Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZRA CHAPTER 10
" Judah has dealt treacherously and a disgusting thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem ; for Judah has profaned the holiness of HaShem that He loved, and has married the daughter of a strange god." (Malachi 2:11). In the Talmud, Rav Nahman brings this verse as support for the statement by R. Yehoshua ben Korhah that Malachi is identical with Ezra, one of whose greatest achievements was to eliminate the blight of intermarriage that cut at the very foundations of the people.
It was the sight of this saintly priest and prophet in the newly built Temple , praying, weeping and confessing in the name of the entire nation, that brought all the assembled people to a great swell of Teshuvah, with all the men, women and children weeping (v 1).
"And SHECHANIYAH the son of YEHIEL from the children of EILAM answered and said to Ezra, We have trespassed against our God and have taken alien women." (v 2). It is interesting that in verse 26, where YEHIEL is listed among the children of Eilam who had taken foreign wives, his son Shechaniyah is NOT mentioned as one of those who had done so. Yet Shechaniyah still stepped forward to "confess". Why?
The Talmud explains by telling how one time while R Judah the Prince was teaching his disciples, he smelled a strong smell of garlic. He told whoever had eaten garlic to leave. His best student, R. Hiyya, immediately got up and left, and then everyone else also got up and left. The following morning R. Judah's son Shimon found R. Hiyya and asked how he could dare offend his father - until R. Hiyya confessed that he had not eaten garlic at all. From whom did R. Hiyya learn this way of saving others from embarrassment? From R. Meir. For once a woman came into the Beis Midrash and said "One of you made me his wife by sleeping with me." On hearing this R. Meir immediately got up and wrote her a Get ("bill of divorce") and on seeing this, all the other students also wrote her a Get. And who did R. Meir learn it from? From Shmuel HaKatan. And Shmuel HaKatan learned it from Shechaniyah the son of Yehiel (Sanhedrin 11a).
Getting up first in front of everyone to confess to having intermarried was a courageous act on the part of Shechaniyah that was intended to make it easier for all those who really were guilty to confess and begin to repair the damage. Shechaniyah asked Ezra to set the process in motion, and the latter - continuing his fasting and repentance - gave orders for all the returnees to assemble in Jerusalem , warning that anyone who failed to do so would be penalized by having all his property declared ownerless (v 8). This verse is the foundation for the law that Beis Din (a rabbinic court) is entitled to use the sanction of declaring the property of recalcitrant individuals HEFKER, ownerless and free for anyone to take (Shekalim 3b).
This great national assembly was held on the 20 th of the month of Kislev (v 9) - which is in December at the height of Israel 's rainy season, usually one of the coldest, windiest times in Jerusalem . We can imagine what a chilly, sorrowful occasion it was as the bedraggled crowd confronted the enormity of what they had allowed to happen during their exile. Everyone was willing to do what was necessary to purify the nation, but it was simply too cold to stand outside in the rain now and complete the very delicate and time-consuming work needed to rectify the flaw.
Ezra laid down a timetable for the returnees from the various different cities of the exile to appear together with their elders and judges in order to check into what had happened in each family and separate Israelites from their foreign wives and children. We need only try to imagine what it would take today to separate home-born Jews who have intermarried from their non-Jewish spouses and children in order to get a glimmer of understanding of the enormous, heart-rending enterprise Ezra carried out in his time with priests, Levites and Israelites alike.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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