After Yirmiyahu was rescued from the tar pit, Tzidkiyahu arranged a private meeting with him. Israel had been almost totally conquered, the Jews exiled, and Jerusalem was on the verge of falling. The little that was left of his kingdom had split into warring factions, the pro-surrender and anti-surrender camps. Tzidkiyahu was desperate for prophetic advice.
The last king of this era is not portrayed favorably in Tanach. All three books that mention him – Melachim, Divrei Hayamim, and Yirmiya – introduce him by stating that he did what was bad in Hashem's eyes. After all, his job as a king was to be a strong leader who rallied the people to serve Hashem. Instead, he displayed weakness before his wicked officers, failed to heed the warnings of Yirmiyahu, and violated an oath he made to Nevuchadnetzar, which brought the siege upon Jerusalem.
On the other hand, Chazal portray Tzidkiyahu in far more magnanimous terms. A Midrash on the story with Eved Melech refers to Tzidkiyahu as unusually righteous (cited by Rashi to 38:7) and the Gemara teaches that he was “complete in his actions” (Horayos 11B). He made some serious blunders as a king – a position he was thrust into during the worst of times – and he paid dearly for them. However, he was not wicked like many of his predecessors, who were responsible for the dire situation that overwhelmed him.
In chapter 38, beginning with verse 14, Tzidkiyahu has his final recorded conversation with Yirmiyahu, in secret. Tzidkiyahu pleads with Yirmiyahu to advise him and hold nothing back. After all the persecution he has already experienced, Yirmiyahu initially demurs (verse 15). “If I tell you, won't you surely kill me? And if I advise you, you won't listen to me.”
Tzidkiyahu swears by Hashem's name that he will not kill Yirmiyahu or deliver him into the hands of those who wish to kill him. Yirmiyahu then delivers a straightforward message from Hashem (verses 17-18):
“So says Hashem, the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: If you go out to the officers of the king of Bavel, then your life will be spared, and this city will not be burned. You and your household will live. But if you don't go out to the officers of the king of Bavel, then this city will be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans, they will burn it down, and you will not escape from their hands.”
Tzidkiyahu is given a clear choice by someone he knows is a true prophet, and the correct decision could not be more clear. We would assume that anyone with his head on straight would save himself, his family, and Jerusalem. There was really no other option at this point.
But Tzidkiyahu makes a stunning admission (verse 19): “I'm worried that they will deliver me into the hands of the Jews who surrendered to the Chaldeans, and they will make light of me.”
Radak writes that Tzidkiyahu was worried that these Jews would actually kill him in revenge and scorn, because they had surrendered in secret, under penalty of death from Tzidkiyahu, and now he was doing the same. However, Rashi and Metzudas David explain it literally; Tzidkiyahu was afraid of being mocked for his actions.
Yirmiyahu urged him to listen to Hashem's instructions, in which case he would live and things would be good for him. Otherwise, he would be captured, and the city would be burned to the ground.
Tzidkiyahu told Yirmiyahu not to reveal their conversation to his officers, and disregarded the prophet's words. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the city and Beis Hamikdash, and massacred nearly everyone. They captured Tzidkiyahu attempting to flee, exiled him, slaughtered his children before his eyes, then blinded him. Tzidkiyahu spent his remaining years in prison.
Yirmiyahu told him this would happen if he didn't surrender. Tzidkiyahu trusted Yirmiyahu and still didn't listen. Was he insane?
No. The Torah does not teach us lessons from insane people. Tzidkiyahu was a righteous, intelligent man, and he did exactly what many of us would have done if we were in his situation. Even though the right choice could not have been more clear, he made the wrong choice, and lost everything.
Why? Because he was worried that people would make fun of him. They would call him a coward, and a hypocrite, and whatever other slurs were fashionable at the time. He could not bring himself to publicly admit that his previous actions were incorrect and change course, no matter the consequences.
This is a stark insight into human psychology. We like to believe that we make important decisions based on what we really think is right, and that if someone “proves” that we are wrong we will change accordingly. We like to believe that if a true prophet gave us clear, direct advice we would unquestioningly heed his words. If only we could have such certainty!
The reality, of course, is completely different. We typically make decisions based more on habit, bias, and convenience, and no evidence that we made a poor choice will ever be proof enough. Most of us don't need prophets, because we wouldn't listen to them anyway, any more than our predecessors did. In fact, such people are better off not having prophets, lest they defy them and compound the damage.
Many people in positions of influence have given their followers very poor direction regarding masks, dangerous injections, and the overall situation. Day after day, it becomes increasingly hard to deny that the establishment is corrupt, their mandates have nothing to do with our health, and “the science” they ram down our throats is no more trustworthy than the people behind it. Everyone can be excused for having been misled; I too was serious about masks in the beginning, and my initial suspicions about the crapcines were based more on prudence than recognition of the incredible evil behind them. There is no shame in this. Live and learn.
Tzidkiyahu was a righteous man, and he probably believed in the beginning that Hashem would save Jerusalem, as He had done so many times when things looked bleak. When Yirmiyahu told him that it was over, the decree could no longer be changed, and it was best to surrender, Tzidkiyahu did not argue otherwise. He simply could not humiliate himself before those who would scorn him. The facts didn't matter. His pride caused him to lose everything, when so much could still have been saved.
How many rabbis and leaders today are essentially good people, and they know deep down that they have misled their people? How many of them are continuing to deny and dismiss the information that comes out day after day, not because it isn't credible, but because their pride stands in the way? How many of them are more afraid of what people will say if they concede that “the crazy conspiracy theorists” weren't so crazy after all than the consequences of continuing on their erroneous path?
How many people will continue to pump “boosters” of dangerous garbage into their bodies only because they cannot accept that they never should have taken any at all?
How many parents will sacrifice their children rather than admit they were misled and made poor decisions?
How many people will continue to double down on foolish bets and ultimately lose everything, only because they can't bear the humiliation of folding and cutting their losses?
From all indications, the vast majority of people who have made foolish decisions to this point will ride their train all the way to the end, because getting off at any of the remaining checkpoints – which includes an admission of error – is a fate worse to them than death itself. They can read chapter 38 of Yirmiya and be astonished by Tzidkiyahu's ruinous behavior – was he crazy?! – then close the book and emulate it.
I am not a prophet and cannot convince people better than Yirmiyahu. I can only implore them to learn from our predecessors, from their successes and their mistakes, and not allow pride to stand in the way of proper choices that are increasingly hard to deny.
Tzidkiyahu chose to lose everything rather than subject himself to scorn. Will you?
To be continued...