The Causes of Destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple (I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion




Rav Yitzchak Levi



Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three sins committed at the time: idol worship, illicit sexual relations and bloodshed. (Yoma 9b)


            The next two shiurim will be devoted to the roots of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the First Temple. An examination of the relevant scriptural passages and rabbinic statements will reveal additional reasons for the destruction, besides idolatry, illicit sexual relations and bloodshed. In Part I, we will deal with the period from the days of Shelomo to the days of Chizkiyahu. In previous shiurim, we already dealt at length with the periods of Shelomo, Achaz and Chizkiyahu, and therefore we will limit ourselves to a brief review of what was discussed in those shiurim, and focus on the connection between the actions of these kings and the destruction. Part II will deal with the period from the days of Menasheh to the destruction itself in the days of Tzidkiyahu. During the periods under discussion, there were many events and phenomena that contributed to the destruction of the city and the Temple; here we will focus on the most important among them.




The prophet Yirmiyahu says:


For this has been to Me as a provocation of My anger and of My fury from the day that they built it and to this day; that I should remove it from before My face. (Yirmiyahu 32:31)


            "From the day that they built it" – implies: already from the days of Shelomo.


            We find two main points of view in the words of Chazal and the Rishonim regarding the sins of Shelomo and their severity. The Gemara in Nidda understands that Shelomo's marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh was the major cause of God's anger against the city:


One verse says: "For the Lord has chosen Zion" (Tehillim 132:13), but another verse says: "For this city has been to me a provocation of My anger and of My fury from the day that they built it even unto this day" (Yirmiyahu 32:31)! The former applies to the time before Shelomo married the daughter of Pharaoh, while the latter applies to the time after Shelomo married the daughter of Pharaoh. (Nidda 70b)


            The Radak adopts a similar approach in his commentary to this verse in Yirmiyahu, only that he emphasizes the idolatry practiced by Shelomo's wives:


For it was during the days of Shelomo who built the city and the Temple that they began to offer sacrifices on the bamot, and Shelomo's wives worshipped foreign gods. From that day it was as a provocation of My anger and My fury, that is to say, it existed despite My anger and My fury, for in My anger, it should have been removed, but I was long-suffering until this day, but I will suffer no longer. And in the Midrash: On the day that the Temple was established, Shelomo married the daughter of Pharaoh.


            In this context, it is interesting to note the Radak's argument (in his commentary to Divrei Ha-yamim 35:3) that Shelomo himself already prepared a place to conceal the ark, since he knew that the Temple would eventually be destroyed.


            Chazal's understanding (alluded to by the Radak in the aforementioned passage) that Shelomo's marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh took place on the day of the Temple's dedication (Vayikra Rabba 12, 5) illustrates Shelomo's blurring of the boundaries between his own kingdom and the kingdom of God, a phenomenon that would find expression in various ways over the course of the entire First Temple period. This blurring, which was based upon, among other things, Shelomo's arrogance and his understanding that his wisdom was greater than the wisdom of the Torah itself (see Sanhedrin 21b), found expression in various realms: the unmediated closeness between the house of the king and the house of God (to the point that Yechezkel [43:6-9] conditions the building of the future Temple and the everlasting resting of God's Shekhina therein on a distancing between the two); the dimensions of the royal house, which were greater than the dimensions of the house of God; Shelomo's taking foreign women as his wives, which, even if his intention was to draw them in under the wings of the Shekhina, led in the end to the establishment of bamot in honor of idols in Jerusalem – on the mountain to the right of the Mountain of Corruption – which stood from the days of Shelomo until they were removed in the days of Yoshiyahu, that is to say, almost until the end of the First Temple period.


            Shelomo's multiplying of wives, horses, silver and gold also stemmed from his inflated view of his own greatness and that of his kingdom. Similarly, his idea that the Temple was meant to serve the entire world and that it would stand forever, never to be destroyed, was based on exaggerated self-confidence and seeing his own greatness as a central component of this eternity.


            Already in the next generation, Shelomo's sins led to the division of the kingdom, a division which in and of itself was calamitous during the entire First Temple period.




