Nehemiah Does a Lot of Great Things, But Is Perhaps a Little Too Pleased With HimselfBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
On the day they dedicated the wall around Jerusalem, they read the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), which comprises the farewell address of Moses. They read how the men of Ammon and Moab were not permitted to join Israel because of the way they treated the Jews in the wilderness. Not only were they inhospitable, they hired Balaam to curse the Jews, though G-d turned the curse into a blessing. When the people heard this, they separated from marrying the Ammonites and Moabites who had been living among them.
Prior to this, Elyashiv the priest had placed some of Tovia’s belongings in a Temple chamber formerly used for actual Temple needs. (Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem when this occurred, so he didn’t know about it.) It burned Nehemiah up that Elyashiv would clear a place in the Temple for Tovia, the troublemaker who had joined Sanvalat in opposing the wall reconstruction. He had Tovia’s possessions removed, purified the chamber, and restored it to its proper use.
After that, Nehemiah discovered that the Levites had not been given their due portions, forcing them to go to the fields to collect them themselves. Nehemiah confronted the leaders and demanded to know why the Temple was unstaffed. When he learned the reason, Nehemiah arranged for the tithes to be brought to the Temple and for officers to distribute them accordingly. Nehemiah asked that G-d remember him for this.
Nehemiah also discovered that the people were desecrating Shabbos (the Sabbath) in order to bring their produce to Jerusalem. He went to the people on market day and warned them about this. There was also a problem with merchants from Tyre transacting business with Jews on Shabbos, so Nehemiah confronted the leaders about permitting this – after all, it was one of the sins that led to the exile in the first place! Nehemiah arranged for the gates to remain closed and to be guarded for the duration of Shabbos. The merchants camped outside the gates once or twice, expecting that they’d open eventually, so Nehemiah told them to get lost. After that, Jerusalem was business-free on the Sabbath; Nehemiah asked that G-d remember him for this, too.
Finally, Nehemiah observed that many Jews had intermarried and half of their children didn’t even speak Hebrew. He opposed the intermarriage – sometimes even physically – and made the people swear not to allow their children to intermarry. Even King Solomon, wise as he was, was led into sin by his non-Jewish wives – do they really think they can do any better?
Elyashiv’s grandson was married to Sanvalat’s daughter. Between the intermarriage and his relationship with the enemy, that spelled trouble, so Nehemiah drove him away. He asked G-d to remember his crusade against intermarriage, as well. (While Nehemiah had the best intentions in his requests that G-d recall his deeds, you may recall from chapter 5 that this was considered an inappropriate request and it is why Ezra is credited with Nehemiah’s Book.)