Friday, May 30, 2014

Athalia the Conqueress

In Melachim B (Kings II) 11:1, Athaliah, upon hearing of the death of her son, King Achaziah, proceeds to do the unthinkable and eliminates her own descendants, save one escapee, and take the throne for herself.  The Talmud tell us that this is punishment, Midah k’neged Midah, for David’s inadvertentantly causing the deaths of the Cohanim (priests) in the city of Nov (Nob) 155 years earlier.  Just as the Cohanim were wiped out, save one survivor, Evyatar, so too the House of David is punished with a similar discontinuity, which is eventually restored by the sole survivor, Yoash (Joash.) 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Yehu Almost Finishes the Job, but Not Quite

At the end of Yehu’s (Jehu’s,) “Housecleaning,” ending the reign of the House of Achav (Ahab) and the worship of the Ba’al idol in Melachim B (Kings II) 10, Yehu leaves the golden calf idols in Beit El and in Dan standing. God speaks to Yehu saying, “You did well by executing what was proper in My eyes; according to all that was in My heart you have done to the house of Achav (Ahab.)”  A personal take on this apparent contradiction: The golden calves were actually a perverted idolatry-like form of worship, but still directed at the God of Israel.  Perhaps Yehu has the status of an ignoramous, who was unintentionally leaving de-idolatrization unfinished, and was judged as such rather than being judged as a willful idolator.  Also note that God does not praise him for wiping out idol worship, only for ending the house of Achav’s hold on the Kingdom of Israel.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yehu's Necessary Violence

Having eliminated Kings Achazyah of Yehuda (Judea) and Yehoram (Jehoram) of Israel, Yehu (Jehu) orders the decapitation of all of Yehoram’s descendants and piled their heads up in front of the city gates in Melachim B (Kings II) 10:8.  The gruesome scene, as well as the violence that follows in wiping out the heirs of Achazyah and the priests of the Ba’al idol, are a stinging indictment of the people.  It does not seem that the ordinary citizens of Israel and Yehuda were chafing under the rule of their kings or coerced into worshipping the Ba’al.  The fact that there was even a need for such displays of violence shows that the carrot (Eliyahu’s earlier demonstration on Mount Carmel that there is only one God) was not sufficient.  There had to be a stick, a credible fear of danger for those who worshipped the Ba’al, to turn people back to proper observance.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Painted Jezebel

The English idiom, “Painted Jezebel,” a scheming woman, comes from Melachim B (Kings II) 9:30.  Yehu (Jehu) is on his divinely decreed mission to wipe out the entire House of Achav (Ahab,) and, having just killed her son and heir, Yehu comes for Izevel (Jezebel.) Her first reaction isn’t to mourn but to adorn herself in makeup in the hope of seducing Yehu.  It seems that the Idolatrous belief of, “using,” gods rather than relating to God parallels the behavior of using people, hence her assumption that Yehu would be happy to use her in exchange for clemency.  Yehu has none of it and throws her out the window.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Yehu is Annointed, Sort Of

Melachim B (Kings II) 9:2: As King Yoram (Joram) of Israel lies dying of wounds inflicted by General Hazael of Aramea, the Prophet Elisha sends disciples to annoint Yehu (Jehu) with a pach shemen (cruse of oil) much like King Shaul (Saul) had been anointed.  David and Shlomo (Solomon) were anointed from a keren shemen (horn of oil,) and their monarchy was permanent in that it was passed on to their descendants.  The lesser pach shemen foreshadows many parallels between Kings Shaul and Yehu, including:

1.       Neither of them were of the proper tribe, as the king must be from Yehuda (Judah,) and Shaul was from Binyamin (Benjamin) while Yehu was from one of the northern tribes, and the northern kingdom Yehu ruled was an aberration which wasn’t even supposed to exist.

2.       Shaul failed to completely wipe out Amalek, and Yehu failed to completely wipe out idolatry, and as a consequence…

3.       Both of their reigns were cut short.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The South Goes Like the North

Melachim B (Kings II) 8:16: Yehoshaphat (Jehosaphat), king of Yehuda (Judeah,) names his son and successor Yehoram (Jehoram.)  There is a subtle indication in Yehoshaphat’s naming his son Yehoram, so similar to Yoram, (then the King of Israel,) as well as his signing treaties with Yoram, that the northern idolatrous Kingdom of Israel had become the cultural center of gravity, and was drawing legitimacy away from the southern Kingdom of Yehuda, which was more loyal to the God of Israel and the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple.)  Two pasukim later (verse 18) this is made explicit in that he is marrying a daughter of King Achav (Ahab) of Israel and “went in his ways.”