Divrei Ha-yamim 22-23 describes the great kindness performed by Yehoyada the High Priest and his wife Yehoshavat for Yoash the son of Achazyahu and the House of David, when Atalyahu daughter of Omri, mother of Achazyahu, killed all of Yoash's brothers following the death of Achazyahu:


But when Atalyahu the mother of Achazyahu saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal seed of the house of Yehuda. But Yehoshavat, the daughter of the king, took Yoash the son of Achazyahu, and stole him from among the king's sons who were slain, and put him and his nurse in a bedchamber. So Yehoshavat, the daughter of king Yehoram, the wife of Yehoyada the priest, (for she was the sister of Achazyahu,) hid him from Atalyahu so that she could not slay him. And he was with them hid in the house of God for six years; and Atalya reigned over the land.

And in the seventh year Yehoyada strengthened himself, and took the captains of hundreds, Azarya the son of Yerocham, and Yishmael the son of Yehochanan, and Azaryahu the son of Oved, and Maaseyahu the son of Adayahu, and Elishafat the son of Zikhri, into league with him. And they went about in Yehuda, and gathered the Levites out of all the cities of Yehuda, and the heads of the fathers' houses of Israel, and they came to Jerusalem. And all the congregation made a covenant with the king in the house of God. And he said to them, Behold, the king's son shall reign, as the Lord has said of the sons of David. This is the thing that you shall do: A third part of you who come in on the sabbath, of the priests and of the Levites shall be on duty at the gates; and a third part shall be at the king's house; and a third part at the bottom gates. And all the people shall be in the courts of the house of the Lord. But let none come into the house of the Lord, except the priests, and those of the Levites who minister; they may go in, for they are holy; but all the people shall keep the Lord's charge. And the Levites shall surround the king, every man with his weapons in his hand. And whoever else comes into the house, he shall be put to death; but be with the king when he comes in, and when he goes out. So the Levites and all Yehuda did according to all the things that Yehoyada the priest had commanded, and every man took his men who were due to come on the sabbath, with those who were due to go out on the sabbath; for Yehoyada the priest did not dismiss the duty watches. And Yehoyada the priest delivered to the captains of hundreds spears, and large and small shields, that had been King David's, which were in the house of God. And he set all the people, every man having his weapon in his hand, from the right side of the Temple to the left side of the Temple, along by the altar and the Temple, by the king round about. Then they brought out the king's son, and put upon him the crown, and gave him the Testimony, and made him king. And Yehoyada and his sons anointed him, and said, Long live the king.

Now when Atalyahu heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she came to the people in the house of the Lord. And she looked, and behold, the king stood at his pillar at the entrance, and the princes and the trumpeters by the king. And all the people of the land rejoiced, and sounded trumpets, also the singers with instruments of music leading the celebration. Then Atalyahu rent her cloths, and cried, Treason, Treason. Then Yehoyada the priest brought out the captains of hundreds who were set over the host, and said to them, Bring her out between the ranks; and whoever follows her, let him be slain with the sword. For the priest said, Go not slay her in the house of the Lord. So they laid hands on her; and when she was come to the entrance of the horse gate by the king's house, they slew her there.

And Yehoyada made a covenant between him, and between all the people and between the king, that they should be the Lord's people. Then all the people went to the house of the Ba'al, and broke it down, and broke his altars and his images in pieces, and slew Mattan the priest of the Ba'al in front of the altars. And Yehoyada appointed the offices of the house of the Lord under the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had given charge over the house of the Lord, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the Torah of Moshe, with rejoicing and with singing, as ordained by David. And he set the gatekeepers at the gates of the house of the Lord, so that no one who was unclean in anything should enter in.

