Secrets of Success
In what merit, asked Rabbi Yochanan, did Omri become king of Israel? Because he added another city to Eretz Yisrael!
The source quoted for this settlement effort raises somewhat of a problem. The passage (Melachim I 16:24) which relates that Omri purchased the mountain of Shomron and built the city of Shemer there appears after the account of his rise to the throne. How could this then be the merit which made him a king?
The answer given by the commentaries, based on a midrash, is that Rabbi Yochanan is calling attention to the fact that Omri, alone among all the sinful kings of the Kingdom of Israel, was succeeded by both his son and later his grandson. He merited this because he dedicated himself to the needs of his subjects as expressed in adding a city and caring for it.
In what merit, continued Rabbi Yochanan, did a wicked king like Achav merit to reign as king for 22 years? Because he showed great respect for the Torah which is made up of 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet!
The great respect for the Torah shown by Achav came at a very critical moment in his reign as described in Melachim I, chapter 20. The King of Aram, Ben-Hadad, came with a mighty army and laid siege to Achavs capital, Shomron. He then sent messengers demanding that Achav deliver to them whatever he asks in gold and silver, women and children. Anxious to avoid an invasion at virtually any price, Achav agreed to his demand. The messengers who relayed his consent returned with a new demand that they be enabled to take in their hands the most desirable possession he had the Sefer Torah. Despite his awareness that refusal to do so would mean certain war against overwhelming odds, Achav responded that this last request was something he could not accommodate.
Not only did his courage gain for him a miraculous military victory, but the respect for Torah it expressed, despite his being a confirmed idol worshipper, gained for him a long reign of 22 years.
One-Way Street of Credit
In the listing of kings, in the mishneh at the beginning of our perek, whose sinful ways caused them to lose a share in the World to Come, there appears the name of Menashe the son of Chizkiyahu. Menashes son and successor, Omon, is not listed among them even though we read (Melachim II 21:20) "he did what was evil in the eyes of G-d, like his father Menashe."
The reason for omitting Omon, says our gemara, is out of deference to his son, the righteous King Yoshiyahu. If so, the question is raised, why is Menashe not omitted from this list of shame out of deference to his righteous father, King Chizkihahu?
A son, comes the answer, is capable of endowing his father with merit but a father cannot do so for a son. When G-d states in the Torah (Devarim 32:39) that "no one can save from My hand," He is declaring that "Avraham cannot save Yishmael, nor can Yitzchak save Eisav."
Two explanations are offered by the commentaries for this one-way impact.
One is that a son is a physical extension of his father without whom he would never have come to the world. The mitzvot and good deeds of the son can therefore serve as a source of credit for the father. This is one of the concepts behind the saying of Kaddish and leading the services during the year following the passing of a parent, as is evident from the famous midrash concerning Rabbi Akiva and the wicked tax collector. The same is obviously not true in regard to crediting the son with his fathers mitzvot. (The concept of zchut avot ancestral merits is another issue not relevant to the matter of reward and punishment.)
Another explanation is that there are sinful people who want their children to be better than them and therefore provide them with guidance in the proper direction which enables them to develop into righteous Jews. They therefore deserve some credit for the outcome. But reproof and guidance goes from father to son and not the other way around, so that a son can hardly be credited with impacting his fathers righteousness.