Avraham ben Yaakov
NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 6
Nehemiah's speedy rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem caused fury among the adversaries, who now plotted to kill him.
To understand the complexity of Nehemiah's situation, we must read the present narrative in the light of information that is only given towards the end of the chapter.
Nehemiah was the de facto leader in Jerusalem at this time - it was he who took the initiative to get the people to build the wall. The leadership of the nation was vested in the Sanhedrin, which included outstanding prophets and sages who had returned from exile in Babylon . Ezra was still alive and active, as we shall see in Chapter 8, where Nehemiah and Ezra work together as a "team" for the spiritual revival of the nation. But where the two are mentioned together, it is Nehemiah who is given precedence (Nehemiah 8:9). Not only was he an outstanding Tzaddik. He had also been appointed governor of Judea by Darius king of Persia , in whose court he enjoyed a position of the greatest influence. He was also very wealthy (see Nehemiah 5:17-18; 7:69, where Hatirshasah=Nehemiah).
Sanvalat and Tuvia and their associates saw themselves as loyal subjects of Persia, which had taken over the Babylonian empire, and they evidently felt they had the right to dwell in the territories in which they lived in its western provinces maintaining the existing status quo without allowing the Jews - with their history of rebellion against imperial rulers like Babylon - to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
It emerges from vv 17-18 that Tuvia enjoyed excellent connections with leading figures in Judea , and he and his son were actually married to prominent Judeans. Rashi (on v 17) states that Tuviah was a YISRAEL RASHA ("wicked Israelite"); however the Talmud in Kiddushin 70a - discussing aspects of the laws of YICHUS ("lineage") in the light of certain verses in our present chapter and the next - implies that he was a heathen.
To add further subtlety to the scene around Nehemiah, we find that already among the penitent returnees from Babylon there were various false prophets (v 10) and prophetesses (v 14) who were using the language of faith day by day to broadcast gloomy messages of doom to Nehemiah in order to discourage him. Moreover there were various agents and informers who were spreading disinformation about Tuvia and reporting back to him about Nehemiah's every word and movement (v 19).
Keeping all this in mind we can better appreciate the wisdom with which this humble man of action pursued his mission. In vv 2-4 the adversaries try to lure Nehemiah to a location where they could kill him. Nehemiah replies that he is too busy to leave Jerusalem . In vv 5-7 Sanvalat sends an open letter accusing Nehemiah of high treason against the Persian king, planning to have himself declared king of Judah . In vv 8-9 Nehemiah absolutely denies the accusations, but is surrounded by people who are trying to demoralize him. In vv 10-13 Nehemiah comes to a "prophet" in Jerusalem who assures him that he knows prophetically that Nehemiah is in such mortal danger that he must take refuge in the Temple Sanctuary (the only place that had gates - the gates of Jerusalem were still not in place). But Nehemiah recognizes him to be a false prophet and refuses to sin by entering the Sanctuary, which is forbidden to a non-priest.
Amidst all this Nehemiah persisted in building the walls of Jerusalem, which were completed - to the consternation of the adversaries - on 25 Elul (v 15), the anniversary of the first day of creation (for man was created on the sixth day, Rosh HaShanah). "For through our God was this labor accomplished" (v 16).
With the completion of the walls of Jerusalem , the last step was to put the doors in position in the city gates, and to charge the gate-keepers of the city and the Temple together with the Temple singers and Levites with their duties. Nehemiah charged his "brother" (=friend) Hanani (see Nehemiah 1:2 and Rashi ad loc.) and Hananiah, governor of the city - "as a man of truth and a God-fearing man for many days" (present chapter v 2) - to open the gates only briefly at a specified time each day to allow people to pass in and out of the city, in order to prevent a surprise attack from the adversaries.
Having built the physical walls of Jerusalem , Nehemiah (in conjunction with Ezra) set about the work of building the spiritual defenses of the nation through family purity.
Prior to the exile, the people of Israel - as a nation of tribal, clan and family networks - carefully guarded their family records and registries of marriages, relationships and personal status. But ever since they had gone into exile intermarriage, immoral conduct and other factors affecting personal status had left considerable confusion. If all this had happened to Judah after only seventy years of exile, it is no wonder that today, two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple and two thousand five hundred years since the exile of the Ten Tribes, untold numbers of Jews and Israelites have completely lost track of their lineage. Only in the last couple of centuries, the mass migrations of Jews from Eastern Europe , attended by chronic persecution and culminating in the holocaust, have caused countless family records and community registers to become lost. It may be that the Mormons - who are assiduous collectors of records of lineage, especially Jewish lineage - know more than many about different people's family backgrounds, but the majority of present-day Jews know little if anything about their great grandparents and even less about earlier generations and their "bloodlines".
Today it is up to each individual who feels his or her Israelite soul stirring within to make a personal covenant of self-dedication to HaShem the God of Hosts, Who knows all the souls and all their incarnations.
One who appreciates what it is to be from the seed of Israel will find it easier to project himself into the mindset of Nehemiah and the Tzaddikim of his time in seeking to establish clear records of the lineage of all the returnees from Babylon in order to lay the foundations of national purity and spiritual strength for the generations to come.
The records of the families of the Israelites, Levites, Cohanim-priests, Gibeonites and Temple servants who came up from Babylon as given in the present chapter overlap with those given in Ezra ch 2. In both chapters the total number of returnees is given as 42,360 (Ezra 2:64, Nehemiah 7:66) but many of the names in our present chapter are different from those in found Ezra, and the individual population figures given for the various families are also not the same.
Metzudas David (on Nehemiah 7:66) explains that the first wave of returnees had come up to Jerusalem with Zerubavel and Yehoshua the High Priest in the second year of Cyrus of Persia, while Nehemiah came up to Jerusalem OVER THIRTY-FIVE YEARS LATER in the twentieth year of Darius of Persia. In giving the names and numbers of the various families in accordance with their different statuses as based on the SCROLL OF LINEAGE Nehemiah found on the completion of the city walls (Nehemiah 7:5), he adjusted them to take account of people who had died and those who had been born since the time of the compilation of the original scroll. In some cases entire families had almost become extinct by the time of Nehemiah, with their surviving members attaching themselves to near relations in other families. In other cases individual branches of certain families had been so prolific that they could be counted as families in their own right (See Metzudas David on Nehemiah 7:66 at length).
"And these are they who came up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Keruv Adon and Eemeir, and they could not tell the house of their fathers and their seed." (v 61). The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) darshens: Tel Melah (="the mound of salt") - these are people whose deeds are like the deeds of Sodom that was turned into a mound of salt. Tel Harsha (="the mound of dumbness"): this refers to a child who calls out "father" and his mother hushes him. "And they could not tell the house of their fathers and their seed if they were from Israel " - this refers to the ASUFI who was gathered in from the street. Keruv Adon and Eemeir: Rabbi Abahu said, "Said (AMAR) the Lord (=Adon), I said Israel should be before me like an angel (KERUV) but they made themselves like a leopard (that mates indiscriminately). Others said in the name of Rabbi Abahu: "Said the Lord, even though they made themselves like a leopard, they are considered before me like an angel." Rabba bar Hana said: Everyone who marries a woman that is not fit for him is considered as if he plowed the whole world and sowed it with salt.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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