This Week's Parshah - Parshas Ha'azinu
Leeba bas Sh’muel a”h
a fellow Jew who passed away with no relatives to arrange Torah study on behalf of her neshamah
The Mysterious Case of King Menasheh
The focus of this time period is, of course, the endeavor of teshuvah (repentance). While an important form of Divine service at any point during the year, during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – known as “Aseres Yemei Teshuvah (The Ten Days of Repentance)” – this effort is particularly pertinent and the atmosphere quite conducive. It obviously behooves any earnest servant of Hashem to utilize the opportunity to the fullest extent and to engage in as complete a form of teshuvah as possible.
Certainly, one must ensure that his teshuvah efforts will be lasting and accepted, as there are potential pitfalls in this regard. Some examples are related by the Mishnah (Yoma 8:9), which states:
הָאוֹמֵר אֶחֱטָא וְאָשׁוּב אֶחֱטָא וְאָשׁוּב, אֵין מַסְפִּיקִין בְּיָדוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה. אֶחֱטָא וְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר, אֵין יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר.
“One who says: ‘I will sin and then repent; I will sin and then repent’ – will not be afforded the ability to repent. (One who says:) ‘I will sin and Yom Kippur will atone for it’ – Yom Kippur will, in fact, not atone for it.”
There are other factors that may play a significant role in determining the effectiveness of one’s repentance, as illustrated by the most curious case of Menasheh, one of the kings of the Kingdom of Yehudah.
Sefer Melachim II records the events of Menasheh’s reign. Even a cursory glance at the account reveals a portrait of an evil king steeped in idolatry and other grave transgressions: ...הִרְבָּה לַעֲשֹוֹת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ד' לְהַכְעִיס, וַיָּשֶֹם אֶת־פֶּסֶל הָאֲשֵׁרָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָֹה בַּבַּיִת אֲשֶׁר אָמַר ד' אֶל־דָּוִד וְאֶל־שְׁלֹמֹה בְנוֹ בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה... אָשִֹים אֶת־שְׁמִי לְעוֹלָם... הֵרַע מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר־עָשֹוּ הָאֱמֹרִי אֲשֶׁר לְפָנָיו וַיַּחֲטִא גַם־אֶת־יְהוּדָה בְּגִלּוּלָיו... וְגַם דָּם נָקִי שָׁפַךְ מְנַשֶּׁה הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד עַד אֲשֶׁר־מִלֵּא אֶת־יְרוּשָׁלַם פֶּה לָפֶה לְבַד מֵחַטָּאתוֹ אֲשֶׁר הֶחֱטִיא אֶת־יְהוּדָה לַעֲשֹוֹת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ד' – “He acted with extreme wickedness in Hashem’s eyes, to antagonize Him; and he placed the statue of Asheirah, which he made, into the House of which Hashem had said to David and to Shlomo, his son: ‘In this house... I shall have My Name set permanently...’ (Menasheh’s) deeds were more wicked than anything perpetrated by the Emorim who preceded him; and he caused Yehudah also to sin with his idolatry... Also, Menasheh spilled much innocent blood, to the point that Yerushalayim was filled with it from gate to gate; (all of this is) aside from the sin by which he caused Yehudah to sin and perpetrate wickedness in the eyes of Hashem” (Melachim II 21:2-16). The description concludes simply: וְיֶתֶר דִּבְרֵי מְנַשֶּׁה... הֲלֹא־הֵם כְּתוּבִים עַל־סֵפֶר דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים לְמַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה, וַיִּשְׁכַּב מְנַשֶּׁה עִם־אֲבֹתָיו – “And the remainder of Menasheh’s affairs... are recorded in the book of chronicles for the kings of Yehudah; And Menasheh slept with his forefathers (i.e., he passed away)” (Ibid. v. 17-18). Seemingly, a fairly distressing but straightforward account.
Much of the history of the kings of Yehudah and Yisrael appears again in Sefer Divrei Ha’yamim. When it comes to Menasheh, we encounter once again an almost identical account of his wicked and idolatrous ways; but here, there is an interesting addendum: וּכְהָצֵר לוֹ חִלָּה אֶת־פְּנֵי ד' אֱלֹקָיו וַיִּכָּנַע מְאֹד מִלִּפְנֵי אֱלֹקֵי אֲבֹתָיו וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֵלָיו... וַיֵּדַע מְנַשֶּׁה כִּי ד' הוּא הָאֱלֹקִים... וַיָּסַר
אֶת־אֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר... וַיֹּאמֶר לִיהוּדָה לַעֲבוֹד אֶת־ד' אֱלֹקֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל – “And when (Menasheh) was in distress, he supplicated before Hashem his G-d, and he humbled himself greatly before the G-d of his fathers and prayed to Him... Amd Menashe knew of Hashem, that He is G-d... And he removed the foreign deities... And he told Yehudah to serve Hashem, G-d of Yisrael...” (Divrei Ha’yamim II 33:12-16). Apparently, Menasheh did teshuvah – certainly a significant development! Why, then, is this information completely omitted from the account in sefer Melachim?
In his treatise Emunas Chachamim (ch. 22), the early 18th-Century sage R’ Avi Ad Sar Shalom accounts for the differing descriptions. The lack of mention of teshuvah in the version in Sefer Melachim actually reflects a notion discussed last week – namely, the lingering effects of one’s deeds. Yes, it is true that Menasheh repented and even told the people to desist from further idolatrous activity. Nonetheless, he did not take such a vigorous and active role in eradicating idolatry, to the extent of some of his righteous predecessors (such as Chizkiyahu). Recall that Menasheh had initially led others astray, inducing them to violate Hashem’s will. And so, while he corrected his personal misdeeds, the idolatrous practices of his protégés (and their subsequent offspring) continued in many instances. As a result, his teshuvah was not accepted – as long as the sins to which he contributed continued to exist. Being that, for all intents and purposes, his repentance did not “register,” it is not even mentioned in sefer Melachim.
Why, then, was it indeed recorded in Divrei Ha’yamim? The Toldos Yehoshua (Avos 2:2) points to the authorship of these scriptural volumes to resolve the discrepancy. Sefer Melachim, Chazal tell us, was written by the Prophet Yirmiyahu, while Divrei Ha’yamim was the work of Ezra the Scribe (Bava Basra 15a). Now, Ezra was a member of that august body of Sages known as the “Anshei K’nesses Ha’gedolah – Men of the Great Assembly.” Chazal tell us further (Yoma 69b) of a most significant event that took place during their tenure. The Sages took the extraordinary step of actually neutralizing the power of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) in the area of idolatry; after this time, then, Yisrael was no longer led astray in pursuit of this form of transgression.
What emerges, then, is that the inclination toward idolatry was still very much in effect during the time of Yirmiyahu, who wrote Sefer Melachim. Thus, the ramifications of Menasheh’s deeds still reverberated then, preventing his repentance from being accepted. With the composition of Sefer Divrei Ha’yamim, however – authored, as mentioned, by a most prominent member of the Anshei K’nesses Ha’gedolah – the yetzer hara for idolatry had already been abolished. With the cessation of these practices, then, the harmful effects of Menasheh’s original enticements had come to an end. As such, his teshuvah was finally able to come to fruition – as underscored by its inclusion in Divrei Ha’yamim.