Sabotage!By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Opposition to rebuilding the Temple arose from the Samaritans, who had been relocated to Israel by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in II Kings 17. They approached Zerubavel and the other leaders and asked for permission to join the construction. (This was subterfuge. Their plan was to infiltrate and sabotage the project.) The Samaritans were insincere converts, who had kept their idols, and they were now claiming loyalty to G-d. Zerubavel and the others replied that, sorry, only the Jews could work on the building, as per Cyrus’ proclamation.
Since Plan A didn’t work, the Samaritans had to move on to the less-subtle Plan B, i.e., merely disrupting things. They got in the way, they intimidated the workers, they even hired “P.R. men” to slander the Jews to the authorities in an attempt to get their building permits revoked. They did this throughout the reigns of Cyrus and Ahasuerus, into the reign of Darius.
The ring-leader, a man named Misredas Taveil, wrote a letter to Cyrus, called here by his title, Artachshasta. The letter was written in Aramaic, using the Hebrew script we currently use (as opposed to the ancient Hebrew script – see Sanhedrin 21b-22a). Others, named Rechum and Shimshai, either transcribed this letter or composed one of their own. This petition was signed by all the locals whose ancestors had been relocated to Israel by the Assyrians.
The letter claimed that the Jews were building a city from which they could rebel. If this would be accomplished, the Jews would secede from the Persian empire and refuse to pay their taxes and other fees. This would be a disgrace to the king. Therefore, the letter’s writers proposed, they would like to halt the Temple construction. Furthermore, they advised the king to read up on the history of Jerusalem. He would see for himself its history of insurrection and understand why it was destroyed in the first place. If the king chooses not to follow their advice… well, they warned him!
Cyrus replied, acknowledging receipt of their letter. He wrote that he looked into the matter and did find that Jerusalem had a history of rebelling against the foreign kings who had occupied it. Therefore, Cyrus was ordering work on the Temple halted until such time as he (or his successor) gave permission for it to resume. The letter writers were given license to impede the Jews.
This reply thrilled the authors of the initial letter and they rushed to Jerusalem, where they interrupted construction with great force. The project would stay on hiatus until the second year of the reign of Darius, the son of Esther and Ahasuerus.
Not to wax political, but the parallels between the events of this chapter and modern events are numerous and obvious, from the opposition to Jews in their native land to international opposition to Israeli construction projects.