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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #133 - 08/13
...have never felt any success in previous efforts to learn a language - now I do!..

Eli Dahan

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Two descriptions of the Exile

When you think about awful events in the history of the Israelites, the destruction of the First Temple would be definitely be a major one. That said, had there never been an exile, the significant changes in the behavior of the Israelites wouldn’t have happened either. Some might even suggest that the creation of modern Judaism as we know it only really began when the people returned anew to Judah 70 or so years after the destruction.


When you look in the Hebrew Bible for descriptions of the Exile, there's an ocean of information. Some of the facts and figures from those days (as well as these days) help us to better understand the enormity of this event.

In Psalms 137 there's quite a sad description of the exile. It seems that the Psalmist is feeling utterly hopeless, drowning in sorrow and displays a fair amount of anger and vengeance in his description. Let's take a look of some verses:


"By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps… How can we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land...? O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little onesAgainst the rock."(Psalms 137:1-2,4,8-9)

"עַל נַהֲרוֹת בָּבֶל-שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ גַּם-בָּכִינוּ:    בְּזָכְרֵנוּ אֶת-צִיּוֹן. עַל-עֲרָבִים בְּתוֹכָהּ-   תָּלִינוּ, כִּנֹּרוֹתֵינוּ.... אֵיךְ--נָשִׁיר אֶת-שִׁיר-יְהוָה: עַל אַדְמַת נֵכָר...בַּת-בָּבֶל הַשְּׁדוּדָה:אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם-לָךְ   אֶת-גְּמוּלֵךְ שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ. אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת-עֹלָלַיִךְ  אֶל-הַסָּלַע."

If this were the only description of the exile that we had, suggesting that all the Israelites heard the declaration of Cyrus, written in Ezra 1, about returning to Judah, one might assume that would have been the end of the story. Of course, this is not the case. Many Israelites stayed in Babylon, or moved to Egypt from Judah after the death of Gedaliah, as written in 2 Kings 25:26-

"Then all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces arose and went to Egypt; for they were afraid of the Chaldeans."

"וַיָּקֻמוּ כָל-הָעָם מִקָּטֹן וְעַד-גָּדוֹל וְשָׂרֵי הַחֲיָלִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִצְרָיִםכִּי יָרְאוּ מִפְּנֵי כַשְׂדִּים."

How can it be that the land was promised, yet only a handful returned to it? The best answer I have ever found is the answer of Rabbi Yehuda Halevy in his important book "Ha-Kuzari." He quoted the words of the sages of Israel, who that said that it's better to live in Israel amongst several other nations rather than to live outside Israel solely amongst Jews. He also explained that many people had homes and businesses in the diaspora that they simply didn’t want to leave.

Perhaps Rabbi Halevy was thinking about what Jeremiah said to the people who were exiled in what we call the "small exile" or the exile of the V.I.P that took place in 597 B.C.E. Jeremiah wrote a letter to those people that said:

"Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease."(Jeremiah 29:5-6)

"בְּנוּ בָתִּים וְשֵׁבוּ; וְנִטְעוּ גַנּוֹת וְאִכְלוּ אֶת-פִּרְיָן. קְחוּ נָשִׁים, וְהוֹלִידוּ בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת וּקְחוּ לִבְנֵיכֶם נָשִׁים וְאֶת-בְּנוֹתֵיכֶם תְּנוּ לַאֲנָשִׁים וְתֵלַדְנָה בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת; וּרְבוּ-שָׁם וְאַל-תִּמְעָטוּ."


In this scenario, even if Jeremiah promised a return to Judah 70 years later, the exile still offers an opportunity for a positive change for a number of Israelites. It would seem that life in Judah was somewhat fraught with difficulty and during the exile it improved, which explains why so many chose to remain exile. They are the people described in Ezra 1 as the donors of the building of the Second Temple. Remember that this was probably informed by another Temple which stood in a small place in Egypt called Yev (Elephantine).

As always happens when we carefully read the Bible, reality is much more complex than we could imagine upon a first glance. Today we have examined but drop in the ocean; let's continue our limitless journey with Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible.

For more details visit: www.eteacherbiblical.com

May you have a wonderful week!



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