By Rabbi Yossef Carmel
It is the practice in the many Jewish communities of the world that this week we begin a series of reading seven prophecies of consolation (shiva d’nechemta) of the prophet, Yeshayahu, most of which are concentrated in chapters 40-66. In another place, we have demonstrated that Sefer Yeshayahu is consistently organized on a chronological basis. It starts with the period of Uziyah (see explicit reference in ch. 6), continues with the period of Achaz, is followed by that of Chizkiya (see ch. 36-39), and ends at the time of Menashe. Menashe is not mentioned explicitly in the book, not in the introduction and not in the beginning of the section of prophecies which we believe were said in his time. However, there are strong indications that the section which is the source for the shiva d’nechemta was said at the end of Yeshayahu’s life, during the horrible period of Menashe. We will need to explain why these optimistic prophecies were said specifically at that time.
Our Rabbis have passed on a tradition (see Rashi on Hoshea 1:1) that only righteous kings are mentioned in the headings of the books of the prophets. A wicked king will be mentioned only if both his father and his son were righteous and he is swallowed up in a progression of those who are fit to be mentioned. (The classic example is Achaz.) For that reason, Menashe was not mentioned in Yeshayahu. Chazal were sure that Yeshayahu did operate in Menashe’s time, for they relate that Menashe actually killed Yeshayahu, his maternal grandfather (Yevamot 49b). Menashe was considered the worst of all of the kings that ruled over Judea. His sins included the classic anti-religious travesty of promulgating idol worship but also included the human abomination of multiple murder (see Melachim II, 21: 2-9, 16). He is also the one identified as most responsible for the pending destruction of the First Temple, which was decreed in his time, although it was carried out during the reign of his descendant, Tzidkiyahu (see Yirmiyahu 15: 1-3).
So why were there so many optimistic prophecies at the time of so much sinning? A prophet is not a newspaper columnist to report what is transpiring in his time. Rather, it is his job to bring the word of Hashem to the people. At the relatively strong time of Uziyah there was a need to warn the people about the difficult future of the Assyrian conquest. In contrast, when Bnei Yisrael had reached a low at the time of Menashe, there was a fear that they would feel so overwhelmed by what was required of them to reach the proper level. They might give up hope and decide that Hashem had given up on them once and for all. The prophet came and pronounced clearly, “Be consoled, be consoled, My nation, says your Lord.”
Let us pray that we too will merit seeing the continuation of the fulfillment of the prophecies of consolation.
Originally appears on the Yeshiva.co website