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Chizkiyahu's Monarchy in Jerusalem (III)

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion





Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In the previous two shiurim, we described in chronological order the main events that occurred during the days of Chizkiyahu. From now on, we shall deal with several more general issues that will allow us to assess Chizkiyahu's period and personality.




We must relate to this issue in three contexts: 1) the Pesach that was celebrated during the first year of Chizkiyahu's reign; 2) the alliance with Egypt against Assyria; 3) the deliverance from the Assyrian army, which Scripture describes as paralleling what happened during the Exodus from Egypt.




The essence of Pesach lies in the Exodus from Egypt – both from the bondage and from the idolatry – and the acceptance of the lordship of God who took us out from Egypt. It is not by chance that the Exodus from Egypt serves as the foundation of many of the Torah's mitzvot, which are defined as remembrances of the Exodus from Egypt. Like the Pesach in Egypt, which followed the removal of idol worship from the people of Israel who had sunk to the lowest depths of uncleanness, so too the renewed covenant of Pesach in the days of Chizkiyahu followed the removal of the idol worship that had been established during the period of Achaz. Chizkiyahu's beginning of his reign with the celebration of Pesach, whereby the kingdoms of Yehuda and Israel were united in the renewal of their covenant with God after what had happened during the period of Achaz, stands in stark contrast to the spiritual leadership of Achaz.




As we have presented it, this alliance was apparently entered into at an early stage of Chizkiyahu's reign. In order to understand the significance of this pact, which in a certain sense constitutes a retreat from the state of "I am the Lord, your God, who took you out from the land of Egypt" – we must examine the sources in the Torah that relate to returning to Egypt.


Before the parting of the sea, Moshe says to the people of Israel:


Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show you today: for as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again any more for ever. (Shemot 14:13)


            Later the Torah commands the king as follows:


But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: since the Lord has said to you, You shall henceforth return no more that way. (Devarim 17:16)


And finally the section of the rebuke contains the following admonition:


And the Lord shall bring you back into Egypt with ships, by that road of which I spoke to you, You shall see it no more again; and there you shall be sold to your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you. (Devarim 28:68)


Says the Mekhilta (Shemot, ibid.):


"For as you have seen Egypt" – in three places God admonished Israel not to return to Egypt. For it is stated: 'For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again any more for ever'; and 'Since the Lord has said to you, You shall henceforth return no more that way'; and 'The Lord shall bring you back into Egypt with ships, by that road of which I spoke to you, You shall see it no more again.' In three instances they returned there, and in three instances they fell. The first time in the days of Sancheriv, as it is stated: "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help" (Yishayahu 31:1). The second time in the days of Yochanan ben Korach, as it is stated: "Then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which you feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, of which you were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there you shall die" (Yirmiyahu 42:15). And the third time in the days of Turninus. In these three instances they returned, and in these three instances they fell. This is what is written: "Ephraim also is like a silly dove without a heart" (Hoshea 7:11). (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Massekhta de-Vayehi Beshalach, parasha 2)


            Following the Mekhilta, the Ramban (Shemot 14:13) explains that returning to Egypt is forbidden by way of a negative precept that is valid for all generations:


"For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again any more for ever" (Shemot 14:13) – according to our Rabbis, this is a negative precept for all generations. Thus, Scripture is saying: Fear not, stand still in your places, and see the salvation of the Lord, for He will deliver you today from their hands, and do not return to their service. For as you have seen Egypt this day, the Holy One, blessed be He, commands you that you are not willingly to see them any more for ever. This is a mitzva from Moshe to Israel, that was not mentioned earlier. And similarly, "But he shall not … cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: since the Lord has said to you, You shall henceforth return no more that way" (Devarim 17:16), which is truly a mitzva and not a promise.


            Regarding what is stated in the section dealing with the king, the Ramban proposes (Devarim 17:16) that this is a separate prohibition falling upon the king of Israel not to return the people of Israel to Egypt:


"But he shall not multiply horses to himself."… I have difficulty with this, for [the Sages] said in the Yerushalmi at the end of tractate Sanhedrin (end of chap. 10): "To settle there you must not return, but you may return for business or to conquer the land." And if the king sends and buys there horses and chariots, this is business, and should be permitted!