And he took the captains and all the people of the land, and brought down the king from the house of the Lord. And they came through the upper gate into the king's house, and set the king upon the throne of the kingdom. And all the people of the land rejoiced: and the city was quiet, after they had slain Atalyahu with the sword. (Divrei Ha-yamim 22:10-23) 


            Yehoyada's action and the spiritual revolution that he brought about with the coronation of Yoash endured until the end of his life, and the kingdom expressed great appreciation of his efforts until he died:


Yoash was seven years old when he began to reign… And Yoash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Yehoyada the priest… But Yehoyada grew old, and was full of days, and he died; a hundred and thirty years old was he when he died. And they buried him in the City of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, both towards God, and towards his house. (ibid. 24:1-2, 15-16)


            Following the death of Yehoyada, however, the situation utterly changed:


Now after the death of Yehoyada the princes of Yehuda came, and prostrated themselves before the king. Then the king hearkened to them. And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and worshipped asherim and idols. And anger came upon Yehuda and Jerusalem for this their crime. But He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they forewarned them; but they would not give ear. (ibid. 17-19)


            Chazal understood that the prostration of the officers before Yoash was not merely a display of honor before the king, but rather prostration as part of a religious ritual:


From where do we know that Yoash made himself into a god? For it is written: "Now after the death of Yehoyada the princes of Yehuda came, and prostrated themselves before the king. Then the king hearkened to them." What is meant by, "And they prostrated themselves before the king"? They made him a god. They said to him: Were it not that you are a god, you would not have come out after seven years in the Holy of Holies. He said to them: Thus it is, and he accepted upon himself to become a god. (Tanchuma Vaera)


            This Midrash is based on another Midrash, according to which the "bedchamber" in which Yoash hid for six years was in the Holy of Holies (see Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 1:2; Rashi, II Melakhim 11:2; and the commentary attributed to Rashi, II Divrei Ha-yamim 22:11). Yoash's extended stay in the sanctified quarters brought his officers to attribute to him Divine qualities, and in his arrogance, Yoash accepted what they said and allowed them to worship him.


            Zekharya, the son of Yehoyada the priest, stands in the Temple and admonishes the people about their sudden spiritual deterioration:


And the spirit of God came upon Zekharya the son of Yehoyada the priest, and the he stood above the people, and said to them, Thus says God, Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, though you cannot succeed? because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 24:20)


            Yoash then repays Yehoyada's kindness with evil and gives the order that his son be killed:


And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones  at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus Yoash the King did not remember the faithful love which Yehoyada his father had shown him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, May the Lord see and revenge. (ibid. 21-22)


            According to the Midrash, Zekharya was put to death because he had tried to keep idol worship out of the Temple:


Yoash was about to bring an idol into the sanctuary. Zekharya stood at the entrance to the sanctuary and said to him: You will not bring it in, unless you kill me. He stood up and killed him. (Midrash Shir Ha-shirim 3, 2 [ed. Gruenhut][1]


            Neither Chazal nor the Rishonim relate directly to the connection between the killing of Zekharya the son of Yehoyada the priest and the destruction of the Temple. This, however, is undoubtedly another example of the shocking blurring of the boundaries between the authority of the king and the functions of the priest and the prophet. Out of intense arrogance and posing as it were as a god (and obviously out of extreme ingratitude), Yoash scoffs at Zekharya's objection and reproach and orders that Zekharya the priest and prophet be killed in the courtyard of the house of God, as if the priesthood and prophecy belonged to him, if only to say what the priest and prophet should say and what not.


            Now, while there is no direct reference to a connection between the killing of Zekharya and the destruction of the Temple, there is an allusion to this idea in the difficult
Midrash about the boiling of Zekharya's blood two hundred and fifty two years before the destruction.


You find that when Nevuzaradan went up to destroy Jerusalem, the Holy One, blessed be He, hinted to that blood [Zekharya's blood] that it should seethe and bubble two hundred and fifty two years from Yoash to Tzidkiya. What did they do? They swept earth over it, and made a pile, but it did not rest. And the blood continued to seethe and bubble. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the blood: The time has come to collect your debt. When Nevuzaradan went up and saw it, he said to them: What is this blood that it should bubble so? They said to him: It is the blood of bullocks, rams and sheep that they would slaughter and offer as sacrifices. He brought bullocks, sheep and rams, and slaughtered [them], but [the blood] did not quiet down, rest or stand. He immediately ordered them to be brought and hung on the gallows. He said to them: What is the nature of this blood? If you do not tell me, I will comb your flesh with iron combs. They said to him: Since the Holy One, blessed be He, demands his blood from us, we will tell you. They said to him: A priest and a prophet and a judge would prophesy concerning us about all these things that you are doing to us, but we did not believe him, and we stood up against him and killed him for having reprimanded us. Immediately, he brought eighty thousand young priests, and slaughtered them, but it did not rest. And the blood would issue forth until it reached the grave of Zekharya. He then brought a great Sanhedrin, as well as a minor Sanhedrin, and slaughtered them, but it did not rest. At that very hour, that wicked man came and cried out about the blood and said to him: What good are you, and how is your blood better than all these bloods? Do you want me to destroy your entire nation on its account? At that very moment, the Holy One, blessed be He, became filled with mercy and said: Now, if this wicked man the son of a wicked and cruel man, who has come to destroy My house, has became filled with mercy, I… all the more so. At that moment, the Holy One, blessed be He, hinted to the blood and it was swallowed up in its place. (Kohelet Rabba 3, 16; see also parallel in Gittin 56b)


