As a Biblical Hebrew teacher I enjoy discovering everyday who are the true heroes of the Hebrew Bible. Not always do the heroes come from Jerusalem. A hero, for me, is someone that can leave his life, sometimes a very convenient one in order to change the destiny of a group, and not always the group that is close to him.
When I think about a true hero, Nehemiah is one of them without any doubt. He held a high position in the Persian Empire. However, in the beginning of his book we read about an encounter with people from Judah as written:
"דִּבְרֵי נְחֶמְיָה בֶּן-חֲכַלְיָה: וַיְהִי בְחֹדֶשׁ-כִּסְלֵו שְׁנַת עֶשְׂרִים, וַאֲנִי הָיִיתִי בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה. וַיָּבֹא חֲנָנִי אֶחָד מֵאַחַי, הוּא וַאֲנָשִׁים--מִיהוּדָה; וָאֶשְׁאָלֵם עַל-הַיְּהוּדִים הַפְּלֵיטָה, אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁאֲרוּ מִן-הַשֶּׁבִי--וְעַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם.וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לִי--הַנִּשְׁאָרִים אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁאֲרוּ מִן-הַשְּׁבִי שָׁם בַּמְּדִינָה, בְּרָעָה גְדֹלָה וּבְחֶרְפָּה; וְחוֹמַת יְרוּשָׁלִַם מְפֹרָצֶת, וּשְׁעָרֶיהָ נִצְּתוּ בָאֵשׁ. וַיְהִי כְּשָׁמְעִי אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, יָשַׁבְתִּי וָאֶבְכֶּה, וָאֶתְאַבְּלָה, יָמִים; וָאֱהִי צָם וּמִתְפַּלֵּל, לִפְנֵי אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם"
"The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; And I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:1-4)
Sometimes in hard times we know that people will leave for one moment their occupation in order to pray to G-d for the help of other people. But, Nehemiah spoke with the Persian Emperor, he got a vacation for a while, he didn't know that it would be a while.
The first thing that Nehemiah did is to encourage the people of Jerusalem and help them to build the wall of the destroyed city, as we can read in Nehemiah 2:17-18-
"וָאוֹמַר אֲלֵהֶם, אַתֶּם רֹאִים הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר אֲנַחְנוּ בָהּ, אֲשֶׁר יְרוּשָׁלִַם חֲרֵבָה, וּשְׁעָרֶיהָ נִצְּתוּ בָאֵשׁ: לְכוּ, וְנִבְנֶה אֶת-חוֹמַת יְרוּשָׁלִַם, וְלֹא-נִהְיֶה עוֹד, חֶרְפָּה. וָאַגִּיד לָהֶם אֶת-יַד אֱלֹהַי, אֲשֶׁר-הִיא טוֹבָה עָלַי, וְאַף-דִּבְרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר אָמַר-לִי; וַיֹּאמְרוּ נָקוּם וּבָנִינוּ, וַיְחַזְּקוּ יְדֵיהֶם לַטּוֹבָה."
"Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work"
When he started to renovate the city the leaders of this area tried to cause the people of Judah to be afraid. Nehemiah didn’t stop the renovation and told those people these words:
"וַאֲנַחְנוּ, עֹשִׂים בַּמְּלָאכָה; וְחֶצְיָם, מַחֲזִיקִים בָּרְמָחִים, מֵעֲלוֹת הַשַּׁחַר, עַד צֵאת הַכּוֹכָבִים. גַּם בָּעֵת הַהִיא, אָמַרְתִּי לָעָם--אִישׁ וְנַעֲרוֹ, יָלִינוּ בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְהָיוּ-לָנוּ הַלַּיְלָה מִשְׁמָר, וְהַיּוֹם מְלָאכָה."
"We wrought in the work; And half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. Likewise at the same time said I unto the people: 'Let everyone with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and may labor in the day."(Nehemiah 4:15-16)
When Nehemiah figured out that there are too many poor people in the city of Jerusalem, he decided to call for release, meaning that all the debts are canceled as written:
"וָאֹמַר לֹא-טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם עֹשִׂים: הֲלוֹא בְּיִרְאַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ תֵּלֵכוּ, מֵחֶרְפַּת הַגּוֹיִם אוֹיְבֵינוּ. וְגַם-אֲנִי אַחַי וּנְעָרַי, נֹשִׁים בָּהֶם כֶּסֶף וְדָגָן; נַעַזְבָה-נָּא, אֶת-הַמַּשָּׁא הַזֶּה. הָשִׁיבוּ נָא לָהֶם כְּהַיּוֹם, שְׂדֹתֵיהֶם כַּרְמֵיהֶם זֵיתֵיהֶם--וּבָתֵּיהֶם; וּמְאַת הַכֶּסֶף וְהַדָּגָן הַתִּירוֹשׁ וְהַיִּצְהָר, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם נֹשִׁים בָּהֶם. וַיֹּאמְרוּ נָשִׁיב, וּמֵהֶם לֹא נְבַקֵּשׁ--כֵּן נַעֲשֶׂה, כַּאֲשֶׁר אַתָּה אוֹמֵר; וָאֶקְרָא, אֶת-הַכֹּהֲנִים, וָאַשְׁבִּיעֵם, לַעֲשׂוֹת כַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה"
"Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; We will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise"(Nehemiah 5:9-12)
This social reform caused mental changes that enabled also a religious reform in chapter 8. This reform would be the subject of our next Webinar,this our weekly meeting to learn Biblical Hebrew, that will take place on 12/4/12 8 P.M. Eastern time. See you there dear friends, Eli