Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai reports that he found a scroll in Jerusalem that accused King Menashe of having killed the prophet Yeshayahu.
Rava comments that King Menashe did not simply murder him, rather he put him on trial for heresies that appear among his prophecies. Although Yeshayahu could explain each one of them, he chose not to do so, because he knew that Menashe would kill him in any case, and he preferred that Menashe should not be held responsible for murder.
What were the supposed heresies?
- The Torah says that no one can gaze upon God and live (see Shemot 33:20).
- Yeshayahu claims that he saw God sitting on his royal throne (see Yeshayahu 6:1).
- The Torah says that God is always available to us when we cry out to him (see Devarim 4:7)
- Yeshayahu teaches to call out to God when he is close by (see Yeshayahu 55:6)
- The Torah says that every person lives out his appointed days (see Shemot 23:26).
- Yeshayahu told Hezekiah, the King of Judea, that he would have 15 years added to his life (see II Melakhim 20:6).
The Gemara gives explanations for each of these apparent contradictions, but, as noted above, Yeshayahu chose not to defend himself. The Gemara records that Yeshayahu hid in a tree, but the tree was felled and he was killed. The Gemara explains that Yeshayahu was deserving of death because of a disturbing statement that he made about the Jewish people when he said that he lives among a nation whose lips are defiled (see Yeshayahu 6:5).
The rishonim point out that although Yeshayahu makes much more serious accusations against the Jewish nation, in this particular case these words were his own – he was not commanded to say that by God.
The Ritva argues that he still should not have been punished, since the navi clearly writes that Yeshayahu was forgiven for his statement (see Yeshayahu 6:7). He offers two explanations – Yeshayahu was forgiven for making the original statement, but he should not have repeated it in his recorded prophesies, or else that the atonement that is mentioned would only be complete through his death.