Ezra – Chapter 8

Wagons Ho!

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Now, Ezra, speaking autobiographically, lists the heads of the families that accompanied him to Jerusalem. This list goes from verse 2 until verse 14 and it goes something like this: “From the sons of Elam, Yeshaya the son of Atalya, and 70 other males with him.” So, you can read the text in the original for all the names and numbers.

Ezra assembled his group at the river Ahava, where they camped for three days while he made a log of the thousands of people in the party. (There were over 1,500 males, so one would assume there would have been a similar number of females.) While doing so, a strange (and troubling) detail came to Ezra’s attention: his group had kohanim (priests) and Israelites, but no Levites! So, Ezra dispatched a small delegation of prominent men to Ido, the leader in a place called Casiphia, with a message to send Levites, whose service would be required in the Temple. Levites were located and sent to join the travelers. There were also Nesinim (Gibeonites) among the group ascending to Jerusalem.

Before departing, Ezra proclaimed a fast, during which they woud pray for a safe journey. Ezra had specifically not requested a royal escort since he had assured Darius of G-d’s providence. After telling the king that G-d protects those who seek Him, asking for an armed guard would send a mixed message, to say the least! So they fasted and prayed and, sure enough, G-d enabled them to reach Jerusalem in peace.

Before they left, Ezra took aside twelve people that were under the jurisdiction of the heads of the kohanim, as well as ten others. Ezra divvied up the gold, silver and Temple vessels that the king was sending to Jerusalem and assigned them to this group for safekeeping. He told the group that, as priests and Levites, they were holy to G-d, so he was entrusting them with the Temple treasures, which were also holy. They were instructed to guard them zealously until they could be delivered to the officers of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The group departed the river Ahava on the 12th day of the first month and they arrived safely, having survived enemy ambushes en route. (The details are not provided.) They arrived in Jerusalem, where they camped for three days (presumably to recuperate from the journey). On the fourth day, they counted out all the valuables to the Temple treasurers. After that, the returnees offered sacrifices to G-d. They delivered the directives in the letter Darius wrote (in chapter 7) to the appropriate recipients and added their efforts and contributions to the building efforts.

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