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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira| 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: To Criticize or to Ignore

Harav Yosef Carmel

The connection between this week’s parasha and haftara is the stories of unexpected births to two barren woman, Sarah and the Shunamit, respectively. The story of the Shunamit, who hosted Elisha and was justly rewarded, is part of a section of biblical text that is sometimes called the Megilla of Eliyahu and Elisha. This is the section of Melachim (Kings) that deals with these two outstanding prophets, the master and the disciple, who performed great miracles.

This section of narrative affects two things structurally within Melachim. One is that it breaks up the discussion of the history of the kings and instead focuses on prophets. The other is that it abandons discussion of the older and more illustrious Kingdom of Judea, whose kings were descendants of David, to focus on the Kingdom of Israel, or the Northern Kingdom. (Eliyahu and Elisha belonged to the tribes of the North and interacted with their kings, as recorded in the text.) In contrast, Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles), which deals primarily with the Kingdom of Judea, mentions Eliyahu only in passing, as sending a message to Yehoram the King of Judea, and does not mention Elisha at all.

Let us take a closer look at the structure of Melachim. The book starts with a united kingdom being passed down from King David to his son, Shlomo. After the kingdom splits, the narrative alternates between a discussion of one kingdom and the other. However, from chapter 17 of Melachim I until the middle of chapter 8 of Melachim II, only the Israelite Kingdom is discussed, with Judea being mentioned only when it interacted with its brother kingdom. The last part of Melachim II resumes its consecutive discussion of the two kingdoms. Why does Judea disappear during a certain period?

This silence is apparently a stinging censure of the Kingdom of Judea, primarily after the death of Yehoshafat. The new king, Yehoram, lowered the nation to unprecedented levels, both in regard to religious life and in regard to basic civil justice. Divrei Hayamim (II, 21:4) does deal with this period, and describes how Yehoram killed off all of his brothers and caused the people to sin horribly (ibid. 6:11). Scripture also details severe retribution that was meted out against him, as his property and even his family were captured by invaders, and he died of a harsh disease (ibid. 16-19).

Yehoram’s only son, Achazya took over for his father and, according to Chazal, continued his evil ways (Sanhedrin 102b). He was “outdone” only by his mother, Atalya, who plundered the Temple and killed out almost all of the family of David, to prevent challenge to her usurpation of the throne (ibid. 22:10 and 24:7).

Ezra the Scribe, who wrote Divrei Hayamim with Divine Spirit, decided to criticize the kings of Judea of that period. Yirmiya, who wrote Melachim, followed a prophecy that told him to criticize by removing that period of Judean history from the national annals. It is hard to decide which form of censure is the more poignant. 

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