It is possible that this is the way of the verse, that it warned: "But he shall not multiply horses to himself"… - even from his own land or from the land of Shinar or by way of permitted commerce, so that he should not depend upon his chariots because they are many, or on his horsemen because they are very strong. But rather his trust must be in God. And then it warned the king that he must not return the people to Egypt so that he have there servants and people, purchasing officers, residing in chariot cities in order to multiply horses. As it is stated about Shelomo: "And all the store-cities that Shelomo had, and cities for his chariots, etc." (I Melakhim 9:19). And so too he had in Egypt, as it is stated: "And Shelomo had horses brought from Egypt and from Keve; the king's merchants, etc." (ibid. 10:28)….


            In the continuation of his words, Ramban discusses where God forbade returning to Egypt, and offers a rationale for this prohibition:


And the meaning of "And the Lord has said to you" – for God is saying to you that you are not to return to Egypt. And similarly, "As the Lord your God has commanded you" (Devarim 5:16), that he is commanding you. Or else, "The Lord has said to you" – He said to me that I should command you. As in: "And Moshe said, Thus said the Lord, About midnight" (Shemot 11:4). And according to our Rabbis (Yerushalmi, Sota 5:1), "For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again any more for ever" (Shemot 14:13) – a commandment, and Moshe said: "Since the Lord has said to you, You shall henceforth return no more that way" (Devarim 17:16), and I have already explained it.

And the rationale of this commandment, because the Egyptians and Canaanites were evil and very sinful toward God. As it is stated: "After the doings of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelt, shall you not do, and after the doings of the land of Canaan, etc." (Vayikra 18:3). It was God's desire that Israel not learn from their doings, and He [therefore] destroyed all that breathed among the Canaanites (Devarim 20:16), and He said, "They shall not dwell in your land" (Shemot 23:33), and He warned about Egypt that we must not dwell in their land.


            First and foremost, returning to Egypt indicates reliance on a foreign king instead of God (though, from this perspective there is no difference between Egypt and any other foreign king).


            The prophet likens this situation to idol worship:


Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord, that take counsel, but not of Me; and that prepare a plan but not of My spirit, that they may add sin to sin: that walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at My mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore, shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion. For his princes were at Tzoan, and his ambassadors came to Chanes. They were all ashamed of a people that could not profit them, nor be a help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach. (Yishayahu 30:1-5)


            Moreover, the return to Egypt follows a course that is the very opposite of that which the people of Israel took when they left Egypt, by way of the wilderness, to go to the land of Israel:


The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and the venomous flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the humps of camels, to a people that shall not profit them. For Egypt shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I called this people, Boasters in sitting still. (ibid. vv. 6-7)


            The trek across the wilderness with beasts of burden loaded with gifts for Egypt is sort of a retraction of the covenant entered into at the time of the Exodus from Egypt – an acquisition of a different lord (see Rashi, Shemot 21:6), and an abandonment of God.


            And, of course, the prophet criticizes the very reliance on the military might of Egypt rather than on God, using the horses and horsemen for which they went down to Egypt as a metaphor for reliance on military might in general:


Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and depend on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not at the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord! (ibid. 31:1)


            In actuality, Israel's reliance on Egypt did not yield any concrete gains. In the end, Assyria – the superpower – reached Yehuda, and proved that Egypt was but the staff of a broken reed, as stated by Ravshake (ibid. 36:6).


            The prophet's critique is especially sharp in light of the fact that Scripture testifies about Chizkiyahu that "He trusted in the lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Yehuda, nor among those that were before him" (II Melakhim 18:5).


            In addition to the special problem of returning to Egypt, there is here another fundamental problem as well. Chizkiyahu was supposed to deal with the internal spiritual reform of the kingdom – to found it upon justice and righteousness – and not to focus on foreign relations and the formation of political alliances in order to rebel against Assyria. God alludes to this when He brings about the deliverance in an absolutely miraculous manner:


And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Assyria a hundred and eighty five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. (II Melakhim 19:35)


            Thus, God demonstrates to the king that all his efforts to defend his country were of no avail: the alliances did not  keep Assyria away, and the fortifications were unnecessary, for the city was delivered in a miraculous manner.




