February 25, 2006
Ashkenaz = 2 Kings 12:1-17
Sefard = 2 Kings 11:17-12:17
The royal court of Judah was not without its intrigues. The special haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesach, opens, according to the Sefardic rite, with the advent of Jehoash, a child king, to the throne of Judah, upon the death of his wicked father, Ahaziah. This transfer of power was not a foregone conclusion since Ahaziah\’s mother, Athaliah, the daughter of King Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked king and queen of the northern kingdom of Israel, had attempted to usurp the throne for herself, by murdering all of her son\’s children. If Jehoash had not been spirited away by his aunt and hidden with the High Priest, Jehoiada, in the Temple, the death of his father would have meant the end of the Davidic line and as a consequence the end of any hope for the future redemption at the hand of the Messiah ben David.
The unsung hero of the story as related in the Biblical story was Jehoash\’s aunt, King Ahaziah\’s sister, Jehosheba (see 2 Kings 11:2), but the following midrash relates Jehoash\’s \”miraculous\” rescue to another event way back at the founding of the royal house. This midrash records a blessing which was offered by the women of Bethlehem on the occasion of the birth of Ruth\’s first child. Ruth, who had accompanied her mother in law, Naomi, back to Bethlehem after the death of both Naomi\’s and her own husband, married Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi\’s husband. When they had a child, the line was restored. (This was a form of levirate marriage. – See Deuteronomy 25:5-10.)
\”And the women said to Naomi: \’Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer! May his name be perpetuated in Israel!\’\” (Ruth 4:14) Just as, on \’this day\’, the sun rules over the heavens; so should your seed rule and govern in Israel forever.\” Rabbi Hunia explained the significance of this blessing: As a result of the blessing of these women, the seed of David was not entirely extirpated in the days of Athaliah. (Ruth Rabbah 7:15 M.B. Learner ed. pp. 202-4)
It was the good wishes of these women which, according to this tradition, will be responsible for our future redemption. This midrash wants to teach us the power of concern for the well being of others. It is not only worthwhile for those immediately involved. It has the potential to be world saving.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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