Does history repeat itself? Probably not, but certain symptoms of the human condition are recognizable throughout the generations. And on this matter, reading the Book of Kings proves to be a primer on the inner workings of governance both for good and bad. This week, we begin the cycle of the four special haftarot which precede Pesah. The first of these, for Shabbat Shekalim, opens with the tale of the measures taken to protect the heir-apparent to the throne of the House of David from the evil machinations of his grandmother who wanted him dead so she might usurp the throne. The fact that there was political intrigue in the royal family goes to illustrate that even the reign of the House of David was not always idyllic.
A few details are in order. Not unsurprisingly, neither Israel nor Judah lived in a vacuum. In order to survive, alliances were necessary and alliances required royal marriages. One such marriage brought Athaliah, a daughter of the house of Omri from Israel, into a marriage with Jehoram of Judah. When Jehoram died, he was succeeded by his son, Ahaziah, son of Athaliah. When Ahaziah was killed in a coup against the king of the northern kingdom (I told you things were complicated), Athaliah usurped the throne, killing all the royal seed (including her children and grandchildren), leaving one grandson, Jehoash, who was saved from Athaliah by his aunt and hidden in the Temple, and anointed as king. Think of it, the line of King David was tainted by these terrible events.
I imagine that those living through this horrendous episode thought their society was disintegrating. One could very easily fall into a state of despair and desperation. The very foundations of society were torn asunder. Society was saved by people who were willing to step up to the responsibility to respond to the wrongdoings and to commit themselves to restoring sanity, stability and civil behavior to their world.
The ideal past never really existed despite our desire to romanticize it. In that sense it is no different from the present. The message of the story is that when the world becomes dark, society has to work hard to fix things, to pick up the pieces and make them right and continue forward, hopefully to a better and more ideal future. It is in our hands to restore honor and dignity when they have been lost.