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Lecture #313: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (CXXIII) – The Prohibition of Bamot (XCIX)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
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IN LOVING MEMORY OF
Jeffrey Paul Friedman z"l
August 15, 1968 – July 29, 2012
לע"נ
 ז"ל יהודה פנחס בן הרב שרגא פייוועל 
כ"ב אב תשכ"ח – י' אב תשע"ב
ת.נ.צ.ב.ה
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In our previous shiurim on the kingdom of Chizkiyahu's, we examined the early years of Chizkiyahu's reign. We related to the rededication of the house of God which was accompanied by the removal of all traces of idol worship from it. Pesach was celebrated together with the kingdom of Israel. Chizkiyahu crushed the bronze serpent, abolished the Book of Remedies and removed the bamot that were dedicated to the service of the God of Israel. In addition he eradicated all idolatrous cults, destroying the pillars and asherot. Scripture notes: "He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Yehuda, nor among them that were before him" (II Melakhim 18:5). We brought the Midrash that compares the trust in God demonstrated by four kings: David, Asa, Yehoshafat and Chizkiyahu, and we related to two different understandings of that Midrash as to what is the highest expression of trust in God.
 
The fall of the Kingdom of Israel To Ashur
 
The prophet describes how in the fourth year of Chizkiyahu's reign, Shomron was captured and the inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel were exiled to Ashur:
 
And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Chizkiyahu, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Ela king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Ashur came up against Shomron, and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it; even in the sixth year of Chizkiyahu, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Shomron was taken. And the king of Ashur carried Israel away unto Ashur, and put them in Chalach, and in Chavor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Madai; because they hearkened not to the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed His covenant, even all that Moshe the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear it, nor do it. (II Melakhim 18:9-12)
 
Shalmanesser went up against Shomron in the fourth year of Chizkiyahu's reign and besieged it for three years, after Hoshea, the son of Ela, king of Israel, sent to So the king of Egypt and rebelled against Shalmaneser. During the years of the siege, Shalmaneser died and Sargon sent Shomron into exile. The death of Tiglat Pileser stirred up the entire region and aroused the hope of breaking free of the yoke of Ashur. With the destruction of Shomron and the kingdom of Israel and the exile of a substantial portion of its population to Ashur, a small portion of the population remained on its land, and to them were added people who were brought from lands conquered in Mesopotamia and Syria. They viewed the rituals that were observed in the kingdom of Israel as "the manner of the God of the land," as is attested to by Scripture:
 
They spoke to the king of Ashur, saying: The nations which you have carried away, and placed in the cities of Shomron, know not the manner of the God of the land; therefore He has sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. Then the king of Ashur commanded, saying: Carry there one of the priests whom you brought from there; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land. So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Shomron came and dwelt in Bet-El, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. However every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Shomronim had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. (II Melakhim 17:26-29)
 
In practice, what was observed was a combination of the religion of Israel and pagan rituals:
 
They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the Lord, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law or after the commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Yaakov, whom He named Israel. (II Melakhim 17:33-34)
 
In this situation, the inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel who remained in their land faced a threat of assimilation.
 
Despite the fact that our concern in these shiurim is the kingdom of Yehuda, we briefly summarized the political and spiritual reality in the neighboring kingdom of Israel which bordered on the kingdom of Yehuda to the north.
 
Was there an attempt to reunite the Kingdom?
 
In II Divrei ha-Yamim, as part of the account of Chizkiyahu's attempts to purify the kingdom at the beginning of his reign, it says:
 
Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Yehuda, and broke in pieces the pillars, and hewed down the Asherim, and broke down the high places and the altars out of all Yehuda and Binyamin, in Efrayim also and Menashe, until they had destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities. (II Divrei ha-Yamim 31:1)
 
The eradication of idolatry in the entire realm of Achaz's kingdom in Yehuda and Binyamin is understandable as a necessary condition for the creation of a new relationship with God after Achaz's death. But what is the significance of the fact that Chizkiyahu eradicated idolatry even in Efrayim and Menashe? Surely Efrayim and Menashe, since the time of the conquest of Shomron, were under the rule of the Assyrian governor. How was it possible to act in an aggressive manner in an area that was under direct Assyrian control without eliciting a response from that world power? One explanation follows from the understanding that Hoshea the son of Ela was the last king of Israel. In addition to his permitting Festival pilgrimages to Jerusalem, he also abolished the worship of the calves. Thus writes the Malbim (ad loc.):
 
"In Efrayim also." From here it is clear as I wrote in Hoshea 8:4-6; Hoshea 10:1-5; and Amos 9:1, that Hoshea the son of Ela abolished the worship of the calves and now his people could do the same in the cities of Israel. Therefore Chizkiyahu decided to send letters inviting them to come to Jerusalem, something that would have been unimaginable had the king still retained the worship of the calves. (Malbim, II Divrei ha-Yamim 31:1)
 
These are the words of the prophet Hoshea upon which the Malbim bases his argument:
 
Your calf, O Shomron, is cast off; My anger is kindled against them; how long will it be before they attain to innocence? For from Israel is even this: the craftsman made it, and it is no God; the calf of Shomron shall be broken in shivers. (Hoshea 8:5-6)
 
And similarly in the continuation:
 