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Monotheism but not Ethical Monotheisum

Melachim B (Kings II) 8:12: Aramean king Ben Hadad’s servant asks the Prophet Elisha whether Ben Hadad will recover from illness.  Elisha becomes expressionless for a moment and begins weeping, saying Ben Hadad will die and that he (Ben Hadad’s servant) will become king and commit all sorts of horrible atrocities to the Jewish people during his reign.  This was the future king’s opportunity to do teshuvah (repent) and beg that someone else be the instrument of evil, but he just goes on his merry way and fulfills the prophecy.  The fact that the Arameans respect Elisha and their earlier monotheistic revelation apparently didn’t help much.  They had begun to understand monotheism, but the concept of ethical monotheism and personal accountability hadn’t penetrated.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Punishment Fits the Crime

Melachim B (Kings II) 7:1: As the Aramean siege starves the people of Shomron (Samaria, capital of Israel,) to the point that the head of a donkey sells for 40 shekels, Elisha predicts a miracle, proclaims that within one day, there will be such plenty that a measure of fine flour will cost one shekel.  The king’s officer scoffs, and Elisha prophecies that the scoffer will live to see the prophecy come true, but not benefit from it.  The next day, the Aramean army has vanished and left all their supplies on the field, and the king’s officer is trampled to death by the crowds rushing to gather up the supplies.  This is one episode that the Talmud exemplifies as God’s judgment being Midah k’neged Midah (measure for measure.)  I.e., the punishment is a direct reflection of the sin itself.


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Wieghing Risky Medical Procedures in Halacha

Melachim B (Kings II) 7:4: A group of sick Israelis who are quarantined outside of the besieged capital, Shomron (Samaria), tries to surrender to the Aramean army.  The rationale: if we go to the Aramean side, they might kill us or they might let us live.  If we stay here, it might extend our lives by a few days, but we will eventually starve to death anyway.  From this, we learn the halachah (Jewish law): Unlike most cases where a person is required to do everything possible to extend her life for as long as possible, if a she is facing a terminal medical condition and she has the option of an iffy procedure which might extend her life or might kill her, she is able to decide for herself which course to take.

(If, God forbid, you are ever in this situation, don’t rely on my Facebook post, consult your local halachic authority.)

My own unanswered question on this one: Given that the northern Kingdom of Israel had strayed so far from Judaism and into Idolatry, why are the sages so confident that they were taking the proper action that they could use this passuk (passage) as the basis of a halacha?

Friday, May 02, 2014

King Yoram Under Pressure

Melachim B (Kings II) 6:28: Shomron (Samaria,) the capital of Israel, is under siege by Aramea, and a starving woman comes to King Yoram (Joram) to complain that she and another woman had agreed to kill and eat eachother’s babies and, after killing her own baby, the other women reneged.  Yoram blames the God of Israel and says to go take it up with him.  A disturbing exchange which raises many questions pointing to the confusion of the times:

1.       Why did the Yoram blame the God of Israel when he had not prayed to him, but to the pantheon of idols?

2.       Why did the woman come to the king for justice when in so doing she automatically admitted her own culpability in the murder of her own child?

3.       Why did Yoram do nothing to her when she admitted her crime?

There is a stark contrast between Yoram’s behavior and Shlomo’s (Solomon) with the two mothers who were arguing over the same baby.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Chariots of Fire to the Rescue

Melachim B (Kings II) The King of Aram is again invading Israel, and has Elisha surrounded.  In his panic, Elisha’s servant cries out, “What shall we do?”  Elisha prays to God to, “Open his eyes and let him see,” and the servant suddenly sees an army of fiery horses.  The Talmud speaks of everyone being accompanied by invisible angels everywhere at all times.  Elisha’s miracle, in this case, was not to be God’s hand in creating some new reality, as with splitting the Jordan river or curing disease, but in giving someone the ability to see parallel spiritual dimensions which are already in existence.