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Kinah 9: The Murder of the Cohanim

“They drowned and slaughtered Cohanim and Leviim who once maintained the tiers of my Temple platform. When, in the valley of Hamath, my Cohanim were murdered…” The final phrase refers to Kings II 25:18-21:  “And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the door; and out of the city he took an officer that was set over the men of war; and five men of them that saw the king’s face, who were found in the city; and the scribe of the captain of the host, who mustered the people of the land; and threescore men of the people of the land, that were found in the city.  And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah.  And the king of Babylon smote them, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was carried away captive out of his land.”

The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. Jerusalem was in ruins, The king was executed. These verses describe the execution of the Cohen Gadol. Few biblical scenes are more devastating. What do the Sages learn from these verses?

The Talmud is discussing the number of people called up to the Torah on different holidays: What do these three, five and seven represent? — Different answers were given by R. Isaac b. Nahmani and one who was with him, namely, R. Simeon b. Pazzi, or, according to others, by R. Simeon b. Pazzi and one who was with him, namely, R. Isaac b. Nahmani, or according to others, R. Samuel b. Nahmani. One said that [these represent] the [respective number of Hebrew words in the three verses of the] Priestly benedictions, while the other said ‘the three keepers of the door’. (Our verses) [The five represent] ‘five of them that saw the king’s face’ [and the seven] ‘seven men of them that saw the king’s face’. R. Joseph learnt: Three, five and seven: ‘three keepers of the door’, five of them that saw the king’s face’, and ‘seven that saw the king’s face’.

The Talmud finds a source for Halacha even in this devastating scene. It’s worthwhile to pause and take stock at this point and reflect on the powerful message the Sages are teaching: Find meaning even in horrible experiences.

This is one of the strengths that has maintained us through the millennia of exile.

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