Melakhim Bet Chapter 12
Yehoash becomes king at the age of seven years old and is directed by Yehoyada the Kohen. All the years that he benefits from the wise guidance of Yehoyada, he remains true to the path of Torah. The primary focus of Yehoyada’s reign is the renovation of the neglected Temple. He orders the kohanim/priests to collect funds from their friends and family members for the purpose of this project; however, to his chagrin, they do not complete this assignment.
Yehoash relieves the kohanim of this responsibility and instead has a charity box installed in the Temple; money is deposited in the box by visitors to the Bet Hamiqdash, and whenever it is filled to capacity, the money is removed and used to pay for supplies and labor necessary for repairing and improving the building. The men appointed to count and disburse the funds are not supervised by any government authorities, nor are formal records kept, because the operations are conducted in good faith.
Hazael, King of Aram, conquers Gat and then moves to lay siege to Jerusalem. Yehoash empties the Temple treasury of all of the gold that he, his father and his grandfather had consecrated to Hashem, as well as the gold stored in his palace, and delivers it to Hazael to avoid a battle. Two of Yehoash’s servants eventually conspire against him and assassinate him, and his son, Amatzya, rules in his stead.
We can understand Yehoash’s profound devotion to the Bet Hamiqdash and his commitment to restoring it. First of all, he was raised within its hallowed walls, and his entire education was delivered by the Kohanim who ensured that he developed a deep understanding of its critical importance to the life of the Jewish people. Beyond this, Yehoash’s efforts symbolize a return to the tradition of the House of David and his ancestors David and Shelomo, both of whom were supremely dedicated to the objective of creating a House of God that would represent His presence and His eternal covenant with the Jewish people. Yehoash seems like a fitting heir to the legacy of his distinguished forefathers.
However, for reasons never explained in the text, Yehoash ultimately fails as king, surrendering to Hazael, sacrificing the wealth of the Temple and the Kingdom to placate the enemy, and dying a violent death at the hand of treacherous assassins. How can we understand the dramatic reversal in Yehoash’s fortune? Why did this righteous king fall before his enemies in such an ignoble manner?
Sefer Melakhim offers us no clear answer to these questions. In Divre HaYamim, which was composed much later during the period of the Second Temple, we read of the spiritual decline of Yehoash after the death of his teacher, Yehoyada. Succumbing to the flattery of his officers, his enthusiasm for the Temple wanes, and he allows idolatry to resurface in the kingdom. When he is publically rebuked by the prophet Zekharya, son of his mentor and teacher Yehoyada, he encourages the people to kill Zekharya and shows no remorse or regret. According to Divre HaYamim, as a result of these transgressions and Yehoash’s lack of gratitude to his teacher and protector Yehoyada, he is first defeated in battle and is ultimately assassinated.
Our text, however, omits all of these salacious and seemingly important details. Why doesn’t Sefer Melakhim tell us of the downfall of Yehoash and what led to it? Both classic and modern commentaries grapple with this problem, and there is no especially compelling solution to be found. I would like to suggest a possibility – I would argue that Sefer Melakhim, in its own framework, DOES tell us what we need to know about King Yehoash’s failings.
On what basis do I believe that Sefer Melakhim actually says what it apparently doesn’t say? Throughout the entire book, we notice a pattern in its evaluation and assessment of the leaders of the respective kingdoms. The monarchs of Israel are consistently judged with reference to the “sins of Yarovam”; namely, whether or not they removed the illicit altars and golden calves that were installed by Yarovam to prevent his subjects from pining for the Bet Hamiqdash and defecting to the Kingdom of Yehuda.The monarchs of Yehuda, by contrast, are always judged with reference to whether or not they removed the “bamot”, or unauthorized personal altars, that were built by individuals throughout the land.
In other words, the kings described in Sefer Melakhim are ultimately measured based upon one standard – their relationship to the Holy Temple and their attitude towards its centrality. Did they take the unpopular but religiously correct path and eliminate institutions that competed with or diminished the prominence of the Temple, or did they cave to pressure, allow the status quo to remain, and sacrifice, as it were, critical role that the Temple was supposed to play in the life of the nation?
With this in mind, we can now see that the essential flaw of Yehoash is, in fact, made clear from the outset; despite his devotion to the Temple and all he invested in renovating it, he did not have the courage or integrity to stand up against the “special interests” and dismantle the unauthorized personal sites of worship. In a way, for someone who took the Bet Hamiqdash as seriously as Yehoash did, this was an even more tragic failure than it might have been for other kings who were less attuned to its significance. There is poetic justice in the fact that Yehoash had to part with the treasures of the Temple to placate Hazael; symbolically, it demonstrates that all of his labor for the Bet HaMiqdash was futile as long as he did not insist on its exclusivity as the location of Divine worship.
Yehoash did much good but at the end of the day he put popularity ahead of principle and was therefore relieved of his position in a dishonorable manner. Divre HaYamim fleshes out exactly how this limitation of Yehoash expressed itself – first in his capitulating to the desire of the powerful and influential officers to reinstate some pagan worship (just as Shelomo, his role model, capitulated to the pressure from his wives) and then in his willingness to agree to the murder of a prophet whose only sin was confronting and humiliating him in the very Temple he had once cherished.