            Another Midrash that draws a connection between the killing of Zekharya and the destruction of the Temple relates to a verse in Eikha:


Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom You have done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babes: Shall priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? (Eikha 2:20)


The Midrash relates:


It once happened that Doeg the son of Yosef died and left a young child to his mother, and every year she would measure him with handbreadths and donate his weight in gold to Heaven. When Jerusalem was surrounded, she slaughtered him with her own hands, and ate him. And Yirmiya lamented before God and said: "[Consider] to whom You have done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babes." And the holy spirit answered him: "Shall priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?" – this is Zekharya the son of Yehoyada. (Eikha Rabba)




One of the most important historical events in the second half of the First Temple period was the great earthquake that occurred during the days of Uziyahu. Despite its importance, we know little about it. Yishayahu appears to be alluding to it in one of his prophecies:


Therefore She'ol has enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure. And their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that is joyful, shall go down into it. (Yishayahu 5:14)


            We learn about the importance of the event from the way it was used to date the prophecy of Amos:


The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Teko'a which he saw concerning Israel in the day of Uziyah King of Yehuda, and in the days of Yarovam the son of Yoash King of Israel, two years before the earthquake. (Amos 1:1)


            In the continuation of his prophecy, Amos makes several allusions to the earthquake (see Amos 3:14-15; 6:1; 9:1). So great was the impression left by the earthquake that its memory was still alive in the period of the return to Zion, it being mentioned in the prophecy concerning the end of days voiced by the prophet Zekharya, a member of that generation:


Then shall the Lord go out, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split along the middle of it by a very great valley from east to west; and half of the mountain shall be removed towards the north, and half of it, towards the south. And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Aztel. And you shall flee, just as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uziya King of Yehuda; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the holy ones with you. (Zekharya 14:3-5)


            The author of the Seder Olam Rabba draws a connection between the earthquake and the vision with which Yishayahu was consecrated for prophecy, in which he foresees the removal of the Shekhina from the Temple:


In the year that King Uziyahu died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the Temple. Serafim stood above Him: each one had six wings; and with two he covered his face and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. And one cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. (Yishayahu 6:1-4)[2]


And in Amos it says: "Two years before the earthquake," and in Yishayahu it says: "In the year that King Uziyahu died, etc." And that was the day of the earthquake, as it is written: "And the posts of the door moved, etc." (Seder Olam Rabba 20)


            Rashi, in his commentary to this prophecy (Yishayahu 6:6) connects it and the earthquake to King Uziya's entry into the sanctuary in order to burn incense:


"At the voice of him that cried" – at the voice of the angels who were crying out. Now this occurred on the day of the earthquake, about which it is stated: "And you shall flee, just as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uziya" (Zekharya 14:5). On that very day Uziya stood up to burn incense in the sanctuary. The heavens thundered to burn him, that is to say, he was liable to death by burning. As it is stated: "And it consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered the incense" (Bamidbar 16:35). This is why they are called Serafim, because they came to burn him. The earth thundered to swallow him; it thought that he was liable to be swallowed up like Korach who challenged the priesthood. A heavenly voice issued forth and said: "To be a memorial to the children of Israel, [that no stranger, who is not of the seed of Aharon, come near to offer incense before the Lord: that he be not like Korach and his company: as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moshe]" (ibid. 17:5). "That there be not" – another person who challenges the priesthood; "like Korach" – to be swallowed up; "and his company" – to be burned; but rather "as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moshe" at the burning bush – "Put now your hand into your bosom" (Shemot 4:6), and he took it out diseased, white as snow, here too tzara'at broke out on his forehead.


