Haftarah Parshat Pekudei
(2 Kings 12:1-17)
March 5, 2011
29 Adar I, 5771
There are four special additional Torah readings which precede Pesach. These “maftir” readings also include special haftarot. This week we begin the cycle with Parshat Shekalim, which was intended to remind us that this is the season when the “machatzit hashekel – the half shekel” tax was collected from every Israelite to provide for the communal sacrifices and the upkeep of the Temple. The haftarah deals with an episode, during a period of the kings of Judea when there were issues with the proper collection of this tax. The haftarah recounts the life of King Jehoash who began his reign as a child under the tutelage of the High Priest, Jehoiada. The haftarah makes a point of mentioning that Jehoiada’s guidance was very important to Jehoash’s moral wellbeing: “All his days Jehoash did what was pleasing to the Lord, as the priest Jehoiada instructed him” (12:3) This verse is taken as intimating that Jehoash’s behavior veered from this norm after Jehoiada’s death.
Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto (18th century Italy) takes Jehoash’s tragic transformation as a means for teaching a moral lesson in character building in his famous ethical work, Mesilat Yesharim: He writes: “[One should avoid] associating with people who flatter a person in order to steal away his or her heart with their flattery for their own purposes. They lavish praise on a person, exaggerating those qualities which suit their purposes. They falsely boost those qualities not naturally found in him, playing on his weaknesses in order to persuade him so that he might be inclined to do what they want. Their words enter him like venom so that he will fall into the trap of pride. This is exactly what happened to Jehoash who did well all the days that he was taught by his teacher Jehoiada the priest, but after Jehoiada’s death, his servants came and began to flatter him and multiply his praise, until they raised him to the point where he viewed himself as a deity, and then he heeded their words. [Such behavior] should not be surprising since many ministers, kings and capable people fail and become corrupt on account of the flattery of their servants.” (adapted from chapter 23)
Power must be wielded wisely and with humility. We are witness to the corrupting nature of hubris and how it has destroyed whole societies for generations. Any of us can fall prey to it if we are not on guard. Our own moral lives are dependent on it. How much more so the moral fabric of society as a whole.