The deliverance from Assyria was like the deliverance from Egypt – "Not through an angel, nor through a seraph, nor through a messenger, but rather the Holy One, blessed be He, in His very glory" – "Then shall Assyria fall with the sword, nor of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him. But he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall become bondslaves" (Yishayahu 31:8). The use of a word stemming from the same root as the word Pesach in the same prophecy strongly alludes to this similarity:


As birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem; He will defend it and deliver it; He will pass over it (paso'ach) and spare it. (ibid. v. 5)


            The prophet demands:


Come, My people, enter you into your chambers, and shut your doors about you: hide yourself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain. (Yishayahu 26:20-21)


            This demand parallels what was said at the time of the Exodus from Egypt:


And take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch with it the lintel and the two side posts, with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite Egypt; and when He sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you. (Shemot 12:22-23)


            Another verse relating to the deliverance from Assyria was later interpreted as referring to the night of Pesach:


You shall have a song as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goes with a flute to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. (Yishayahu 30:29)


            Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak derives from this verse that the eating of the paschal offering must be accompanied by the recitation of Hallel – "The night that is sanctified as a festival requires Hallel" (Pesachim 95b). Rashi explains: "Ke-leil hitkadesh chag ­– just as you are accustomed to sing on the night that is sanctified as a festival, and there is no festival night to require song other than the night of Pesach when eating [the paschal offering]." The Radak in his commentary to this verse explains:


On the same day that there will be a plague in the Assyrian camp, there will be for you, the residents of Jerusalem, song and gladness, as on the night that the festival is sanctified, i.e., the night of the festival on which we rejoice and recite song. The same will happen to you on the day of the fall of the Assyrian camp; you shall rejoice and sing and praise God who performed a great miracle on your behalf.


            In Shemot Rabba (18, 5), it is explicitly stated that the deliverance from Assyria came on the night of Pesach:


Israel and Chizkiyahu were sitting and reciting Hallel, for it was the night of Pesach, and they were afraid to say that Jerusalem was now being conquered. When they rose up in the morning to recite Shema and pray, they found their enemies' dead corpses.


            Interestingly, Chizkiyahu was afflicted with boils (II Melakhim 20:7; Yishayahu 38:21) – one of the ten plagues with which Egypt was smitten.


            The entire event, then, is connected to Pesach. According to Chazal, it transpired on Pesach; and so too its very nature and essence – passing over Israel and smiting Assyria with a sword not of a man.


4.         SUMMARY


            These three events – the Pesach celebrated by Chizkiyahu at the beginning of his reign with the objective of renewing the covenant between Yehuda and Israel and God, the alliance with Egypt with its religious significance as a negation and the very opposite of the Exodus from Egypt, and the deliverance from Assyria which parallels the Exodus from Egypt and constitutes a new Pesach – establish Pesach as a most important axis of Chizkiyahu's reign. At the beginning, the desire to enter into a covenant; later, the negation of this covenant; and in the wake of his repentance and prayer, a renewed deliverance, "Pesach-like" in its very essence.




The Gemara in Sanhedrin 94a states:


The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to appoint Chizkiyahu as the Messiah, and Sancheriv as Gog and Magog; whereupon the Attribute of Justice said before the Holy One, blessed be He: 'Master of the Universe! If You did not make David the Messiah, who uttered so many hymns and psalms before You, will You appoint Chizkiyahu as such, who did not recite song before You in spite of all these miracles which You wrought for him?'… Immediately the earth exclaimed: 'Master of the Universe! Let me utter song before You instead of this righteous man [Chizkiyahu], and make him the Messiah.' So it broke into song before Him, as it is written: "From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous" (Yishayahu 24:27).

A Tanna reported in the name of Rabbi Pappias: It was a reproach to Chezekia and his company that they uttered no song [to God] until the earth broke into song.


            Following such a miraculous deliverance and utter destruction of the Assyrian army, we would have expected Chizkiyahu to express his gratitude to God in song, but he fails to do so. He thanks God for his personal recovery from illness (Yishayahu 38), but not for the general deliverance of Israel. The failure to recite song might express a lack of gratitude toward God for the kindness that He performed, or a lack of recognition of the magnitude of the miracle.


            Why, then, did Chizkiyahu fail to sing?