Israel was a luxuriant vine, which put forth fruit freely: as his fruit increased, he increased his altars; the more goodly his land was, the more goodly were his pillars. Their heart is divided; now shall they bear their guilt; He will break down their altars, He will spoil their pillars. Surely now shall they say: We have no king; for we feared not the Lord; and the king, what can he do for us? They speak words, they swear falsely, they make covenants; thus judgment springs up as hemlock in the furrows of the field. The inhabitants of Shomron shall be in dread for the calves of Bet-Aven; for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof shall tremble for it, for its glory, because it is departed from it. It also shall be carried unto Ashur, for a present to King Contentious; Efrayim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel. As for Shomron, her king is cut off, as foam upon the water. The high places also of Aven shall be destroyed, even the sin of Israel. The thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains: Cover us, and to the hills: Fall on us. (Hoshea 10:1-8)
 
The academic world has raised doubts regarding the extent to which Chizkiyahu assumed control over Menashe and Efrayim. In a salvage excavation conducted in the Tut stream in the southern Carmel, a site was uncovered that was described by the archaeologists who led the team as an administrative center from the time of the First Temple, in which was found an ancient Hebrew seal inscribed with a rare name "Lamarach (son of) Amichai". Additional findings include fragments of jars with handles on which were found the word "la-melekh," "to the king," which was characteristic of the days of Chizkiyahu. Based on these findings, it would appear that Chizkiyahu exploited the chaos at the beginning of the rule of Sancheriv, known to us from Assyrian sources, expanded his control to the Carmel and built settlements north of Yehuda. It is possible that these actions precipitated Sancheriv's campaign against the kingdom of Yehuda.[1]
 
Rabbi's Yoel Bin-Nun and Beni Lau[2] argue that with the destruction of the kingdom of Shomron and the renewal of the connection of the remnants of the kingdom of Israel to Jerusalem, king Chizkiyahu woke up to a new vision – renewing the period of David and Shelomo in Jerusalem which united all the tribes of Israel. In the absence of a king in Efrayim, Chizkiyahu tried to rule over all those who remained in the north from among the tribes of Israel. The best way to express this innovation without creating a political and military crisis with the Assyrian empire was through a celebration of Pesach together with all the tribes of Israel in Jerusalem.
 
Rivka Raviv[3] claims that regarding this vision of unification, there is a connection between the years of his reign over all of Israel and the king's second coronation, which took place about eleven years after he rose to power. According to this understanding, Chizkiyahu's celebration of Pesach, and his sending of letters to Efrayim and Menashe, with the runners running from city to city in the lands of Efrayim and Menashe and as far as Zevulun, were a clear example of this vision of unification.
 
This act of Chizkiyahu was not only another step in his religious revolution, but rather a national and political revolution connected to Pesach, regarding which he offered a prayer:
 
For there were many in the congregation that had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had the charge of killing the Passover lambs for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them unto the Lord. For a multitude of the people, even many of Efrayim and Menashe, Yissachar and Zevulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the Passover otherwise than it is written. For Chizkiyahu had prayed for them, saying: The good Lord pardon every one that sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, though [he be] not [cleansed] according to the purification that pertains to holy things. (II Divrei ha-Yamim 30:17-19)
 
From here to praise and joy. It is possible that against this background Chizkiyahu worked toward the restoration of a united monarchy. The prophet Yeshayahu, who foresaw the collapse of the kingdom of Shomron and the exile of its inhabitants, prophesies about the restoration of the kingdom of the house of David, and describes the ideal king. He speaks of a reality in which peace and harmony will prevail: "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Yeshayahu 11:9). At the same time there will be an ingathering of the exiles:
 
And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Yishai, and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the land; and he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Yishai, that stands for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord will set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, that shall remain from Ashur, and from Egypt, and from Patros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Chamat, and from the islands of the sea. And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Yehuda from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Efrayim shall depart, and they that harass Yehuda shall be cut off; Efrayim shall not envy Yehuda, and Yehuda shall not vex Efrayim. And they shall fly down upon the shoulder of the Pelishtim on the west; together shall they spoil the children of the east; they shall put forth their hand upon Edom and Moav; and the children of Amon shall obey them. And the Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with His scorching wind will He shake His hand over the River, and will smite it into seven streams, and cause men to march over dry-shod. And there shall be a highway for the remnant of His people, that shall remain from Ashur, like as there was for Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.
And in that day you shall say: I will give thanks unto You, O Lord; for though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for God the Lord is my strength and song; and He is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall you say: Give thanks unto the Lord, proclaim His name, declare His doings among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing unto the Lord; for He has done gloriously; this is made known in all the earth. Cry aloud and shout, you inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of you. (Yeshayahu 11-12)
 
In this shiur, we saw Chizkiyahu's efforts to renew the connection to the kingdom of Israel at the time of its disintegration, and his desire to restore the unified kingdom. The image of Chizkiyahu as potential messiah in the words of the prophet was apparently based on the actions that he performed at the beginning of his reign – his eradication of idolatry from the entire kingdom, including Efrayim and Menashe; his rededication and renewal of the service in the house of God; and his celebration of Pesach together with representatives of the kingdom of Israel. All these are expressions of a kingdom that seeks to conduct itself as God's throne in this world, while striving to unify the two kingdoms under one leadership in Jerusalem.
 
In the next shiur we will continue our study of the kingdom of Chizkiyahu.
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] Yitzchak Meitlis, Lachpor et ha-Tanakh, pp. 255-256.
[2] In their book, Yeshayahu ke-Tziporim Afot, pp. 194 and on.
[3] Rivka Raviv, "Bikesh Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu La'asot Chizkiyahu Mashi'ach," Shema'atin 73-74 (1983), pp. 38-47.