            The Midrash cited by Rashi appears in a very similar formulation in Tanchuma (Tzav 70), and with changes in Yalkut Shimoni:


"In the year that King [Uziyahu] died" – Did he die? Rather he was afflicted with tzara'at, and one who is afflicted with tzara'at is regarded as dead, as it is stated: "Let her not be as one dead" (Bamidbar 12:12). "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the Temple" – these are the young priests who were with Uziyahu. And "His train" [shulav] refers to priests, as it is stated: "Upon the hem [shulei] of the robe" (Shemot 28:34). "Serafim stood" – for the fire was ready to consume Uziya as it had consumed Korach and his company. "Above [mi-ma'al] Him" – because of the trespass [ma'al] that he committed. And he said to him: God out, for you have committed trespass. And the earth opened its mouth to swallow him up, as it is stated: "And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Aztel. And you shall flee, just as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uziya king of Yehuda" (Zekharya 14:5). And from where do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him to Moshe? As it is stated: "To be a memorial to the children of Israel, that no stranger … come near" (Bamidbar 17:5). Moshe said to him: Even from the seed of Aharon? He said to him: "Who is not of the seed of Aharon" (ibid.). Will You do to him as You did to Korach and his company? He said to him: "That he be not like Korach and his company" (ibid.). What will You do to him? As I had put tzara'at on your arm: "As the Lord said to him by the hand of Moshe" (ibid.). (Yalkut Shimoni, Yishayahu 600)


What led then to the earthquake and to the removal of the Shekhina from the Temple, according to Chazal, was King Uziyahu's going into the sanctuary to burn incense. Divrei Ha-yamim relates the following about this king:


Sixteen years old was Uziyahu when he began to reign, and he reigned for fifty two years in Jerusalem… And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord… And he sought God in the days of Zekharyahu, who had understanding in the visions of God. And as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper. And he went forth and warred against the Pelishtim… And God helped him against the Pelishtim, and against the Arvim… And the Amonim rendered tribute to Uziyahu, and his name spread abroad to the entrance of Egypt, for he strengthened himself exceedingly. Moreover Uziyahu built towers in Jerusalem… and fortified them. And he built towers in the desert, and dug many wells. For he had much cattle, both in the lowland, and in the plains. He had farmers, and vinedressers in the mountains, and in the Karmel, for he loved the soil. Moreover Uziyahu had a host of fighting men, who went out to war by bands, according to the number of their account… The whole number of the heads of the fathers' houses of the mighty men at arms was two thousand six hundred and seven thousand five hundred, who made war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy. And Uziyahu prepared for them throughout all the host shields, and spears, and helmets, and coats of mail, and bows, and stones for slinging. And in Jerusalem he made engines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his name spread far abroad; for he was marvelously helped, til he was strong.

But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction. For he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azaryahu the priest went in after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, who were men of valor. And they withstood Uziyahu the King, and said to him, It is not for you, Uziyahu, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aharon, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary; for you have trespassed; for it shall not be for your honor from the Lord God. Then Uziyahu was angry, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, the tzara'at broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar. And Azaryahu the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and behold, he was diseased in his forehead, and they thrust him out quickly from there; and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him. And Uziyahu the King was afflicted with tzra'at to the day of his death, and dwelt in the house of separation, being diseased; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. And Yotam his son was over the king's house, judging the people of the land. Now the rest of the acts of Uziyahu, first and last, did Yeshayahu the prophet, the son of Amotz, write. So Uziyahu slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the field of burial which belonged to the kings; for they said, He is diseased. And Yotam his son reigned in his stead. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 26:1-23)


            Uziyahu's enormous military and political strength (alluded to by his name), his mighty army, his victories, his grand construction projects, and the international esteem which he had earned – all these planted pride and arrogance in his heart "to his destruction," which reached their climax when he entered the sanctuary to burn incense. The Midrash says as follows:


