Avraham ben Yaakov


The grim closing chapter of the Book of Kings laconically records stage by stage the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, the cruel fate of Tzidkiyahu king of Judah and other leading figures of the priesthood and royal court, the exile of most of the remaining population of Judea to Babylon and the final collapse of the last vestiges of Judean independence with the assassination of Gedaliah son of Ahikam.

Our present text is supplemented by the parallel account in II Chronicles ch 36 and in particular by the detailed narrative in Jeremiah chs 37-44 & 52, as well as in various passages in Ezekiel, who prophesied in Babylon during the period of the destruction of the First Temple . The full horror of the siege and capture of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile is graphically expressed in Lamentations and its accompanying midrashim as well as in many passages in the KINOS ("mourning dirges") recited on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple on Tisha Be-Av (9 th of the month of Av, July-August).

Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem "in the tenth month on the tenth of the month" (v 1). This is commemorated by the Fast of the 10 th Teves (December-January), the tenth month counting from Nissan.

In verse 4 we learn that the city walls were breached "on the ninth of the month", and in Jeremiah 52:6 we learn that this was in the fourth month (=Tammuz, July). The Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anis 4) brings an opinion that as a result of the great distress and confusion at that time, the actual date was confused, and that the breach in the city walls in fact took place on 17 th Tammuz, the same date as the breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. These events are thus commemorated in the fast of 17 th Tammuz.

Rashi on v 4 tells us that King Tzidkiyahu had a secret tunnel that led from his house to the plains of Jericho through which he tried to flee. However the Holy One blessed be He arranged that a deer passed by over the opening of the cave outside the city, and when some Babylonian troops chased after the deer they saw the king and captured him, fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel, "And I shall spread My net upon him and he will be caught in My trap" (Ezekiel 12:13).

Although we read in the previous chapter that Tzidkiyahu "did evil in the eyes of HaShem" (II Kings 24:19), the rabbis said that in fact Tzidkiyahu was the saving grace of his generation: "The Holy One blessed be He wanted to return the whole world to formlessness and void on account of the generation of Tzidkiyahu, but when he looked at Tzidkiyahu He calmed down. Then why does it say that 'he did evil in God's eyes'? Because he had the power to protest against what the people of his generation were doing but he failed to do so" (Sanhedrin 103a).

"And in the fifth month on the seventh of the month. he burned the House of God." (vv 8-9). The fifth month is Av. The parallel account in Jeremiah (52:12) states that the burning of the Temple took place on the TENTH of the month of Av. The rabbis resolved the discrepancy by explaining that the Babylonians entered the Sanctuary on the 7 th Av and then ate, drank and desecrated and damaged the Temple until the late afternoon of the 9 th , when they set it on fire, and it kept on burning until it was completely destroyed on the 10 th (Taanis 29a). Since the moment when the Temple was actually set on fire was the most serious, the fast commemorating its destruction was fixed on the 9 th Av.

"And every GREAT house he burned with fire" (v 9): this refers to the study halls and synagogues of Jerusalem , which were destroyed together with everything else (Rashi ad loc.)

Many of the Temple treasures had already been looted in earlier raids (II Kings 24:13), including the gold with which Solomon had overlaid the carved wood paneling that covered the Temple walls on the interior. The account of the bronze vessels that were now looted, including Solomon's pool and the massive pillars with their ornate capitals that flanked the entrance to the Sanctuary Vestibule (OOLAM) echoes the account of how these glorious adornments were originally made by Hiram four centuries earlier (I Kings ch 7) in order to enhance our understanding of the magnitude of the disaster that now struck.

Unlike the Assyrians, the Babylonians did not go in for population EXCHANGE, but simply exiled most of the Judean population to Babylon without importing other peoples to occupy their former lands. Thus Judea was mostly left barren and empty, except for "the poor of the land" who were left to be "vine-dressers and field-workers" (v 12). According to the rabbis, these "vine-dressers" were in fact left to collect the luxury balsam oil from Eyn Gedi and the surrounding areas, while the "field-workers" continued to harvest the HILAZON snails whose blood was used in the manufacture of TECHEILES blue-dye from the coastal strip from Tyre to Haifa (Shabbos 26a).

The Babylonians left Gedaliah son of Ahikam as governor over the remaining Jewish population in Judea . Gedaliah, who was a Tzaddik, followed the policy endorsed by the prophets of accepting the decree of subjugation to Babylon and collaborating with the occupying power. Because of this he was assassinated by those who stubbornly persisted in the belief that they could still fight for Judean independence. His assassination, which is described in greater detail in Jeremiah and which led to the final collapse of the last vestige of Jewish semi-independence in Judea, is commemorated annually by the Fast of Gedaliah on the 3 rd of Tishri (the seventh month, September), immediately following the two-day Rosh HaShanah festival.

Our present chapter thus enumerates all the events that are commemorated in the four annual fasts relating to the destruction of the Temple : 17 Tammuz, 9 Av, 3 Tishri and 10 Teves.

Only in the closing verses of this chapter (vv 27-30) is there any relief from the overall gloom with the account of how immediately after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, his son and successor Eveel Merodokh released Yeho-yachin (who had been exiled and deposed from the throne of Judah in favor of Tzidkiyahu) from prison. The Babylonian king gave Yeho-yachin food from his table. Thus the very curse that King David had put on his commander-in-chief Joab - that his descendants would be lacking in bread - was fulfilled on David's own descendant, who depended for bread on the king of Babylon (Sanhedrin 48b).

May we speedily see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah that "the fast of the fourth and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth (months) will be for rejoicing and happiness for the House of Judah" (Zechariah 8:19).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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