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Destruction of the First Temple

Destruction of the First Temple

Destruction of the First Temple

When Nebuchadnezzar ascended to power, a heavenly voice was heard in his palace and whispered, "Evil servant! Go and destroy the holy Temple, whose rebellious sons only show disdain for the word of G-d! "

The Journey to the Conquest of Jerusalem

Nebuchadnezzar was hesitant and he did not know what to do. On one hand, he desired to assert his power and conquer the walled city of Jerusalem, and on the other hand, he was seized with a paralyzing fear. He tried to find precursory signs that would reveal to him which direction to take.

He shot an arrow in the name of Rome, but it did not go. He made another attempt this time in the name of Alexandria, but it failed again.

He made another attempt in the name of Jerusalem and this time the drawn arrow took flight and continued its course without interruption. He then attempted an additional sign: He sowed seeds in a field in the name of Rome without result. He did the same in the name of Alexandria, but again the seeds failed to grow. When he sowed in the name of Jerusalem, the seeds began to grow. Continuing the same process, he tried to light a torch in the name of Rome without success. It was the same for Alexandria. When he renewed his attempt in the name of Jerusalem, the torch ignited immediately.

From these signs, Nebuchadnezzar deduced that the conquest of Jerusalem was now becoming accessible. Thus, during the second year of his reign (the year 3321 after the creation of the world), Nebuchadnezzar besieged and caused Jerusalem and his king Joachim to surrender. Its inhabitants would not be exiled but enslaved and subjected to heavy taxes.

In practical terms, Joachim continued to reign over Jerusalem while being a slave to Nebuchadnezzar. This situation lasted for three years. At the end of the third year, Joachim decided to recover the independence of the kingdom of Judah by submitting the ministers appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to administer the kingdom of Judah under his authority. Joachim succeeded in stifling his rebellion by canceling the various impositions, and for three years the kingdom of Judah regained its independence and freedom of decision. Engaged in other military campaigns, Nebuchadnezzar seemed indifferent to the new situation that was being established despite his authority. However, at the end of this third year, he decided to avenge his defeated honor.

Accompanied by a powerful army, he went up again to Jerusalem where he crushed the revolt. In his fury, he decided to imprison Joachim and appropriated some of the utensils of the Beit Hamikdash. Joachim, weakened by many wars, could not overcome this ordeal and died in the jails of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar enthroned a new king by the name of Jeoachim, son of the deceased king.

The Siege of Jerusalem

Jeremiah's prophecies gradually began to be realized. Towards the ninth year of Tzsidkiyahu's reign, Nebuchadnezzar gathered his armies and went to Jerusalem with the firm intention of crushing the revolt.

Reaching the city of Ribla, he established his camps there. Again, he began to have doubts. The idea that Hashem could have in store for him the same fate as Sancheriv, evoked in him a feeling of fear that was difficult to master. He finally decided to delegate in his place the leader of his armies Nevuzardan. He ordered him to enter Jerusalem, equipped with three hundred thousand donkeys loaded with iron bars, and to break the gates of Jerusalem.

On the 10th of Tevet, Nevuzardan besieged Jerusalem, encircling the city with his army in order to prevent anyone from escaping, and to prevent the people from getting any supply of material or food.

At the same time, he tried to break down the walls of Jerusalem, but without success. As the destruction of the city was not yet sealed by the divine decree, all Nevuzaradan's attempts in this direction remained in vain. The immense amount of iron bars provided by Nebuchadnezzar proved to be ineffective. The bars broke upon contact with the doors as they attempted to break them down. The soldiers, attempted to sow destruction within the city itself, by firing their arrows and throwing up blocks of stone, but to no avail. It became clear, then, that this divine protection was meant to strengthen the people in their faith in order to bring them to repentance. A multitude of great warriors made up the population of Jerusalem. They gave a merciless struggle to the Kassdim (Babylonians) administering them heavy losses.