Regarding Uziyah it is written: "For he loved the soil" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 26:10) – he was king and he abandoned himself to the soil, having no connection to Torah. One day he came to the bet midrash, and said to them: In what are you occupied? They said to him: Regarding "And the stranger that comes near shall be put to death" (Bamidbar 1:51). Uziya said to them: The Holy One, blessed be He, is King, and I am king. It is appropriate for a king to serve a King and burn incense before Him. Immediately, "he went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense"…. Immediately, "Uziyahu was angry, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, the tzara'at broke out on his forehead." At that very moment the sanctuary split this way and that way twelve square miles.[3] "And they thrust him out quickly from there; and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him." What caused him to do this? Because he neglected the Torah and abandoned himself to the soil. (Tanchuma Noach 13)


            This Midrash once again emphasizes the sin appearing among various kings of Yehuda - the blurring of the difference between the kingdom of flesh and blood and the kingdom of God. This is what brought Uziyahu to enter the sanctuary and burn incense before God, in an attempt to take control of the priestly functions, and in the wake of this he also brought about the great earthquake and the removal of the Shekhina.


            The course of events is described in detail by Josephus Flavius:


While Uziya was in this state, and making preparation [for futurity], he was corrupted in his mind by pride, and became insolent, and this on account of that abundance which he had of things that will soon perish, and despised that power which is of eternal duration (which consisted in piety towards God, and in the observation of the laws); so he fell by occasion of the good success of his affairs, and was carried headlong into those sins of his father, which the splendor of that prosperity he enjoyed, and the glorious actions he had done, led him into, while he was not able to govern himself well about them. Accordingly, when a remarkable day was come, and a general festival was to be celebrated, he put on the holy garment, and went into the Temple to offer incense to God upon the golden altar, which he was prohibited to do by Azaryahu the high priest, who had fourscore priests with him, and who told him that it was not lawful for him to offer sacrifice, and that "none besides the posterity of Aharon were permitted so to do." And when they cried out that he must go out of the Temple, and not transgress against God, he was wroth at them, and threatened to kill them, unless they would hold their peace. In the mean time a great earthquake shook the ground and a rent was made in the Temple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king's face, insomuch that tzara'at seized upon him immediately. And before the city, at a place called Ein Rogel, half the mountain broke off from the rest on the west, and rolled itself four furlongs, and stood still at the east mountain, till the roads, as well as the king's gardens, were spoiled by the obstruction. Now, as soon as the priests saw that the king's face was infected with tzara'at, they told him of the calamity he was under, and commanded that he should go out of the city as a polluted person.[4]


            Yishayahu's prophecy started off then with great anger and with the beginning of the removal of the Shekhina in the wake of Uziyahu's pride, his confidence in his own strength and greatness, and his comparing himself to God, all of which brought him to try to take control of the priestly service and enter the sanctuary in order to burn incense.


            A connection exists then between the sins of Shelomo. Yoash and Uziyahu, all of them failing to limit their kingdom to its original objectives and blurring the difference between their kingdom and the kingdom of God, because pride, glory, and self-enhancement had taken hold of them.


IV.       ACHAZ


Chazal and the Rishonim do not directly connect the actions of Achaz to the destruction of the Temple, but without a doubt his reign was utterly unfit, regarding his rejection of the words of the prophet, his total subjugation to the king of Assyria and his attitude toward the Temple. The Gemara states that Achaz stopped the Temple service, sealed the Torah, and permitted incestuous relationships (Sanhedrin 103b), and it would appear from Scripture that he committed other sins as well.


Achaz was the first king to serve the Molekh: "But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations" (II Melakhim 16:3). Thus, without a doubt, Achaz served as poor example for the entire people, who also began to serve the Molekh. This abominable rite, which combines elements of idol worship, incest, and bloodshed, we find again in Yehuda in the days of Menasheh and Yehoyakim, and it is not by chance that the prophet Yirmiyahu sees it as inevitably leading to the destruction of the city (Yirmiyahu 19).