            One explanation of this difficulty is that Chizkiyahu did not have the strength to do so. The Kingdom of Yehuda suffered a severe beating, and with the exception of Jerusalem, which was miraculously saved, the rest of the kingdom was utterly destroyed. We see the distress and powerlessness felt by Chizkiyahu in his words to Yishayahu after having heard the words of Ravshake:


This day is a day of trouble, and of reviling, and blasphemy; for the children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring forth (II Melakhim 19:3)


            This is the direction taken by Eikha Rabba in petichta 30:


Zavdi ben Levi said: "The kings of the earth would not have believed, etc." (Eikha 4:12). There were four kings; what this one requested the other one did not. They are as follows: David, Asa, Yehoshafat and Chizkiyahu.

David said: "I have pursued my enemies, and overtaken them, etc." (Tehillim 18:38). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: I will do that. This is what is written: "And David smote them from the twilight to the evening of the next day" (I Shemuel 30:17)….

Asa stood up and said: I have not the strength to kill them. Rather, I will pursue them, and You do it. He said to him: I will do it. As it is stated: "And Asa and the people who were with him pursued them to Gerar… for they were destroyed before the Lord, and before His host" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 14:12). It is not written here "before Asa," but rather "before the Lord, and before His host."

Yehoshafat stood up and said: I have not the strength, neither to kill nor to pursue. Rather, I will recite song, and You do it. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: I will do it. As it is stated: "And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set an ambush against the children of Ammon, Moav, and Mount Seir, etc" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 20:22).

Chizkiyahu stood up and said: I have not the strength, neither to kill, nor to pursue, nor to recite song. Rather, I will sleep on my bed, and You do it. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: I will do it. As it is stated: "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Assyria, etc." (II Melakhim 19:35).[2]


            Another direction, which fits in with what appears in the Gemara in Sanhedrin cited earlier, follows from what is stated in Divrei Ha-yamim following the description of the siege and the rescue (which was already discussed at length in the previous shiur):


But Yechizkiyahu did not pay back according to the benefit done to him; for his heart was proud: therefore wrath came upon him, and upon Yehuda and Jerusalem. Nevertheless Yechizkiyahu did humble himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Yechizkiyahu, (II Divrei Ha-yamim 32:25-26)


            It is possible that this arrogance found expression also in the manner in which Chizkiyahu received the Babylonian delegation which came to visit him:


And Chizkiyahu hearkened to them, and showed them all the house of his treasures, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armor, and all this was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Chizkiyahu did not show them. (II Melakhim 20:13)


            Surely just a relatively short time earlier, Chizkiyahu had given Sancheriv all the gold and silver from the treasures of the royal house and from the house of God (II Melakhim 18:15) – from where then did he get all that he was showing now of his treasures? It stands to reason that the source of these riches is the spoil taken from the Assyrian camp. As the Midrash states: "What is 'the house of his treasures'? Rabbi Imi said: The bite that he had bitten off from Sancheriv and the spoil that he had taken from Sancheriv" (Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 3, 4). Chizkiyahu, who owing to his fear of the king of Assyria had cut off the doors to the house of God and sent them to him, now takes the spoils of the miraculous victory, and thus indirectly attributes the deliverance to himself, rather than recite song, that is, instead of attributing the deliverance to God.




            In this lesson we related to two aspects of the days of Chizkiyahu which left their mark on the entire period, and constitute a window to understanding Chizkiyahu's personality and leadership. In the next shiur, we will continue our examination of Chizkiyahu's person and actions.


(Translated by David Strauss)






[1] In lesson 18, we already expanded upon the significance of Pesach as a renewal of the covenant with God, upon the connection between it and the removal of idol worship and the renewal of the covenant, and upon its significance and the way it was brought in the days of Chizkiyahu. Here we shall make only brief mention of these ideas. We shall also not deal here with the issue of the intercalation of the year and the celebration of Pesach in Iyar.

[2] Even though we are dealing here with song as part of the rescue and not as an expression of gratitude in its wake, it stands to reason that there is a connection between this Midrash and the Gemara in Sanhedrin, and that the thrust of the petichta matches what is stated in the Gemara. In any event, there is no doubt that the rating of the four kings according to the role that each played in bringing about his own deliverance, is meant as a covert criticism of Chizkiyahu.

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