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Shabbat Parashat Yitro 5773

Parashat Hashavua: The Living Dead

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our haftara opens with the proclamation that the very powerful and profound vision that Yeshaya saw took place in the year that King Uziyahu died (Yeshaya 6:1). We have discussed in the past the opinion in Chazal that this does not refer to Uziyahu’s biological death, but to the time that he became a leper and was forced to “retire.” At that time, his son Yotam became the de facto king.

Yotam was well described by his name, which hints at completeness in righteousness. The first two letters of his name hint at Hashem’s name and the final two letters spell tam, meaning complete or righteous. In fact, Yotam is the only king, including the righteous ones, of whom there is no hint of sin or criticism. There is no mention of problematic behavior – not in Melachim, nor in Divrei Hayamim, nor in the words of the prophets who operated in his time (Hoshea, Amos, Yeshaya, and Micha).

There is extreme praise for Yotam in the writings of Chazal. The gemara in Sukka (45b), for example, says that if the merit of Yotam were added on to those of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son they could save the world from the time of its creation until the end of time. Rashi (ad loc.) said the following: “Yotam ben Uziyahu was a righteous man, who was more humble than other kings. He merited to show honor to his father, and for this reason, the pasuk “a son shall honor his father” (Malachi 1:6) is attributed to him, for all the days that his father suffered from leprosy and Yotam would judge the people, as it says ‘Yotam the son of the king was over the palace judging’ (Melachim II, 15:5), he did not wear the crown during his [father’s] life, and all the rulings he rendered he did in his father’s name.” Rabbi Tzaddok Hacohen said that he was the completion of King Shlomo, as there was nothing lacking in him.

A couple weeks ago we discussed the phenomenon of passages in the Prophets that do not seem to work out from a historical perspective. This phenomenon occurs in regard to Yotam, as well. The navi, speaking about the parallel king of the Northern Tribes of Israel, says that Hoshea ben Elah became king during the twentieth year of the reign of Yotam (Melachim II, 15:30). This is difficult because Yotam was king for only sixteen years and was succeeded by Achaz, who was a wicked king. One of the answers of the author of Seder Olam (a historical work from a scholar of the Talmudic period) is that the navi preferred to date to the beginning of Yotam’s reign, after he died, rather than to Achaz, while he lived.

We now see the completion of the circle. Yotam’s father was a sinner who was considered dead when he was alive, and Yotam, his righteous son, was considered alive when he was dead. Life and death can refer to moral statuses rather than biological ones.

Let us pray for a “resurrection of the dead,” in the form of a return of the whole nation to proper values, and a realization that spiritual elevation and performing good deeds are more important than material gain.

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Hemdat Yamim

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