Prophet Yirmiyahu had received a
prophecy that the “exile” following the destruction of the First Temple
would be relatively “short” (compared, in any case, to the approximate
2,000 year-long Exile we’re still in, but are, G-d willing, coming out
of); namely, 70 years. Various
Heads of Empires kept getting into trouble because of miscalculation of
these years (Belshazar of “Bavel” and Achashverosh of “Poras,” for
Of course, it was not only the permission
of the Persians that the Jews needed to rebuild; they needed the permission
of HaShem. However, it seems
that the Jews had gotten too comfortable with their position in exile, and
were not in a rush to return to Yerushalayim to rebuild the Temple. Therefore, HaShem said to Chaggai, one of the members of the
group of twelve Prophets known collectively as the “Trei Asar;” he in
particular being among the last prophets of Jewish history (along with
Zechariah and Malachi (who was the last)).
“So says HaShem, the L-rd of Hosts.
Pay attention to your ways.
You have sown much, and brought in little.
You eat, but you don’t have enough.
You drink, but you are not filled with drink.
You clothe yourselves, but you are not warm.
And he that earns wages earns them for a bag with holes.”
“Thus says the L-rd of Hosts.
Consider your ways. Go
up to the hill country, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take
pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, says the L-rd.
You looked for much, but I made it little; and when you brought it
home, I blew upon it. Why? Said
the L-rd of Hosts. Because of
My house that lies waste, while you run every man for his own house….” (Chaggai
1:5-9) (One is almost ashamed
for the Jewish People; but then again, there doesn’t seem to be a great
rush of Jews towards “Eretz Yisrael” now either, when the time is right,
and the need is great).
In any case, they eventually got the
movement going and built, or rebuilt, the Temple. To do this, working under Nechemiah, they had to set an
example for future Israeli Chalutzim, who worked with farming tools in one
hand, and rifles slung on their backs (or something like that).
This was a time or renewal of Judaism
under the leadership of Ezra HaSofer. He
had to force many of the Jews to divorce their wives, because they were not
religiously acceptable. It is
said of Ezra that he was comparable to Moshe in his leadership ability.
The Greeks arrived with Alexander the
Great around 333 B.C.E.; and although at the confrontation of Alexander and
Shimon HaTzaddik, the Jews escaped “miraculously,” (Alexander had seen
the image of Shimon in his dreams before major military campaigns and during
them, he had led him to victory). But
eventually assimilation became a major problem, and the “Mityavnim”
desecrated the Temple. Until in
165 B.C.E., the Maccabim under Matityahu and Yehudah and his brothers, the
Temple was rededicated.
Now Judaism really began to flourish.
But soon the Romans arrived and the tremendous pressure against the
Jews to abandon the Torah became great enough that the Torah she-b’al-peh,
the Oral Law, had to be written down. And
Tannaim, including the great Rabbi Akiva led this movement.
Apparently, during all this time (about
420 years, or more than 600 years (depending on which scholar one
believes)), the Temple was standing and functioning, but with major flaws.
"Rabbi Yochanan said, 'What is the
meaning of the verse in The Book of "Mishlei" (Proverbs 28) which
reads, 'Fortunate is the one who is always fearful, but the one who is hard
of heart will suffer misfortune?' It was because of 'Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza'
that Yerushalayim was destroyed …"
"For there was a certain individual
who was friendly with Kamtza, but who was an enemy of Bar-Kamtza. He made a
feast and said to his servant, 'Go and bring Kamtza to my feast,' but the
servant brought Bar-Kamtza instead."
"The one who made the feast found
Bar-Kamtza seated there. He said to him, 'Since you are my enemy, what are
you doing here? Get up and get out!' Bar-Kamtza said, 'Since I'm here
already, let me stay, and I will pay you for what I eat and drink.' "
"The host responded, 'No!' "
" 'I will pay for half the cost of
the feast.' "
" 'No!' "
" 'I will pay the entire cost
of the feast!' "
" 'No!' And he seized Bar-Kamtza,
stood him up, and threw him out!"
"Bar-Kamtza thought, 'Since the Rabbis
were there, saw the whole thing, and did not protest, obviously they had
no objection to my embarrassment! I'll go now, and have a little
feast-of-slander with the king."
"Bar-Kamtza went to the Caesar and
declared, 'The Jews have rebelled against you!' "
"The Caesar responded, 'Who said
"Bar-Kamtza said, 'Send them a
sacrifice, and see if they will offer it.' "
"The Caesar sent (with Bar-Kamtza) a
healthy, unblemished ram. While going, Bar-Kamtza caused a disfigurement in
the animal. Some say that it was a blemish on the upper lip; others say that
it was a blemish in the eye (perhaps symbolizing the silence of the rabbis,
or their witnessing of the event of his disgrace without protest); in any
case, a place where for us it is a disqualifying blemish while for the
Romans, it is not."
"The Rabbis had in mind to sacrifice
it anyway to maintain peaceful relations with the government. But Rabbi
Zechariah son of Avkulos objected, 'People will say, 'Animals with blemishes
may be sacrificed on the altar!' "
"The Rabbis had in mind to kill Bar-Kamtza
so that he would not report what had happened to the Caesar! But Rabbi
Zechariah son of Avkulos objected, 'People will say, 'One who makes
blemishes in sacrifices is killed!' "
Rabbi Yochanan said, "The excessive
carefulness of Rabbi Zechariah son of Avkulos destroyed our Temple, burned
our Palace, and exiled us from our Land."
Additional significant events are
recounted there in the Talmud, but these are enough to paint a picture of a
group of Torah "scholars," the majority of whom had become
corrupted such that the embarrassment of a human being was less important in
their eyes than the offering of a sacrifice according to all the details of
the Torah, and this was true in their eyes even when that would throw the
whole nation into danger.
At the end of the section on the
destruction of the Holy Temple, there is a statement by Rabbi Elazar, as
follows, "Come and see what is the tremendous negative impact of
embarrassing someone, for Hashem helped Bar-Kamtza and destroyed His House
and burned His Palace."
Yehudah held on to some independence and
even mounted another significant revolt again, about 65 years later, that
was led by Bar-Kochba, and
that had the spiritual backing of Rabbi Akiva, who believed that Bar Kochba
was in fact the Mashiach. Until Bar Kochba killed one of the Tannaim, whom he believed
incorrectly had given the Romans crucial information. Then Rabbi Akiva realized that he had been wrong, or that Bar
Kochba had lost a great opportunity, but in any case was not the Mashiach.
Rabbi Akiva himself was a member of an
exclusive group of “Ten Martyrs,” who have been grouped together by
Jewish History even though they were not contemporaries, but they were all
killed by the same oppressor for the same reason: the learning and the
teaching of Torah. The story of
Rabbi Akiva’s execution, in brief, follows:
He died a martyr's death, having his skin
flayed from his body, which he accepted with joy(!?), seeing it as the
fulfillment of the command to love G-d with his whole life.