו יותר משאר מלכים, וזכה בכיבוד אביו, ועליו נאמר בן יכבד אב (מלאכי א), שכל הימים שהיה אביו מצורע והוא היה שופט עם הארץ, כדכתיב (מלכים ב טו), ויותם (בנו) +מסורת הש"ס: [בן המלך על הבית]+ שופט וגו' לא נטל עליו כתר מלכות בחייו, וכל דינין שהיה דן - אומרן בשם אביו.
The Rabbeinu Channanel takes this further and states that this group of 3 people all failed to receive the rewards of this world in this world. (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son lived for 12 years in a cave denying themselves worldly pleasures for an extended period. Likewise, Yotam did not reap a this-worldly reward. Maybe this has something to do with Yotam missing his chance , so to speak, to rule during the period in which his father was in a state of leprosy.) Steinsaltz adds that in the Tanach account of Yotam, nothing negative is mentioned about him; no qualifiers or minus points. All that is mentioned is that he "did that which was right in God's eyes... and he built the (upper) gate of the House of God."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ch.15-17 : The Four Concurrent Prophets.

The Assyrians are Coming! This is a second introductory post which should set the tone for the next 5 or so chapters.
The post Yerovam-Uzziah period is turbulent to the extreme. The forces of Assyria that dominate the region cannot be ignored and form the backdrop for every policy decision. Without understanding the broad perspective here, we cannot understand the Navi.

The Gemara discusses four prophets that prophecies concurrently[1]: Yishayahu, Amos, Michah and Hoshea. It is quite easy to figure out why they would be seen as contemporaries – Just look at the opening line of their Nevuot!

ישעיהו פרק א
חֲזוֹן יְשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶן אָמוֹץ אֲשֶׁר חָזָה עַל יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּהוּ יוֹתָם אָחָז יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ מַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה:

הושע פרק א
א) דְּבַר יְדֹוָד אֲשֶׁר הָיָה אֶל הוֹשֵׁעַ בֶּן בְּאֵרִי בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּה יוֹתָם אָחָז יְחִזְקִיָּה מַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה וּבִימֵי יָרָבְעָם בֶּן יוֹאָשׁ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל:

עמוס פרק א
דִּבְרֵי עָמוֹס אֲשֶׁר הָיָה בַנֹּקְדִים מִתְּקוֹעַ אֲשֶׁר חָזָה עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּה מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה וּבִימֵי יָרָבְעָם בֶּן יוֹאָשׁ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל

מיכה פרק א
א) דְּבַר יְדֹוָד אֲשֶׁר הָיָה אֶל מִיכָה הַמֹּרַשְׁתִּי בִּימֵי יוֹתָם אָחָז יְחִזְקִיָּה מַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה אֲשֶׁר חָזָה עַל שֹׁמְרוֹן וִירוּשָׁלִָם:

In other words, starting with the Yerovam-Uzzia period, there is a BURST of prophecy. Usually we do not see multiple prophetic voices in a single period. For such a cacophony of prophecy to be sounded, there must be something momentous going on. It continues throughout the next kings: Yotam, Achaz and Hizkiyahu (all Kings of Yehuda.) Now if God is sending Navi after Navi, we can induce that there must be some rather significant events happening that God would like to comment upon. Obviously, these historic events are the rise of an enormous empire – Assyria – the likes that the Middle East has never seen. Assyria were truly a superpower and no kingdom could ignore them.

From the perspective of Yisrael/Yehuda, the very existence of the kingdom was hanging in the balance. In hindsight we know that the Assyrian invasion was devastation for Yisrael and Yehuda – mainly during the reign of King Hizkiyahu. It destroyed and exiled the Northern Kingdom. And it almost vanquished Yehuda as well; after the Assyrians, only Yerushalayim was spared – 46 walled cities had been attacked, penetrated and looted!

So these warnings coming in such a concentration are God's way of sounding an alarm. We clearly comprehend the rationale behind all this prophecy as it comes to warn the people, to guide them, to place their current events in a spiritual context; and maybe – just maybe – to avert the looming disaster.

What is the approach of the nation as they see the advance of the supepower, Ashur? We just read last Shabbat – Shabbat Shuva – the final chapter of Hoshea:

הושע פרק יד
(ב) שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ:
(ג) קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל יְדֹוָד אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל תִּשָּׂא עָוֹן וְקַח טוֹב וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ:
(ד) אַשּׁוּר לֹא יוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ עַל סוּס לֹא נִרְכָּב וְלֹא נֹאמַר עוֹד אֱלֹהֵינוּ לְמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ יְרֻחַם יָתוֹם:

Let us just focus upon passuk 4 here. If the Navi has to say to the nation that "Assyria will not save us," and then "We shall not mount horses," then that means that the Navi's words are coming to object to, to argue with certain popular opinions current in society at his time. Apparently there were opinion makers – political leaders and advisors, popular movements - who believed and propagated one of two views:

1. The only way to deal with Assyria was to create an alliance, a protectorate with them. (The Liberal Left.)
2. That a resistance be mounted, a coalition of forces to fight and distance Ashur. (The Hawkish Right Wing.)

Everyone agreed about the threat. Everyone wanted to save the Jewish State. The question was the appropriate policy. We shall see, when we study the reign of Achaz, that there were people who backed BOTH of these approaches and they BOTH proved to be disastrous.
We shall now turn our attention to the events of this period in our upcoming posts in the following order:
1. King Achaz
2. The fall of Shomron and the Exile of the Northern Tribes
3. King Chizkiyahu
[1] תלמוד בבלי מסכת פסחים דף פז עמוד א +הושע א+ דבר ה' אשר היה אל הושע וגו' בימי עזיהו יותם אחז יחזקיה מלך יהודה. בפרק אחד נתנבאו ארבעה נביאים, וגדול שבכולן הושע, שנאמר +הושע א+ תחלת דבר ה' בהושע. וכי בהושע דבר תחלה? והלא ממשה עד הושע כמה נביאים! אמר רבי יוחנן: תחלה לארבעה נביאים שנתנבאו באותו הפרק, ואלו הן: הושע, ישעיה, עמוס, ומיכה.