Among them was Avika son of Guivetari, a warrior with superhuman strength. Indeed, when Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers catapulted huge blocks of stone beyond the walls, Avika intercepted them and sent them back to the soldiers, causing the death of a large number of soldiers. When the attacks and the number of projectiles multiplied, he used his feet to intercept them.

Alas, the weight of the sins sealed his fate of dying a tragic death. A violent wind propelled him from the top of the walls causing him to fall fatally.

The Atrocities of the Siege

Jerusalem was under siege for a year and a half. Little by little the food stocks dwindled, and day after day hunger raged, and with it unsustainable suffering. Many people could not withstand this situation and died of hunger. When the daughters of Zion met in the alleys of the city's market, each of them posed the other the same question: "What is the reason for your presence in these places? You've never been here before!"

The other replied: "Hunger rages cruelly, it is unbearable for me; so, I have come to market hoping to find some food." Such scenes were now commonplace, women in search of food walked arm in arm, shaky and weakened by hunger, and they would finish their journey by collapsing on pillars, before dying. Joining their mothers in order to receive food, the young children, being answered only with silence, died in their turn by falling on the corpses of their mother. One of the atrocities of this period can be illustrated perfectly by the following event: a mother of three children, the two oldest of whom were enlisted in combat, performed an abominable act. Seeing herself doomed to starve as well as her two older children, she cooked her baby in a pot to save her older children from certain death. When they began to eat, the brothers saw that this was the hand of their younger brother. Frightened by pain and terror, they threw themselves off the roof of their home, thus ending their lives. In her grief, the mother shouted: "He who harvests in the fields keeps his plans, so he who harvests his vineyard keeps the vines there; but I have nothing left! I was delivered to the hands of Nebuchadnezzar as a lamb destined for slaughter! "

This is the subject of the verse that we recite during the lamentations in Megillat Eicha: "With their own hands, tender women cooked their children to feed on them" (Lamentations chapter 2, verse 10).

Jerusalem Collapses

During the siege, which lasted a year and a half, Nevuzardan failed in his attempt to conquer Jerusalem. Lead by failure and yielding to despair, he prepared to lift the siege of the city contemplating the return to Babel. But divine providence decided otherwise. The latter made sure that Nevuzardan decided to measure the wall of the city, which, to his great astonishment, had descended two and a half Tefa'h (about 20 cm).

He repeated the same process every day; the result proved identical to the previous times. The imposing building was shaky. Indeed, a few days later the wall sank allowing the myriad of soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar, to enter the city. On the 9th of Tammuz, corresponding to the eleventh year of the reign of King Tzidkiyahu, a celestial voice commanded Nevuzardan: "Go out and take possession of Jerusalem, for here comes the moment of its destruction; nothing will survive, neither the Beit Hamikdash nor even the Heichal, which the flames will consume ". All Nevuzardan had left was a very small quantity of iron bars. This time, from the first blow, the wall collapsed allowing the enemy soldiers to enter the center of the city.

When the Beit Hamikdash becomes Consumed by Flames

At the moment when the divine decree sealing the fate of the Beth Hamikdash between desolation and devastation was to be fulfilled, Hashem did not wish to maintain the presence of the prophet Jeremiah in Jerusalem and enjoined him to go to his city, Anatote. Shortly thereafter, an angel descended from heaven and laid his feet on the walls, reducing them to a pile of stones. He made the following appeal: "Let the enemies take their place in the house abandoned by his guardian."

The date of the 7th of Av marks a turning point for the Jewish people. Indeed, from then on, the enemy entered the Heichal, desecrating and devastating it for three whole days. They set up the seat of their assembly on the Mount of the Temple and they went to the place where King Solomon held council with the wise men of the great assembly as to the ways to protect the Beth Hamikdash. On this very spot, the enemy met to discuss the methods to be used to devastate the holy Temple with fire. Exchanging various suggestions, they were suddenly interrupted by the sight of four angels descending from the sky carrying four torches which they deposited at the four corners of the Temple which immediately went up in flames. This episode, which had just consecrated the loss of the supreme value of the people of Israel, was to become one of the central events for future generations. It took place on the 9th of Av, before dark, and lasted all the day of the 10th of Av. A euphoria imbued with a feeling of pride seized Nevuzardan; finally, the heart of the Jewish people, in this case the Holy Temple, had just been reduced to a pile of ashes. A heavenly voice said to him at this precise moment: "A dying people you annihilated, a consumed Heichal you burnt, and ground flour you crushed. In other words, you must realize that this situation is only the consequence of the divine decree and not because of your actions. "