Achaz also rejected the word of God as found in the Torah and in the mouth of His prophets. He refused to ask God for a sign (Yishayahu 7:10-12); and it is about his days that the prophet said: "Bind up the testimony, seal the Torah among My disciples" (Yishayahu 8:15).


Achaz's absolute political subjugation to the King of Assyria ("I am your servant and your son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who have risen against me"; II Melakhim 16:7) had far-reaching spiritual ramifications (besides the very reliance on a foreign king, which involves a certain denial of God's reign), but even before the Assyrian subjugation, Yehuda and Jerusalem were replete with idolatry (II Melakhim 16:6; II Divrei Ha-yamim 28:2-3). Now, however, Achaz closed the Temple, cut its vessels, sent its treasures as a bribe to the King of Assyria and built an altar in the Temple courtyard to the gods of Damasek and offered sacrifices on it (II Melakhim 16:8, 12-18; II Divrei Ha-yamim 28:21-24; 29:6-7). Here too Achaz bore guilt for being the first – the first king who dared to close the Temple, and establish in its place the worship of other gods, a sacrilege of the highest order.


How did Achaz come to this terrible state? In our shiur dealing with this king (shiur no. 17), we suggested that perhaps he understood that with the removal of the Shekhina from the Temple in the days of Uziyahu his grandfather, "the Lord has forsaken the land" (Yechezkel 8:12; 9:9), and therefore he utterly despaired of walking in the path of God and heeding the prophet's guidance, and he turned to save his kingdom in his own way – by subjugating himself to the world power of Assyria.




Despite all of his righteousness, it was precisely in the days of Chizkiyahu that the first explicit prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple (Mikha 3:12, and see Yirmiyahu 23:18) and the first explicit prophecy concerning the exile to Bavel (II Melakhim 20:16-18) were received. Why did two such harsh prophecies come precisely in the days of this righteous king? We expanded on this issue in previous shiurim, and here we shall merely give a brief review.


We already saw that despite the impressive beginning of Chizkiyahu's reign, which found expression in the renewal of the Temple service and the king's close connection to the prophet and the Torah, Chizkiyahu decided – apparently, already at an early point in his life – to fight against the Assyrian superpower, and for this purpose he entered into an alliance with Egypt (Yishayahu 30-31). The spiritual meaning of this act is the negation of the Exodus from Egypt and the covenant with God connected thereto, a return to the situation that preceded God's declaration, "I am the Lord your God who took you out from the land of Egypt from the house of bondage," and subordination to another superpower instead of absolute subordination to God.


With Sancheriv's invasion of Yehuda and his conquest of its fortified cities, Chizkiyahu begged forgiveness from the King of Assyria and paid the tribute cast upon him from Temple funds, from the doors of the sanctuary and from the pilasters that he himself had overlaid with gold (II Melakhim 18:14-15).


Moreover, by focusing on this international activity, Chizkiyahu abandoned his primary mission, an internal spiritual, moral and social mission – to establish the kingdom on justice and judgment (Yishayahu 9:6) – and in large measure he left the internal arena in the hands of his officers, Shevna the scribe standing out as the most evil among them. As a result, moral corruption spread through all the institutions of the regime – the priests, the prophets, and the officers – and it stands to reason that in their wake also through a large part of the nation. It was this corruption that brought to the first prophecy concerning the destruction of the city (Mikha 3; similar criticism about the corruption of the city, but without a prophecy concerning its destruction, we find also in Yishayahu 1).


In addition, Chizkiyahu was also guilty of arrogance: "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" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 32:25). A king who is preoccupied with entering into alliances with regional powers against a global power will have difficulty not succumbing to arrogance, and the direct ramification is a certain eating away at the kingdom of God.


The blurring of the boundaries between human kingdom and the kingdom of God was caused in part by the king's inflated image of himself, his position, and his wealth – this coming at the cost of revealing God's kingdom in the kingdom of man. In the case of Chizkiyahu, this process found expression in his showing his treasures to the delegation of the king of Bavel – the very treasures that had come into his possession as spoil from the plague that befell the Assyrian army and saved Jerusalem; thus, Chizkiyahu indirectly attributed his victory to himself and belittled the great salvation brought about by God. It was in the wake of this conduct that a prophecy concerning the exile to Babylonia was first heard (see II Melakhim 20:12-19; Yishayahu 39; Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 3:4).




