Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pigs and Parasangs

The Rabbis learn the idea of constancy and consistency from our parsha. The sacrifices are not only important in themselves, but also as a symbol of our need to never shirk our burden of responsibilities to Hashem. It is seen in the following verse:

Vayikra 6:2
Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the burnt-offering: it is that which goes up on its firewood upon the altar all night unto the morning; and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning thereby.

The Talmud discusses a time when Jewish infighting brought the constant service in the Temple to a stop. It occured during the second temple period under the hasmonean dynasty. Two grandchildren of the Maccabees were fighting a war over who would run the country and the Temple. The event is described as follows:

Baba Kamma 82b
IT IS NOT RIGHT TO BREED PIGS IN ANY PLACE WHATEVER. Our Rabbis taught: When the members of the Hasmonean house were contending with one another, Hyrcanus was within and Aristobulus without [the city wall]. [Those who were within] used to let down to the other party every day a basket of denarii, and [in return] cattle were sent up for the regular sacrifices. There was, however, an old man [among the besiegers] who had some knowledge in Grecian Wisdom  and who said to them: 'So long as the other party [are allowed to] continue to perform the service of the sacrifices they will not be delivered into your hands.' On the next day when the basket of denarii was let down, a swine was sent up. When the swine reached the centre of the wall it stuck its claws into the wall, and Eretz Yisrael quaked over a distance of four hundred parasangs  by four hundred parasangs.

This event may contain some rabbinic hyperbole, but it is no legend. The Jewish historian Josephus reports what is essentially the same event. And he too shared the Rabbi’s sense of righteous indignation and articulates it in no uncertain terms.

Antiquities of the Jews - Book XIV 2:2
While the priests and Aristobulus were besieged, it happened that the feast called the passover was come, at which it is our custom to offer a great number of sacrifices to God; but those that were with Aristobulus wanted sacrifices, and desired that their countrymen without would furnish them with such sacrifices, and assured them they should have as much money for them as they should desire; and when they required them to pay a thousand drachmae for each head of cattle, Aristobulus and the priests willingly undertook to pay for them accordingly, and those within let down the money over the walls, and gave it them. But when the others had received it, they did not deliver the sacrifices, but arrived at that height of wickedness as to break the assurances they had given, and to be guilty of impiety towards God, by not furnishing those that wanted them with sacrifices. And when the priests found they had been cheated, and that the agreements they had made were violated, they prayed to God that he would avenge them on their countrymen. Nor did he delay that their punishment, but sent a strong and vehement storm of wind, that destroyed the fruits of the whole country, till a modius of wheat was then bought for eleven drachmae.

It is often stated that sinat chinam (inappropriate conflict between Jews) brings disaster to our people. It is also worth remembering that it make the proper constant and consistent service to Hashem impossible.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook is often quoted as saying that since the Second Temple was destroyed through sinat chinam, the third one will have to be built through ahavat chinam. (baseless love) May Jewish love for our fellows continue to grow and bring the redemption closer every day.


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