The haftarot for the first two days of Pesach each describe two noteworthy historical Pesach celebrations. Last year we examined the Pesach of Yehoshua upon crossing the Yarden into Eretz Yisrael. On the second day, outside of Eretz Yisrael, we read about the Pesach of Yoshiyahu. Of this the navi tells us that there never was a Pesach like it from the time of the Judges through all the kings of Yisrael and Yehuda. (Melachim II 23:22).
Rashi and other mefarshim link this chronology to Shmuel, the last of the judges who anointed the first kings. There is something unique about the celebration of Pesach that Shmuel and Yoshiyahu achieved, but apart from Moshe and B’nei Yisrael in Mitzrayim, it has not been replicated. Similarly, at the end of our haftara (ibid. 25) we learn that there was never another king before or after Yoshiyahu who did complete teshuva to such an extent.
The Malbim follows the teaching of Don Yitzchak Abarbanel in connecting the perfect teshuva of Yoshiyahu to the perfect observance of Pesach. Abarbanel teaches that since Shmuel nobody was as diligent as Yoshiyahu in destroying avoda zara and purifying the nation and its places of worship. Malbim takes this message further and says that this is the true essence of Pesach. In Mitzrayim we signified our faithfulness to Hashem by literally slaughtering the idolatry of the surrounding population. We purified ourselves and consecrated ourselves to the exclusive service of Hashem.
This is the true meaning of Pesach – to restore the unique relationship between ourselves and our Creator, as individuals and as a collective. Every person of the nation of Israel must prepare himself or herself and perform these rituals, but more important, according to the Malbim, each of us must purify our thoughts and actions in order to properly observe Pesach. So too, we come together as families, as neighborhoods and tribes, in our communal celebrations. All of Israel ascends to the Beit HaMikdash to bring the korban Pesach.
It is this conjunction of true repentance with sincere performance of the commandments that sets the stage for redemption. From Shmuel until Yoshiyahu, this did not happen. Unfortunately, in the generation of Yoshiyahu, although his teshuva was complete, we know that Israel quickly reverted to their wicked ways and the reign of Yoshiyahu was tragically short. A lost opportunity. Immediately after the apparent happy ending of our haftara, we learn of the not so happy ending of Yoshiyahu and the beginning of the chain of events that would lead to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the second exile following Mitzrayim. Ralbag teaches that had Yoshiyahu only succeeded in inspiring Israel to do teshuva as he himself did, then the anger of Hashem at His idolatrous people might have abated and the exile and all future exiles might have been avoided.
By the same principle, all we have to do as individuals, families, communities, and a nation is to truly repent our misdeeds and devote ourselves entirely to Hashem on this Shabbat which is also Pesach – and then perhaps nobody will read of Yoshiyahu this year because we will all return to Yerushalayim in time for the bringing of the Omer.