Even shuls that omit kinnos in order to recite the rest with more kavana generally say the one describing King Yoshiyohu’s tragic death by Egyptian arrows. Yet specifically this kinah seems strangely out of place; after all, the king’s death occurred twenty-two years before the Churban.
Always Take Counsel
There are four answers to this question.
To get a handle on the subject let us go through some verses of Divrei Hayo-mim II (chapters 35-36) that describe hislife and death. The Tanach tells us that when Pharaoh Necho of Egypt wanted to pass through Eretz Yisroel in order to attack King Charchemish of Assyria, Yoshiyohu refused to let him through. He attacked the Egyptians in the valley of Meggido where Egyptian archers severely wounded him and he died in Yerushalayim. The story ends by saying, “All the singing men and the singing women spoke of Yoshiyohu in their lamentations until this day and made them a law in Yisroel, and they are written in the Lamentations (Kinnos).”
Rashi there explains that it is because of this last verse that we recite Yoshiyohu’s kinah on Tisha B’Av. As the verse intimates, even if his death is not necessarily connected with Tisha B’Av in any way, it is proper to mention his tragic death on all mournful occasions. Rashi concludes that this includes times “such as on Tisha B’Av when we say Kinnos over the decrees that happened in our time; so too we weep over the death of Yoshiyohu.”
This is the first answer to the question we raised at the beginning of the article. Even if the king’s death had nothing to do with Tisha B’Av, we would still mention it on Tisha B’Av since it is a time of commemorating other national sorrows such as the Crusades.
A second answer is that Yoshiyohu’s death was actually an integral part of the Churban and worthy of being includedamong the Kinnos in its own right. How is this?
Chazal (Ta’anis 2b) tell us that Yoshiyohu died during the battle against Egypt as punishment for not listening to Yirmiyohu, who sent word that he should allow them passage before set-ting out. The king thought he had a right to keep Pharaoh from passing through Eretz Yisroel because the Torah promises that if the Jews are righteous, “No sword shall pass through your land” (Vayikra 26:6), including even a foreign army passing through on its way to somewhere else. His mistake was that the Jews were by no means righteous and were actually worshipping idols on the sly.
This Chazal is puzzling since the king’s infraction of failing to take Yirmiyohu’s advice seems hardly sufficient to earn him the death penalty. Deeper investigation intimates that Yoshiyohu’s death was not only because of this error, but also due to the nation’s idolatrous tendencies.
The Tanach tells us that even though the king began purging the country of idolatry from his twelfth year, the people clung so obstinately to their idols that during the eighteenth year of his reign a terrible portent was discovered in the Bais Hamikdash. This happened during extensive renovations of the Temple when Chilkiyohu the Kohein discov-ered an ancient Torah scroll rolled open to the verses of Devorim (chapter 26) that curses whoever fails to uphold the Torah and describes how this can lead to exile from the land. The prophetess Chuldah informed Yoshiyohu that this was a warning of impending Churban: “So says Hashem – Behold, I will bring evil on this place and upon its people, all the curses that are written in the book. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods.” Only the righteous Yeshiyohu would be spared by dying before the trouble began: “So says Hashem, Because you [Yoshiyohu] humbled yourself before your G-d when you heard His words against this place, I will gather you to your fathers in peace; your eyes shall not see all the evil that I will bring on this place and upon its people.”
Although the king then made even greater efforts to draw the people to Hashem, he realized that it might be too late and hid the Holy Ark deep under the ground (Yuma 52b). From all this we see that the king’s death was not only due to his mistake in attacking Egypt, but was also in order to spare him from the imminent Churban that would arrive due to the people’s idolatry. Indeed, Chazal say that were it not for the people’s merit of lamenting over his death, the Churban would have come immediately after the Egyptians killed him.
This point that the king was under-mined by the people’s sins is emphasized in Rav Elazar Ha’Kalir’s kinah:
“He was eight years old when he began to search for Hashem… yet when the sons of Chom camped against him his many deeds were not remembered to his credit. Even though none among all the kings of Yisroel rose like him since the days of Moshe, the sin of the mockers of the generation clung to him, those who rose up to make images be-hind their doors… He did not heed the seer and turn back, for the decree had been made to set Egypt against Egypt.” The Kalir’s words suggest that the people’s idolatry caused the king to make the mistake of failing to take Yirmiyohu’s advice. The people’s terrible sin led him to commit a fatal sin of his own.
The Power of Mockery
The Kalir writes that “the sin of the mockers of the generation clung to him.” What exactly did this mockery entail?
The medrash (Eicha Raba 1:53) writes that the king was confident that he could attack Pharaoh because he had sent inspectors to search people’s homes and was absolutely confident that idolatry had been rooted from the land. Therefore, Hashem would keep His promise to allow no sword to pass through the land. However, the people had fooled him as the medrash concludes:
“He did not know that his whole generation was idolatrous. When he sent a pair of talmidei chachomim to search for idols in their homes, they searched and found nothing. As they were leaving, the people would say, ‘Close the doors,’ and when they closed the doors one could see it [an idolatrous image drawn behind the doors].” The people then mocked the inspectors saying, “The people who came to rectify matters are the same ones that wreaked destruction [by opening the doors as they left and revealing the idols].”
This was the sin of the mockers of the generation that clung to him. Through the power of mockery, Yoshiyohu’s efforts to save the people from Churban came to a horrifying end.
A third answer to the question we raised at the beginning of the article is that just as we mention national tragedies such the Crusades during the Kinnos, so we mention the death ofYoshiyohu because the king is representative of the whole people and his tragedy is our tragedy.
Finally, we can answer the question we raised at the beginning of the article by noting that of the six kings who preceded the Churban for 110 years, Yoshiyohu was the only one who exerted himself to emend the people’s ways. With his passing, the people lost the best opportunity of a century to make a turnabout before it was too late.