Pesachim 55-56 Honoring a wicked father

In the previous post, we quoted how the Gemara applied the passuk  “ועמך כולם צדיקים”  (and your nation are all righteous) to 2 different communities with opposite halachik practices, so long as they both grounded in halachically sound considerations.

This passuk is also applied at an individual level (Sanhedrin 90a) where the Mishna brings it to prove that “כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא”  (“all of Israel have a share in the world to come.”)

Yet unfortunately, neither the passuk nor the words of the Mishna are without qualifications.

The very same Mishna lists a variety of sins for which one can lose one’s portion in עולם הבא .

And on Daf 56 in our Masechta, we are told how King Chizkiyahu dragged the bones of his wicked father King Achaz on a cheap  bed made of ropes, and how the sages agreed with his actions.

The Mishna at the bottom of daf 55b tells us about 6 unusual practices of the people of Jericho, 3 of which the sages protested, and 3 of which they did not.

The Gemara opens with a Beraisa that records 6 things done by King Chizkiyahu, 3 of which the sages approved, and 3 of which they did not approve.

At face value, the only connection that stands out is the numbers of questionable practices performed and the equal split between the things that Chazal reacted negatively to and those that they were either silent  (in the case of the people of Jericho) or complementary about (in the case of Chizkiyahu.)

At a deeper level, it is possible that there many connections, and I would like to suggest one.

One of the practices of the people Jericho that Chazal did not protest was “כורכין את שמע”  (literally tying up the Shema.)

The Gemara brings various views as to what this means.  Rabbi Yehuda opines that they did not make any break between the first passuk of Shema and the first paragraph to say “ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד”  as we are accustomed to do.

The Gemara proceeds to discuss the reason that we say this verse, and notes that it was the response Yaakov gave to his sons when they all confirmed their loyalty to the faith by saying the words of the Shema in front of him.

Yaakov was afraid that like his father Yitchak and Grandfather Avraham before him, not all his progeny would follow in his path, and when he was reassured by his sons that they would do so, this famous line was his response.

Unlike Yaakov, Chizkiyahu’s grandfather, the righteous king Yotam, did not have the same fortune, and his son and successor, Achaz, become one of the most wicked kings in our history (Melachim II/ 16.)

It is a sign of the greatness of King Chizkiyahu that he was able to rise above the evil legacy of his father and rebuild a Torah society (Melachim II/18), but he too shared the misfortune of his grandfather, and his own son, Menashe, become the most wicked king we ever had (Melachim II/21.)

Perhaps the people of Jericho felt that saying the passuk “ברוך שם”  was insensitive to those who despite their righteousness, did not share the same fortune as Yaakov when it came to all their offspring, and in the tragic cases of King Yotham and King Chizkiyahu, their very heirs.

Although Chazal did not agree with them and chose to focus on the ideal experience that our last forefather, Yaakov had, they did not wish to protest given the good intentions of the people of Jericho and their strong argument.

Back to the halachik subject at hand, Chizkiyahu was praised for degrading his late wicked father by dragging him on a bed made of ropes, which seems to indicate that the mitzva of honoring one’s father does not apply to a wicked man like Achaz.

Before jumping to any conclusions however, we need to examine the nature of and reasons for this action of Chizkiyahu.

Rashi offers two explanations:

  1. Rather than afford him the normal honors given to a king or wealthy person, he was given a poor mans treatment as an atonement for his terrible sins.
  2. This was done for the sake of Kiddush Hashem to show how a wicked man like that was disgraced and encourage other wicked people to mend their evil ways.

According to the first explanation, the actions of Chizkiyahu were for the benefit of his wicked father and helped him achieve atonement.  As such, it is possible that this was not a case of the mitzva of כבוד אב ואם    not applying to a wicked father, but rather of it being the best thing for his honor in the long term, similar perhaps to giving one’s father a curative injection.

According to the second explanation, this was not done for the long-term benefit of Achaz’s soul, but rather for the sake of the Mitzva of Kiddush Hashem.

Here again, there is no need to conclude that the mitzva of honoring parents does not apply at all to a wicked parent, but rather that the mitzva of Kiddush Hashem simply takes priority. It could well be that in a private setting, Chizkiyahu might have still shown honor to his father, and that a wicked person who did not have the same public status and power that King Achaz has, would still be entitled to a degree of כבוד.

Another difference between the two explanations in Rashi could possibly relate to the nature of Chizkiyahu’s actions:

According to the first explanation, Chizkiyahu did not necessarily degrade his father, but simply withheld honor from him.

According to the second explanation, however, Chizkiyahu intended to degrade him as a message to other wicked people, and Rashi highlights this by use of the word “שיתגנה”.

Whereas the second explanation seems to indicate that actively degrading one’s wicked father is permitted, the first merely indicates that withholding honor is acceptable.

We should also note that either way we learn this, Achaz was no longer alive at the time, and although there is a mitzva to honor parents after death as well (Kiddushin 31b) , it would be pushing things to attempt to prove anything from this case regarding honoring a wicked parent who is still alive.

Further, defining someone as wicked is a complex task, which most people are not even qualified to do, and comparing anyone to a totally wicked king like Achaz who not only sinned in the most awful ways but corrupted his people in those same ways is most of the time completely off the mark.

There are other important sugyas that are relevant to this topic (see for example Sanhedrin 85b and compare with Yevamos 22b), which ultimately lead to a significant halachik debate on this matter  (see Y.D. 240/18), but as is our way in these posts, we shall focus for now on what we can get from this daf and look forward to carrying on the discussion as the relevant sugyos come up!

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

 

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