If you were to ask the average Jew who destroyed the Beis Hamikdash and who sent Klal Yisrael into galus (exile), he would instantly answer, “The Romans.”
Of course, this is true. Do you know, however, how the Romans reached the land of Judea in the first place, and the events that led up to their arrival? It was the old story of Jewish disunity and civil war, a war between two brothers that originated in greed and desire for power and culminated in the exile of our people.
Do you also wonder why the pig, more than any other animal that is usually mentioned in the Torah as being non-kosher, has become a symbol of treife food? This, too, is linked to the same story of the civil war between these two brothers.
Horkanos And Aristobilus
After the death of King Yanai, of the house of the Chashmonaim, his righteous and good wife Shlomit Alexandra ruled for a short time. She had two sons, the older of whom was named Horkanos and the younger Aristobilus.
Because Horkanos was a weak person, he was prepared to give up the kingship and accept, in its place, the high priesthood. In turn, his younger brother, Aristobilus, was happy to rule as king. Thus, things would have remained peaceful and good, except for the fact that under the influence of an evil man, named Antipatar – a converted Edomite – Horkanos was maliciously convinced that he was being cheated.
“Why do you allow yourself, the older brother to be cheated of the fruits that are rightfully yours?” taunted Antipatar.
“You are right,” said the foolish Horkanos, “I will use force to regain my rights.”
And so Horkanos gathered his forces and besieged Jerusalem. As the weeks went by and the food supply ran low, there was soon not an animal left for the daily sacrifice in the Temple. A message was sent to Horkanos, requesting that every morning and evening an animal be sent up in a hoist to be used for korbanos.
Horkanos agreed. “Are we not, after all, pious Jews also?” he asked.
And so it was. Every morning and every evening, the Jews within the city would lower a basket and Horkanos’ troops would put an animal into it.
The Terrible Act
The month dragged on, and Aristobilus appeared safe behind the great walls of Jerusalem. Antipatar and Horkanos grew impatient and met with their counselors to decide upon a final plan. Among the advisors was one who was versed in Greek culture. Speaking in Greek, he said:
“I have an idea to why we have been unsuccessful in this battle.”
“Speak then, old man,” said Horkanos.
“It appears to me that as long as your brother offers the daily sacrifices, the Almighty will not give the city to you. I suggest that tomorrow, when the basket is lowered, instead of putting in the usual animal, you order the troops to put in a pig!”
Horkanos agreed to the plan. The following day, as usual, the Jews within the city lowered the basket along with the three dinarim that they gave for the animals. The soldiers below placed the pig inside and signaled for the basket to be raised.
When the basket was halfway up the wall, the pig suddenly emerged and sank its hoofs into the wall. The Jews above, seeing a pig, let out a shriek of horror that shook the land of Israel.
The sages, after hearing what happened, immediately gathered and decreed:
“Cursed be the man who raises swine in Israel, and cursed be the man who teaches his sons Greek culture.”
Onias, The Tzaddik
The forces of Horkanos were involved in still another terrible deed, this time involving a tzaddik, by the name of the Onias.
Onias was a pious and G-d-fearing man who was revered by the Jews because in time of drought, the Almighty answered his prayers.
“Let us get Onias to curse the army of Aristobilus,” said Antipatar, “and this way we will emerge victorious.”
When Onias was brought before Horkanos, he replied:
“G-d forbids that I ever pray that another Jew be cursed.”
When the soldiers heard this, they struck down the old man and killed him.