Tisha B’av will soon be is upon us, and once again we sit with broken hearts and tearful eyes as we contemplate the destruction of Beis HaMikdash and the years of exile that followed. How terrible are the tales told to us by the Midrash and Talmud about the awful days when the Babylonian hordes swooped down from the North likes beasts of prey setting waste to the Holy Land, destroying men, women and children, and setting the House of Hashem on fire.
“And the city came under the siege…..and the famine spread in the city.”
As the famine spread in the city, the daughters of Jerusalem wandered the streets in groups. Food was what they searched for, since the hunger was becoming unbearable.
The strong supported the weak as they searched and searched – and could find nothing. On the pillars and columns they fell and died in every corner of the city. Their infants crawled about seeking their mothers and whimpering for nourishment.
At that moment, HaKadosh Baruch Hu spoke to Yirmiyahu HaNavi saying: “Go to Anasos, and there take the field that belongs to Chamanale, your uncle.”
As soon as Yirmiyahu HaNavi had left the city an angel came down from heaven and placing his legs upon the walls he split them, crying: “Let the enemy enter the house for its owner is no longer found there. Let the enemy plunder it and lay it waste. Let them enter the vineyard and cut the vines for the watchman has long since gone. Only let the enemy not boast: We have captured the city! For you have captured a city that had already been captive; you have murdered a people that is already dead; you have burned a house that has already been burned.”
And so the enemy burst into the Sanctuary and set up a stand on the Temple Mount. The place that they had chosen was a spot used by Shlomo HaMelech in days long since gone to meet with the elders and seek advice on ways and means to beautify the Temple. Now, the enemies of Israel met on this same spot plotting how to burn this very same structure.
As they debated the best way to achieve this aim, they were thunderstruck to see four angels descending and in their hands four torches of fire. Swiftly they lit each of the four corners of the Sanctuary and the flames leaped to the heavens.
The Keys Go To Heaven
As the Kohen Gadol saw the Temple going up in flames, he called together the young Kohanim and together they went up to the roof with keys to the Sanctuary in their hands.
“Sovereign of the Universe!” they cried. “Since we have failed to be worthy guardians of Your Temple we are here to return the keys to You!”
And so speaking, they threw the keys high in the air. Immediately, the form of a hand came down and seized the keys, and brought them up to heaven.
Tzdkiyahu HaMelech Is Captured
When the king, Tzidkiyahu, saw all this he realized that all hope was lost. He had prepared an escape route leading from his house to the plains of Jericho. But here the Almighty sent a deer running down the way, and when the Babylonians saw it they quickly gave chase. When they reached the end of the escape way, they came across the king and his sons, and captured them.
The Babylonian general then ordered them taken before the king, Nebuchadnezzar.
“How shall I judge you for your sin of rebelling against me and breaking your oath of allegiance? If I judge you by your own laws, then you are deserving of death for you have sworn falsely in the Name of the Lord. If I judge you by my laws, you are also a dead man, for all who transgress the word of the king are adjudged traitors and must die.”
Tzidkiyahu saw that there was no hope, and he was resigned to his fate. He turned however to the king and asked: “I request only one thing. Kill me and let me be spared the sight of the murder of my children.”
“No, no,” cried the sons, “kill us first and let our eyes not see the sight of our father’s blood shed on the ground.”
Nebuchadnezzar did as the prices asked. He slaughtered them before their father’s eyes and then put out the eyes of the Jewish king, blinding him. Tzidkiyahu was then led into captivity to the land of Babylonia.
As he was led away he called out: “Come and see peoples of the earth, the truth of Yirmiyahu HaNavi’s prophecies. He spoke to me and warned me of the following vision: To Babylonia you shall go and in Babylonia you shall die. And nevertheless your eyes shall not see the land.”
Learns Of The Destruction
Meanwhile, Yirmiyahu HaNavi, unaware of the terrible events that had occurred, was returning from Jerusalem from Anasos. Raising his eyes, he saw a great cloud of smoke rising from the city.
For a moment his heart leaped for joy. “Is it possible,” he thought, “that the Jews have repented and are sacrificing offerings to God? For it seems to me that I see the smoke of the offering of incense.”
Coming near, however, Yirmiyahu HaNavi saw the awful destruction that had been done, and he fell weeping and crying.
Follows The Captives
Yirmiyahu HaNavi began to look around: “Which path have the sins taken? In what direction have the lost gone? I shall follow them and be lost amongst them.”
All along the path Yirmiyahu HaNavi saw the signs of the captives. The way was strewn with blood on all sides. Looking down, he saw the footprints of children being led into captivity. With a cry of anguish, he crawled along the earth kissing the imprints.
Finally overtaking the captives, Yirmiyahu HaNavi beheld a band of youths being led with iron rings about their necks. Running toward them he attempted to put his head among theirs. The Babylonian general, Nebuchadnezzar, however, rushed over and took him from them.
Undaunted, Yirmiyahu HaNavi saw a group of old men being led in chains. He ran to them hoping to share their lot, but once gain he was taken away.
The prophet burst into tears and the Jews seeing this began to weep bitterly.
Returns To Eretz Yisrael
When the captives finally reached the Tigris River, which was the boundary line between Israel and Babylonia, Nebuchadnezzar turned to Yirmiyahu HaNavi and said: “I offer you a choice now. If it so pleases you, you may come with me to Babylonia.”
Yirmiyahu HaNavi thought for a moment. If he went with the Jews into Babylonia, who would remain with the pitiful remnant still found in the Holy Land? Who would comfort them in their great hour of need?
And so, he stepped out from amongst the exiles and prepared to return to Eretz Yisrael. When the Jews saw the prophet leaving them, they all raised their voices in pain.
“Our father, Yirmiyahu HaNavi, behold, you leave us!”
This is it means when it says: By the waters of Babylon, there we sat, and also wept.”
And he answered them: “I swear by heaven and earth that had you wept at least once while still in Zion, you would not have been exiled.”