Though Sefer Melachim is divided into two parts, Jewish tradition considers it a single book of 47 chapters. As we study these chapters, we experience both the highest points of the history of the children of Israel, and the lowest. Despite the tragic ending, the high points of the book allow us to maintain hope for future.
The book begins with King Shlomo ascending the throne of his father, King David, as the first heir to the Davidic dynasty. Unlike his father, King Shlomo rules over a kingdom that is united, strong and at peace. He is well-known for his wisdom and for his righteousness as a judge. He is also blessed with the opportunity to build the Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim. The Beit Hamikdash becomes the focal point of prayers and of the service of Hashem, for the people of Israel and all those who believe in the One true God. It is an awe-inspiring structure that serves to honor and glorify the Almighty, and to bring His children closer to Him. This is one of the highest points in the history of Israel – the people live as a secure, prosperous and free nation in the land of Israel, they are able to serve Hashem in the most meaningful of ways, and to serve as a light to the other nations.
Unfortunately, the people of Israel are unable to maintain the heights of spiritual and political achievement attained during the times of King Shlomo. After his death, the kingdom is divided into two parts: the northern kingdom of Yisrael and the southern kingdom of Yehuda. Accounts of the sins of the nation and its leaders dominate the second half of Sefer Melachim. Idol worship becomes rampant, and even reaches the Holy Temple.
To be sure, there are important kings and righteous leaders who offer hope. For example, we learn of King Chizkiyahu, who serves Hashem and merits a miraculous rescue of the city of Yerushalayim, and of King Yoshiyahu, who, after discovering a Torah scroll hidden away by his predecessors, leads the people in nationwide repentance. However, such heartening events are overshadowed by the eventual destruction of both kingdoms and exile of their inhabitants. Sefer Melachim ends with the exile of the people of the kingdom of Yehuda to Babylonia and the burning of the Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim.
It would be tempting to close the book with feelings of despair. But, Jewish tradition teaches that just as the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the Mashiach, a future king from the House of David, will be born on that same date. Thus, at the very depths of our grief, we find hope for the future. We know that the people of Israel will yet reach incredible heights, just as they did in the days of King Shlomo. This is hinted at in the story of Eliyahu the Prophet, who does not die but rather ascends to the next world in a fiery chariot. Eliyahu, who is said to be the prophet who will announce the arrival of the Mashiach, is thus our link to both the past and the future.
We live in times of redemption. The children of Israel have come home from the four corners of the earth to Eretz Yisrael, and have achieved sovereignty for the first time in millennia. As in the days of King Shlomo, the righteous among the nations admire the Jewish State for its wisdom, justice and concern for all mankind. Yerushalayim is again the center of prayer to Hashem. All of this, coming so soon after the Holocaust and generations of persecution, is clearly a miracle from God.
There is still a long way to go until the complete redemption. However, Sefer Melachim reminds us of the heights the people of Israel can reach, and the profound impact this can have on the entire world. We pray that the State and people of Israel reach these heights, and that our generation will be blessed with complete redemption.