Ezra Finally Appears in His Own BookBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
After the Temple was rededicated, during the reign of Darius (referred to here by the title Artachshast), Ezra arrived from Babylonia. Ezra was a kohein (priest) who could trace his lineage all the way back to Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron, the first High Priest. Ezra was a tremendous Torah scholar and the king had granted him everything he requested at G-d’s command. (The Talmud in Megilla 16a suggests the Ezra may have been the same person as the prophet Malachi. For one thing, both spoke out against intermarriage. Another, verse 6 here implies that Ezra was a prophet. If so, “Malachi” may not have been a proper name, but rather a title or a term of endearment meaning “My messenger.”)
A number of others came with Ezra to Jerusalem – priests, Levites, Nesinim (Gibeonites – see chapter 2) – arriving in the fifth month of the seventh year of the reign of Darius. (This was the month of Av, since the reign of secular kings is counted from the month of Tishrei, rather than Nisan.) Ezra had made the journey in four months, uneventfully, thanks to G-d. The reason Ezra merited Divine protection was because he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to studying and teaching Torah.
The king gave a letter to Ezra and to the residents of the city of Ch’enes. The letter stated that any Jews in the empire who wished might accompany Ezra to Jerusalem. Ezra was being sent, the letter said, to investigate the status of Torah observance in Jerusalem. As long as they were going, Ezra was to transport a shipment of treasure that the king and his advisors were donating to the Temple, as well as any other donations of valuables that the Babylonians might like to make. The money would be used to purchase animals and other necessities for the Temple service; Ezra and his colleagues could decide how to spend the change. The vessels of the original Temple, however, could only be used for their intended purpose. Anything else they needed would be paid for from the royal treasury. Darius put in the letter that all his treasurers should speedily comply with Ezra’s requests, up to 100 talents of silver, 100 kor of wheat, 100 baths of wine, the same amount of oil, and all the salt he wanted. Everything that G-d wants should be done – quickly! – so as not to displease Him. Therefore, the priests, Levites and Nesinim – all of whom work in the Temple – are exempt from taxes. As for Ezra, whose wisdom surpasses that of all the the judges, the king charged him with the responsibility of educating the people in Torah. Anyone who does not abide by the Torah, as well as the king’s law, will be subject to punishment, ranging from execution to excommunication to financial penalties to imprisonment. (That’s where Darius’ letter ends.)
Ezra blessed G-d for causing Darius to feel so favorably disposed towards G-d and His Temple. G-d made the king exceptionally helpful to Ezra, enabling him to gather his group to return to Israel.