As we saw above, two harsh prophecies were delivered during the days of Chizkiyahu regarding the consequences of the cessation of justice in Jerusalem. One of them – the prophecy of Mikha the Morashtiwent as far as to base on that sin the earliest threat of destruction of the city and the Temple. We shall briefly review the shiur we gave last year (no. 6) that was devoted to the idea of Jerusalem as city of justice.


The prophet heralds:


And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterwards you shall be called the city of justice, a faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and those that return to her with righteousness. (Yishayahu 1:26-27)


            Jerusalem is called the city of justice, and this designation is instructive about its essence. The kingdom of God manifests itself in the world, among other ways, through justice, and therefore it is necessary that justice prevail in the city serving as the seat of that kingdom.


            It is not by chance that Scripture stands Jerusalem against Sodom. In his encounter with Malkitzedek and the King of Sodom, Avram chooses to give a tithe to the King of Shalem, on the one hand, and to reject any connection whatsoever with the King of Sodom, on the other (Bereishit 14:17-24); and when the prophet wishes to describe the moral corruption of Jerusalem, he compares it to Sodom (e.g., Yishayahu 1:9-10).


            The name of the kings of the city even became identified with the name of the city itself (as we see from the parallel between Yirmiyahu 23:5-6 and 33:14-15). It includes the word tzedek, justice – as in the names Malkhitzedek (Bereishit 14:18), Adonitzedek (Yehoshua 10:1) and Tzidkiyahu (II Melakhim 24:17 – and it constitutes an adjective for the king of Jerusalem, who is obligated to execute justice and judgment.


            Regarding the Temple itself, the idea that the Temple is a place of justice finds expression in various ways. Justice is a prerequisite for the offering of sacrifices in the house of God (Tehillim 15:1-2; 24:3-4); the seat of the Sanhedrin is in the Lishkat ha-Gazit, next to the altar (Devarim 17:8-9); the priests, ministers of God, serve also as judges (ibid.; and so too in the passage concerning the egla arufa, ibid. 21:5; and in Moshe's blessing to the Tribe of Levi; ibid. 33:10); the priestly garments are called "garments of justice" (Tehillim 132:9; and see also Yishayahu 59:17; 61:10; Iyov 29:14), each of them representing atonement for a different sin; and Jerusalem and the Temple is where the nations of the world will be judged at the end of days (Yishayahu 2:1-4; Mikha 4:1-5; Yo'el 3:5-4-21; Zekharya 9:9-10).


            Since the essence of the Temple and Jerusalem is the fact that they are the seat of justice, justice being a revelation of the Shekhina, we understand that a diminishment of justice in Jerusalem constitutes a diminishment of the revelation of the kingdom of God in the world, and in its absence, there is no justification for the existence of the city and the Temple and they are destined for destruction, as stated in the prophecy of Mikha. In the next shiur, we will see that this indeed was a central cause of the destruction of the city and the Temple.




            The common denominator of the actions of all the kings discussed above – which constitute, in our opinion, the background for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple – is arrogance and inflated self-importance, which impair the relationship between the king and God, and thus pervert also the standing of the king in his own eyes and in the eyes of his subjects. Jerusalem and the Temple constitute the earthly seat of the kingdom of God, and therefore any diminishment of His kingdom contributes to their destruction.


In the next shiur we will examine the causes of the destruction from the days of Menasheh to the destruction itself in the days of Tzidkiyahu.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] Perhaps there is a connection between this Midrash and the Midrash cited earlier that the image that Yoash wished to erect in the sanctuary was an image of himself.

[2] Regarding this prophecy being a description of the removal of the Shekhina, see, for example the words of R. Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari (IV, 3): "At other times he [the prophet] sees wrath poured out and the people in mourning on account of their threatened abandonment by Him, 'Who is sitting upon a throne high and lifted up… above it stood the Serafim.'"

[3] The source for this description of the splitting of the sanctuary is in the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar in Avot de-Rabbi Natan 9:3.

[4] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book IX, pars. 222-227.