Many years after the Maccabees acquired control of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim, a civil war broke out between the two heirs to the throne – two brothers, Horkanus and Aristobulos.
Horkanus was shrewder than his brother and was able to influence the majority of the inhabitants of Yerushalayim to follow him. He amassed a large army and drove his brother out of the city. In anger, Aristobulos went to the Greeks and pleaded with them for aid in fighting his brother.
The Greek army surrounded the city and laid siege to Yerushalayim. But the city was well fortified and stocked with enough provisions to withstand the siege. After a while, the city ran short of lambs for the korban tamid in the Beis HaMikdash. So, a truce was called and arrangements were made to purchase lambs from the army of Aristobulos.
Every day a casket filled with gold would be lowered from the walls of Jerusalem and in return the army of Aristobulos would send up cattle for the korbanos.
The siege lasted a long time. The Greek soldiers grew discouraged and were prepared to depart for home. Among the followers of Aristobulos was an old man who was well versed in Greek science. He approached Aristobulos and said, “You are wasting your time laying siege to Jerusalem. As long as the occupants of the city continue to perform the holy service of offering sacrifices to G-d in the holy Temple, you will never be able to subdue them. G-d will never turn them over to you as long as He sees His people fulfilling his commandments.”
“Have you any suggestions?” they asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “I have a plan. When they lower the casket with money, take the money. But instead of sending up cattle, substitute it with pig. They are prohibited from bringing a pig into the Holy Temple and this way they will have to forego their daily sacrifice.”
The following day when the basket was lowered, the soldiers of Aristobulos placed a pig into the basket and shouted, “Haul away, your lamb is in the basket!”
The soldiers of Yerushalayim began to draw up the basket. When it reached half way up the wall, the pig put out his paws and caught them in a hole in the wall. The wall began to shake and all of Israel trembled for a distance of 400 square parsas.
When Aristobulos saw that Jerusalem did not immediately fall, he became impatient and he ordered his soldiers to lay waste to all the wheat and corn from the surrounding fields. After a while, the soldiers departed for home. When the time came for the offering of the omer there was none to be found, as all the fields were scorched. The Sages then sent messengers to the gardens of Zriphin to collect wheat. In addition, they brought back the lechem hapanim from the valley of Ein Socher. The priests rejoiced that they were again able to serve G-d in the Beis HaMikdash as He commanded.
The Haughty Slave
Peace reigned again in with Horkanus as king of the land under the control of the Romans. One day, one of his slaves, Herod, the son of Antipater, quarreled with a man and killed him. The Sanhedrin summoned Herod to stand trial.
Fearing that he would be condemned and executed, Herod attired himself in the king’s garments and, escorted by a legion of Roman soldiers, entered the court. Knowing that his master, King Horkanus, would back him up, the slave began to ridicule the court for daring to summon the chief of the court’s slaves to appear before them.
The judges, seeing the Roman legion, were afraid to start the proceedings. Shemiah, one of the two chief judges, then rose to his feet and said, “You are afraid to convict this man, who is guilty of shedding innocent blood. Beware, a time will come when this murderer of whom you are now afraid will issue a royal decree that all of you be put to death!”
Encouraged by those words, the judges ordered the slave to stand trial for murder. Herod rushed back to his master and pleaded with him to ask the Sanhedrin to delay the trial and give him time to arrange for his defense.
The king believed his slave, and he sent word to the Sanhedrin to delay the trial for a few days. The judges agreed. That night, with the help of the Roman soldiers, Herod escaped and disappeared from sight. The trial then had to be postponed indefinitely.
One day Herod heard a heavenly voice exclaim, “Any slave who will now rebel against his master will be successful!” He remembered the words of the sage Shemiah who prophesied that he would become a king. Encouraged by these signs, he started a reign of terror against the members of the Hasmonean family who were the rulers of Judea. He killed them all with the exception of one fair maiden whom he loved and whom he wished to marry.
The young girl, aware of how the slave murdered her entire family, went up to the roof of her palace and proclaimed, “Know ye that whosoever will come forth and claim that he is a descendant of the Hasmonean family is telling a falsehood. For I am the last survivor of my family and I am about to take my life.” With these words the young girl jumped from the roof and was instantly killed.
Herod issued a royal decree that he had married the daughter of the king and therefore he was now assuming the role of the new king of Israel.
When the people acknowledged him as their king, Herod remembered the insults and the judges of the Sanhedrin who had tried him for murder. He ordered them all killed with the exception of Shemiah, whose prophecy about him becoming a king turned out to be true.