Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZRA CHAPTER 4
"And the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the exiles were building the Temple " (v 1). These "adversaries" were the KOOTIM ("Samaritans") and other peoples that Sennacherib had settled in Shomron and the other cities of Israel in place of the Ten Tribes (II Kings 17:24). Their sensors were telling them that a rebuilt Jerusalem would be a serious threat to their comfort as it could herald an Israelite national revival that would bring back the Ten Tribes, who were all too likely to drive them out of the rich and pleasant land in which they had been squatting since the time of Sennacherib. [The present-day "Palestinian" Arab perception of any possibility of a Jewish revival in Israel is based on similar considerations.]
The response of the adversaries to the efforts to rebuild the Temple is an example of the way the SITRA AHRA (the unholy side) is aroused as soon as there is an arousal on the side of the holy (Likutey Moharan I, 22:7). God sends obstacles in the way of those seeking to accomplish a holy goal in order to increase their yearning and longing to the point where they are able to do so. The time had not yet come for the building of the Second Temple , for it had already been prophesied that it would only be built seventy years after the destruction of the First Temple . Zerubavel and Yeshu'a were obliged to TRY to accomplish the holy task, but as yet they could not succeed.
The first ploy of the adversaries was to propose that they should join with the Jews in building the Temple - in order to be able to stall and sabotage the venture from within. The reply of Zerubavel and the other leaders that "You have nothing to do with us in building a House to our God" (v 3) is one of the main sources for the law forbidding receiving dedications and donations from non-Israelites for incorporation in the actual fabric of the Temple building (Rambam, Hilchos Shekalim 4:8; Erchin 1:11; Matonos Aniyim 8:8).
After this rebuff, the adversaries turned to psychological warfare (v 4) in an attempt to discourage and demoralize the Jews. In addition they hired lobbyists in the Persian court in order to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on the king to undermine the project. We learn from verses 5-6 that this campaign was sustained for a period of more than sixteen years until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia .
Cyrus I of Persia , in whose reign this campaign started, is identical with Artahshasta in v. 7: this was the generic name of the Persian kings just as Pharoah was the generic name of the kings of Egypt . Cyrus reigned only two years (3390-2 = 370-368 B.C.E.) and was succeeded by Ahashverosh of Megillas Esther fame. The unnamed individuals who "wrote to him an accusation (SITNAH from the root satan) against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem " (v 6) are identified by Midrash Seder Olam as being none other than the sons of Haman that were eventually hanged. Aside from this reference, the Book of Ezra passes over the events in the reign of Ahashverosh, including Haman's plot against the Jews as foiled by Mordechai and Esther, in complete silence.
Having typified this sixteen year campaign in general terms in vv 5-6, the text in verse 7 goes back to very beginning of the period - for as mentioned earlier, Artahshasta is identical with Cyrus, who reigned for only two years before Ahashverosh came to the throne. One of the great paradoxes of Cyrus is that after having grandiloquently sanctioned the building of the Temple (Ezra 1:1ff), he then made a complete about-turn as a result of the diplomatic machinations of the adversaries.
From verse 7 onwards the text shifts into Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian empire, as it begins to report the correspondence passing to and fro between the adversaries of the Jews in the province of AVAR NAHARA ("West of the River Euphrates") and the imperial court. The text continues in Aramaic until Ezra 6:19.
The letter from the adversaries to Cyrus is recorded in our present chapter vv 7-16. Having established their credentials as representatives of the peoples moved into Shomron and other locations west of the Euphrates by Assnapar (=Sennacherib, vv 9-10, Rashi ad loc.), they immediately warn the king of serious trouble if the "rebellious, bad city" of Jerusalem (v 12) is ever rebuilt. [Their insinuations bear comparison with the best of latter-day anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement.] They warn him that any rebellion by the Jews will hit him hard IN THE POCKET as they will cease paying the various poll-taxes and other kinds of tribute into the Persian treasury (v 13). They advise him to check out the imperial records to see if permission was ever granted to the Jews to rebuild their Temple . The bottom line of their message to the Persian emperor was that if the city of Jerusalem were to be rebuilt and fortified, "you won't have any portion west of the Euphrates " (v 16). If anything was calculated to make the king of a new world empire jump it was this reminder of the likely effects of any re-arousal of Jewish imperial expansionism.
In his reply to the adversaries' letter (vv 17-22), which expresses an historical awareness of the great power of Israel under its mighty kings of the past (v 20), Cyrus reversed his earlier endorsement of the project of building God's House in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1ff). [Similarly, not long after their "Balfour Declaration" of 1917, the British government hastily backtracked from giving genuine support to the building of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, since which time Israel has suffered repeated back-stabbings from this and other professed allies.] Cyrus gave the adversaries carte blanche to interrupt the building of the Temple , which they rushed to do with all haste (v 23), and the work was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia (v 24). (According to the opinion that Darius was the son of Queen Esther, he would have been no more than about six years old when he came to the throne as Esther became queen in the seventh year of the reign of Ahashverosh, who reigned thereafter for only seven more years until he was killed by one of his servants in 3406=354 B.C.E.)
Our text now fast-forwards from the reign of Cyrus, ignoring that of Ahashverosh and jumping directly to the second year of the reign of Darius, when the building of the Temple was resumed. The prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah mentioned in verse 1 of the present chapter are found respectively in Haggai 1:1ff and Zechariah 1:1ff, both of which are date-stamped to the second year of Darius.
The prophets knew through holy spirit that with the death of Ahashverosh and the ascent of Darius to the throne of Persia, the times had changed and now the moment had come to actually build and complete the Temple, work on which started in earnest.
This holy arousal naturally elicited a counter-arousal on the part of the unholy forces and a new set of adversaries headed by Tatnai, the governor of the Persian provinces west of the Euphrates (v 3), now tried to interfere with the building project. After receiving no comfort from the Jews, they wrote to Darius drawing his attention to the unnatural speed with which the Temple was being built in Jerusalem and the unnatural success of the project (v 8).
It is perhaps a sign of the changed times after the death of Ahashverosh and the ascent of Darius to the throne that the tone of their letter is more subdued than that of the adversaries as recorded in ch 4. Now they only enquired of the new king whether it was correct that the building work proceeding apace in Jerusalem had received the sanction of King Cyrus, and as we shall see in the next chapter, Darius reply was in the affirmative.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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