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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5781

Parashat Hashavua: More about Starting Points of Time

Harav Yosef Carmel

We cited the Ibn Ezra about cases in which a period of time is given but it is not evident when that count starts from. Last week, we discussed the 40 years that dated Avshalom’s rebellion. Now we move on to another example the Ibn Ezra gave, the 65 years that Yeshayahu (7:8) prophesied it would take until the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (the Ten Tribes).

Chapter 7 of Yeshayahu opens a set of prophecies that were given at the time of King Achaz of Yehuda. This one is dated by Chazal as being in the 4th year of Achaz’s rule, which was a very significant one in the history of the First Temple period. Yerushalayim was attacked by joint forces of the Kingdom of Israel, led by King Pekach ben Remalyahu, and the Kingdom of Aram, led by King Retzin. The attack was not successful, but still the leadership of Judea “swayed (with fear) like a tree sways in the wind” (Yeshayahu 7:1-2).

The Middle East of that time was like a mixing bowl. The New Assyrian Empire was based in Ninveh, which was situated on the banks of the Tigris River (in Iraq of today), and was conquering region after region. Achaz decided to accept the dominion of the Assyrians. Pekach was part of a coalition with the Aramian Empire, which included 32 mini-kingdoms, which opposed the growing Assyrian threat. Pekach took on Achaz and was victorious, with the remnant of the Judean forces retreating to the fortifications of Yerushalayim. After being joined by Aram, the idea was to force Yehuda to accept a new king who would support the Aramaic coalition. Yeshayahu was sent to calm Achaz, and he also told Achaz that in 65 years, his rival kingdom (called here Ephrayim) would cease to exist.

What type of consolation is that his rival would be eliminated in another 65 years – that is a very long time? Therefore, the Ibn Ezra posits that the 65 years is to be counted from an earlier point. Rashi and the Radak explain that the 65 years was from the prophecy of Amos against Israel and Aram (Amos 1:4-5). According to both, the event was approximately 20 years from the time of Yeshayahu’s prophecy, in the sixth year of the reign of Achaz’s son, Chizkiyahu. But how was Amos’ prophecy supposed to calm Yehuda so far in advance?

In my book, Tzofnat Yeshayahu, Me’Uziya ad Achaz, p. 191, I explained that Yeshayahu was quoting the prophecy of Amos (Vayikra Rabba 6 says he also quoted the prophecy of Hoshea’s father). Amos’ exact prophecy was actually not recorded in his sefer, as those prophecies were dated from two years after the great earthquake. By the time this prophecy was cited, a relatively short time passed until the Assyrians started weakening the Aramites. The attack of the Assyrians actually forced Aram to retreat from Jerusalem and focus their forces on repelling the attack on them. This consoled and saved Achaz.

We will continue to see how Biblical dating of events follows its own system(s) and understanding them in the simplest way raises unnecessary surprise, as we will continue to discuss. In the meantime, we will continue to thank Hashem for the miracles that have occurred in past times and in our times.

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