1) TZIDKIYAH -- RIGHTEOUS OR WICKED
QUESTION: The Gemara says that in the generation of Tzidkiyah, Hash-m wanted to destroy the world because of the sins of his generation. However, when He saw the merits of Tzidkiyah, Hash-m refrained from destroying the world. The Gemara asks that the prophet relates that Tzidkiyah himself "did evil in the eyes of Hash-m" (Melachim II 24:19). The Gemara answers that when the verse says that Tzidkiyah did evil, it means that he did not stop the people of his generation from sinning when he could have done so.
It is clear from the Gemara that Tzidkiyah was an outstanding Tzadik, since Hash-m spared the entire world in his merit. Other sources also indicate that he was a Tzadik, such as the Gemara in Horayos (11b), where Tzidkiyah is referred to as "Shalom" because he was perfect in his deeds. The Gemara in Moed Katan (16b) says that Tzidkiyah is called "Kushi" because his good deeds made him stand out like a Kushi stands out among white men. The Gemara in Shabbos (149b) refers to him as "Tzidkiyah ha'Tzadik."
However, a number of sources contradict the assertion that Tzidkiyah was a Tzadik.
(a) The Gemara in Moed Katan (20a) says that Tzidkiyah did only one Mitzvah -- he took Yirmeyahu out of the muddy pit. This implies that he was not a Tzadik in any other way.
(b) In the end of Divrei ha'Yamim II (36:12), the verse says that Tzidkiyah did evil in the eyes of Hash-m; he did not humble himself before Yirmeyahu, and he also rebelled against Nevuchadnetzar.
(c) The Gemara in Berachos (18b) proves that Resha'im are considered "dead" even while they are still alive from the verse in which Yechezkel calls Tzidkiyah "Chalal Rasha" -- "a dead, wicked person" (Yechezkel 21:30).
How are these statements to be reconciled?
(a) TOSFOS in Moed Katan answers that the Gemara means that the only Mitzvah of Tzidkiyah described explicitly in the verse (Yirmeyahu 38:11) is that he pulled Yirmeyahu from the pit. He certainly did many other Mitzvos.
RASHI in the EIN YAKOV (to Moed Katan) answers that the Gemara refers to Mitzvos that he did immediately before his death. (This is derived from the context of the Gemara there.) The Gemara says that pulling Yirmeyahu from the pit was the only Mitzvah that Tzidkiyah did immediately before his death.
(b) RASHI in Divrei ha'Yamim explains that when the verse (Yirmeyahu 38:19) says that Tzidkiyah was evil and he did not humble himself before Yirmeyahu, it means that there were only two evil things that he did, and those are the two that are listed in the verse. The first sin is that he did not listen to Yirmeyahu's prophecy when Yirmeyahu told him that he should leave the city immediately and save himself before Nevuchadnetzar arrives.
The second sin is that he did not keep his promise to Nevuchadnetzar that he would not rebel (as the Gemara in Shabbos says).
(c) The MAHARSHA in Berachos says that the Gemara there calls Tzidkiyah a Rasha because of the sins that the verse mentions at the end of Divrei ha'Yamim, as mentioned above.
The PARASHAS DERACHIM (Derush 22) says that the Gemara in Berachos may be relying on the Gemara here that says that he was called "wicked" in Melachim because he did not rebuke the sinners of his generation.
2) THE SINS OF THE EVIL KINGS
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that the sins of the kings of Yehudah became progressively more severe. Menasheh prevented the people from offering Korbanos upon the Mizbe'ach periodically. His son, Amon, stopped the service in the Beis ha'Mikdash entirely, such that spider webs formed upon the Mizbe'ach.
Achav taught the nation to sin with Arayos, and he was steeped in Arayos himself. Menasheh lived with his own sister. Amon lived with his own mother. When Amon was asked how he could do such a terrible thing with the person who gave birth to him, he answered that he was doing it only to anger Hash-m.
The Gemara relates that Yehoyakim said that he could do even more evil than all of them. He declared that "we do not need His light anymore! Let Him take it back, and we will use our glowing gold!" When he was asked that the glowing gold also belongs to Hash-m (as the verse states in Chagai 2:8), he answered that it now belongs to man, for the verse says, "v'ha'Aretz Nasan Livnei Adam" (Tehilim 115:16).
This Gemara is very difficult to understand. What sources does the Gemara have to attribute these terrible acts to these kings? (See MAHARSHA.) Moreover, how was Yehoyakim angering Hash-m in a way worse than the others by telling Him to take back the sun, if he knew that Hash-m would not take it away? Also, what did he mean when he said that "we will use our glowing gold" to provide light instead of the sun? How can gold provide more light than the sun?
ANSWER: The verse often refers to Avodah Zarah as "Z'nus," immorality (see Devarim 31:16). When the Gemara says that Achav encouraged the nation to involve itself in Arayos, it means that he permitted widespread service of Avodah Zarah. When the Gemara says that Menasheh lived with his sister, it refers to the fact that Menasheh placed an Avodah Zarah inside the Heichal of the Beis ha'Mikdash itself, opposite the Menorah of the Beis ha'Mikdash, which represents the Divine wisdom of the Torah. By doing so he intended to show his view that the wisdom learned through the service of the Avodah Zarah outshines that of the Torah. The Gemara refers to this sin as living with his sister because Chochmah, wisdom, is often alluded to as a "sister" (see Mishlei 7:4; see also Berachos 57a, "One who lives with his sister in a dream should expect to become wise").
Amon placed an Avodah Zarah in the Kodesh ha'Kodashim, meaning that he directed the entire service of the Beis ha'Mikdash towards Avodah Zarah. The Midrash says that Hash-m created man from the earth located at the future site of the Mizbe'ach. In that sense, the Mizbe'ach is referred to as a person's mother, the place from which he was born. Amon's act of directing the service of the Mizbe'ach towards Avodah Zarah is compared to an act of immorality with his mother, his source of life. They asked him how he could go so far, and he said that he was doing it only to anger Hash-m. (The Maharsha finds an allusion to his actions in his name. He is called "Amon," which includes the word "Em," or "mother," implying that he committed an immoral act with his mother.)
Yehoyakim said that there is no need for the light of Hash-m's sun, and that Hash-m should take it away. Yehoyakim's mention of the sun was a reference to Hash-m Himself. The Gemara in Sotah (10a) teaches that one of the names of Hash-m is "Shemesh" (see Insights to Yoma 20:3). Yehoyakim meant that the earlier kings -- although they served Avodah Zarah -- also served Hash-m. Although they put the service of Hash-m on an equal, or lower, level than the service of idols, they still recognized the power of Hash-m. In contrast, Yehoyakim said that he would do worse than his forebears. He said, "I will not serve Hash-m at all, but I will serve only my golden idols." The people of his time challenged him, saying that Hash-m made the entire world and it is unreasonable to ignore Him and serve only idols; even the idol worshippers acknowledged the existence of Hash-m (see Ramban to Shemos 20:1). Yehoyakim replied, "I do not need Hash-m's kindness in order to exist in this world, because Hash-m has removed His presence from the world already and is not involved with it anymore" (see MAHARSHA; see Tehilim 113:4 and Malbim there). Serving idols without serving Hash-m was considered a worse sin than serving idols together with Hash-m, as the Gemara in Beitzah (25b) and Sanhedrin (63a) teach.