Temple to Temple

The Beginning of the Babylonian Exile (Part 6)
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Monday 7th December 2015

King Yehoyakim had angered Nebuchadnezzar for the final time, disregarding Judea’s alliance with the Babylonian General and sending troops to fight on the side of Babylon’s enemies, the Egyptians.

Nebuchadnezzar had no real interest in attacking Judea. However, once he became aware that Judea had become problematic, he immediately made his way south.

The ensuing part of this story is only detailed briefly in the text of the Tanach. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba) relates a more detailed version:

As Nebuchadnezzar was travelling to apprehend Yehoyakim, the men of the Sanhedrin (the high court of Judea) asked him if the hour had come in which he would destroy the Temple. He replied, “no, just give me the rebellious King Yehoyakim and I will be gone”. The Sanhedrin related this to Yehoyakim. He retorted by asking, “Why is my life any less valuable than someone else’s?”

The Sanhedrin were left with no choice. They locked the king up in chains. Yehoyakim was delivered to Nebuchadnezzar, already dead.

The Midrash then relates that Yehoyakim’s 18 year old son Yechonia was crowned by Nebuchadnezzar. However, after just three months of rule, Nebuchadnezzar went to Jerusalem to take Yechonia into protective custody.

As Yechonia bid farewell to the Temple, he took the keys of the Temple to the top of the Temple itself. He shouted up to G-d, bewailing his generation’s inadequate care of the Temple and its practices. He threw the keys up in the air, declaring that the stewardship of the Temple was now in G-d’s hands. It is recounted that a fiery arm descended and swooped the keys up to the heavens.

10,000 of Judea’s craftsmen and gatekeepers were taken into custody together with Yechonia, many of whom were Judea’s top scholars. They carried on their backs some of the stones of Jerusalem.

Wherever the people of Israel goes, the Shechina (G-d’s presence in this world) goes with them. The Midrash asks, ‘where did the Shechina reside?’ and answers that these stones, taken from Jerusalem, were the foundations of two synagogues in the Babylonian town of Naharda.

Eleven years later, by the time that the last of the Judeans had been exiled from their homeland, these artisans had already built vibrant communities. The infrastructure of the Diaspora had already been established.