For you we were Sacrificed

When the Kohen Gadol saw the Temple burning, he tried to flee, but the soldiers posted outside seized him and slaughtered him on the altar of sacrifices. The daughter of the Kohen Gadol who witnessed this exclaimed painfully: "Oh, my dear father, apple of my eyes!'' They seized her too and slaughtered her on the altar, her blood mingling with her father's. Subsequently, a group of young Kohanim gathered, with the keys of the Heichal in their possession. They went up to the roof of the Heichal and said to Hashem, "Master of the world, since we have not had the merit of being faithful representatives of Your word, may these keys be taken up by you! They threw the keys in the direction of the heavens, and at that moment a hand came out of the sky to take possession of it. They then threw themselves into the flames, thus sanctifying the divine name. The scene of Beit Hamikdash being burnt by a devastating fire was unbearable for the Kohanim and the Leviim. Grabbing their harp as well as their horn, they also threw themselves into the flames. Following the same example, many virgin girls of Israel sacrificed their lives thus escaping the tortures of the enemy.

Destruction of the Second Temple

The Building of the Beit Hamikdash

Fifty-two years passed, sounding the death knell of the desolation in the land of Israel. The promise of the Creator to rebuild His holy Temple is finally fulfilled. Providence ensured that King Koresh (who ruled the entire region at that time) decreed the expulsion of the entire Jewish population of Jerusalem. Eighteen years later (70 years after the destruction of the first Temple), under the direction of Darius King of Persia (son of Queen Esther), the second Temple was built. An immense joy accompanied the unfolding of his edification until the last moment of its inauguration on the 3rd of Adar. At this point the Leviim, taking their place on the galvanized platform of the Temple, sang the song of the dedication of the Temple, being then joined in unison by all the people. On the advice of the prophets, the children of Israel celebrated the 7 days of Miluim instituted by Moshe on the day of the construction of the divine sanctuary. From then on, the service of the Kohanim was restored; as for the Leviim, they continued singing their songs and playing their melodies without interruption. However, this joy remained marked by a relative sadness because the degree of elevation of the second Temple did not seem to correspond to that of its predecessor. Indeed, five major attributes were missing: the divine spirit did not reside there, the holy ark was absent, it was actually hidden by the prophet Jeremiah on Mount Nebo shortly before the destruction of the first Temple. In its place, a large stone was placed sanctified at the time of King David and the prophet Samuel. On it rested the ark during the reign of King Solomon; it was nicknamed Even Hachtia (foundation stone). The Urim Vetumim (the pectoral of the Kohen Gadol) no longer transmitted the divine word as in the first Temple. The divine fire present on the altar no longer consumed the sacrifices, if there were not previously deposited woods that ensured their burning. Such a thing did not happen during the first Temple. Finally, the anointing oil was the last missing element. This oil, prepared by Moshe Rabbeinu, was used for the anointing of the holy ark and its utensils, and for the sons of Aharon the high priest during the seven days of Milouim, during which high priests and kings were anointed. This same anointing oil will be used in the future.

Your Destroyers and Devastators were Born in your Womb

Vespasian began the siege of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, an element he had not taken into account hampered his expansionist aims. Indeed, the strength of the walls and the complexity of their assembly were all factors deterring any attack. Disillusioned, he began to encircle the city in its entirety in the hope of breaking down any resistance from the population. The result was: the city was besieged, and the comings and goings stopped.

