Temple to Temple

The Destruction of the First Temple (Part 10)
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Monday 30th November 2015

The opening line of Megilla Eicha (Lamentations) states that, “the city [ie Jerusalem] that had many people has become like a widow”. Yirmiyahu’s (Jeremiah’s) prophetic work tells of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. We still read Megillat Eicha every year on Tisha B’Av.

The city was besieged. Famine and hunger were rampant. King Tzidkiyahu, realising his mistake in imprisoning Yirmiyahu in a pit, ordered his release. It was a sign of the people’s emaciation that he needed to send 30 men to lift Yirmiyahu out of his subterranean jail.

Although Nebuchadnezzar is the person most commonly associated with the final destruction of the Temple, it was actually his General Nebuzaradan who carried out the destruction. Nebuzaradan’s cruelty earned him the epitaph ‘Nebuzaradan the Butcher’ in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible)

To put ourselves in the shoes of one of those remaining Judeans is painful: surrounded for three long years by the forces of Babylon, home becoming a prison, without a grain to eat, skin baking in the sun, without water, without hope and the only foreseeable end being death.

In the Talmud (Gittin 57b) we read a description by one of the old men of Jerusalem. It seems like he is pointing into the distance, saying “in this valley Nebuzaradan the Butcher killed 2,110,000 people and in Jerusalem he killed another 940,000 people”.

On 9 Av, in the 11th year of Tzidkiyahu’s reign, the Temple was set on fire, and on the 10th the Temple, the city and its walls were razed to the ground.

Tzidkiyahu was caught in an attempt to flee Jerusalem. He and his sons were taken to Rivla and tried before Nebuchadnezzar (Melachim/Kings 2:25). The Midrash adds that Tzidkiyahu, in chains, pleaded with Nebuchadnezzar to kill him first, so that he would not see his sons killed. Tzidkiyahu’s sons pleaded the opposite, that they should be killed first, so as not to see their father killed before them.  Ultimately, Tzidkiyahu’s ten sons were slaughtered before his eyes, after which he was blinded. He arrived in Babylon, blind and desolate.

From this point forward, the Judeans had to forge a new destiny, as a people separated from their spiritual home. Jerusalem became the focal part of their yearning, remembering the days of old and hoping for a better future to come.