The smoke-and-mirrors world of King Achaz
Our haftorah tells a story which occurred during the reign of Achaz, king of Judah. Although the kings of Judah generally followed the path of the Torah, Achaz was different. Of him it is told that he went in the idolatrous ways of the ten tribes of Israel, and he even passed his own son through fire in observance of the Moloch ceremony.
In our haftorah we find Achaz in a time of travail. He has learned that Pekach, king of Israel, has joined forces with the king of Aram, and is coming to do battle against Jerusalem. Achaz heard this and "his heart and the heart of his people shook like the shaking of the forest trees before the wind."
Hashem then sent Isaiah with a message. "Do not fear or be faint of heart before these two stumps of smoking firebrands." Hashem assured Achaz that no harm would befall Judah. The commentators explain: When a fire is nearly extinguished, the sticks which remain give off a great deal of smoke, but little actual fire. So too the armies of Israel and Aram appear fearsome, but there is no substance behind them.
How did Achaz react upon hearing this message? The answer is given later in the passage in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah saw that Achaz did not believe him, and he cried to Achaz, "You do not trust--for there is no trust within you!" Abarbanel writes that these words contain a double meaning. On the simple level it means that Achaz did not possess faith in Hashem, so he did not believe the word of the prophet. But there is an additional meaning here too. Achaz "had no trust within him"--that is, there was no trust or faithfulness in the way he lived his own life. Everything he achieved was done through deception and knavery. In Achaz the man there was no trust, and therefore he could find in himself no trust to place in the word of Hashem.
Herein lies the lesson of this story. Aram and Israel are all smoke and no substance; they are described as "these two stumps of smoking firebrands." Yet Achaz is simply unable to see them for what they really are, even after he is sent an explicit message from Hashem. Why? Because his entire personal life was all smoke and no substance. He devoted his energies to deceiving everyone. And in the process, he succeeded in clouding his own vision, so that he himself was unable to see things as they really were, as the prophet depicted them for him. He had simply lost the ability.
Only one who commits himself to honesty and uprightness in his personal life, to being open and straightforward in his dealings with others--only he will attain that clarity of vision which can enable him to see the world as Hashem wants him to see it.
Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer
Courtesy of JewishAmerica (www.JewishAmerica.com)
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