The Torah Sages in Jerusalem envisioned a peaceful solution to avoid the worst. They declared: "Let's go out and conclude a peace agreement with the Romans! But Jerusalem had in its midst some dominant people who in no way envisaged any surrender. "Let's go out and fight the Romans! They proclaimed. The sages of Israel, led by Yochanan ben Zakai, were opposed to such an approach. Current contingencies proved unfavorable to any armed resistance. The sages understood perfectly well that any attempt of struggle was doomed to failure and would entail only a useless bloodbath. Opponents filled with a rebellious attitude placed an imposing guard along the walls in order to dissuade any person tempted to go out and make a pact of peace with the Romans. However, when this situation continued, they decided to take a new step in their strategy of resistance to the enemy: they burned all the warehouses of wheat and barley, in order to push the inhabitants of Jerusalem to insurrection. This hasty act had only one consequence: a terrible state of famine.

The Walls of Jerusalem Collapse

Vespasian, having to go to Rome to take maintain his power, appointed his son Titus to conquer Jerusalem. The day after Pesach, in the third year ... began the Roman invasion. Titus first began to penetrate the walls using steel rams made from wooden beams with thick steel ends. The power of their blows gradually broke down the solidity of the walls. On the sides, there were formidable catapults that projected rocks weighing 35 kg over a distance of 300 meters. Titus also used a kind of "wall drill", a steel machine that could be gravitated rapidly into the rock, and which had to pierce the walls.

Nevertheless, Titus and his soldiers were fully aware that by natural means all these war machines remained totally obsolete. But the weight of the sins led to the destruction of the city. Thus, on the 7th of Iyar Titus managed to split the outer wall (nicknamed the "third wall") of Jerusalem. When the wall caved in he exclaimed: "G-d our Warrior, only the formidable hand of G-d can expel the Jews from these impenetrable walls. What can man's hands and war machines attempt to do in the face of such strongholds?"

In the days that followed, Titus and his generals developed a new plan for the second wall; so, a few days later, it also gave way. One wall remained impregnable and continued to protect the Temple Mount. The latter being further strengthened, served as a base for the construction of the "Fortin Antonia", which was distinguished by its strength and was located between the north and west of the Temple Mount thus serving as a protective wall for all the city.

Towards the beginning of the month of Tammuz, the Romans began the conquest of the last wall. They had to face fierce resistance. The opposition which formerly undermined the people was effaced before the union with the resistance. The inhabitants fought a merciless battle, but the fate of Jerusalem was definitely sealed; on the 17th Tamuz the rampart of Antonia was totally destroyed, freeing the way towards the Temple Mount.

The House of G-d Goes Up in Flames

There is no wisdom, no counsel, and no bravery in the face of divine decrees. A Roman soldier approaching the wings on the northern flank of the Temple managed to climb one of the windows and project a torch that quickly engulfed the entire Beit Hamikdash in flames. The most daring attempts to extinguish the fire failed, and it cost lives; the decree was now sealed.

On the 9th and 10th of Av, gigantic flames spread up towards the heavens, carrying with them the cries of the children of Zion, whose hearts could not bear the sight of such a reproach made in the house of G-d; and thus, a multitude of them preferred death to such a moral torment, and they threw themselves into the flames.

The Romans finally managed to penetrate the Temple, and they slaughtered by the sword all victims in their path; while impurifying the sanctuary of G-d. They fought to spread fire to every corner of the Beit Hamikdash. Jerusalem was destroyed until its foundations; a population largely decimated by the ferocity of the Roman ogre as well as survivors who were transported to the jails of Caesar, all of which reflected the magnitude of a situation where oblivion reigned supreme. Neither the pile of ruins nor the underground tunnels offered sufficiently reliable protection to the population; the Romans managed to catch almost all the fugitives. The leaders of the rebellion also perished during the fighting; Yochanan of Goash Chalav's, broken and exhausted by hunger and and war that never seemed to end, came out of his cave to fall into the hands of the enemy. Shimon Bar Geira tried to flee through a tunnel to the opposite end of the city but was also taken captive. These two symbols of the Jewish rebellion were to suffer the same fate as their fellow citizens; they were embarked on ship in the direction of Rome.

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