Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Leaders’ Answer

The leaders did not want to surrender, but were powerless to oppose the vast majority of Jerusalem’s citizens.

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“We have heard your words,” they replied slowly, “and though we cannot agree with them, we bow to your will. Only, hear us out.

“Have we become a people of so little faith that we will surrender without even pleading to G-d for aid? Let us allow ourselves five more days during which every man, woman and child will daven with all his heart and with his soul, and beseech Him to save us from Heliphornus.”

The people agreed to the plan.

 

Yehudis

Now, there lived in the city a woman by the name of Yehudis, the daughter of Beeri. She was deeply pious, G-d-fearing and much respected by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. She was also incredibly beautiful and possessed noble bearing.

When she heard of the five-day plan, she sent word to Uzziah, Carmi and the kohanim to come immediately to her home.

When they had all arrived. Yehudis turned upon them angrily.

“What is this that I hear? You have agreed to surrender the city within five days unless G-d performs a miracle for you?

“Is this a test of the Almighty? Who are you to set a time limit upon His mercy? I can assure you that this is not the way to win His favor. This way we can only incur His wrath. Strengthen yourselves and become courageous. You are the leaders of the people and must show them a courageous front.”

“You are right,” replied the leaders, “but what can we do? The people are determined that the city be surrendered. We are powerless to oppose them.”

“This is no answer,” stated Yehudis. “Think back in our history. Were our great leaders cowards in the face of adversity? They were at their bravest when the crisis was most crucial.”

”Go pray for us, Yehudis,” they answered. “Your words, the words of a saintly woman, will reach the Throne of Mercy.”

“I will pray,” said Yehudis, “and ask that you in turn offer prayers for me. For I have plan that I hope, with the help of G-d, will save the city.”

 

The Plan

Yehudis understood that her only hope lay in her willingness to risk her very life. She realized that she must somehow get to the Greek camp, and once there outwit the terrible Heliphornus.

After davening for success, she prepared herself in expensive clothing, placed a jeweled crown upon her head and called to her servants to escort her.

Once outside the city, the night seemed dark and desolate. An uneasy quiet lay over the hills that surrounded the little party.

Suddenly from behind a cluster of trees leaped forth several Greek soldiers.

“Halt Jews, or you die!”

“We come in peace,” answered Yehudis quickly. “It is our desire to see the great Heliphornus.”

“‘For what purpose?” asked the guards suspiciously.

“’We know full well that the city is doomed,” said Yehudis. “It is our intention to inform the king of the secret routes and paths leading to Jerusalem. Take me to him at once.”

The soldiers were greatly impressed by the words and the great beauty of this imperious woman, and they agreed to take her to Heliphornus.

When the Greek leader saw the beautiful Yehudis, he asked why she had come.

“I am a prophetess of the Almighty and He has gifted me with the ability to see what others don’t. The city totters on the brink of surrender. There is already no water, and the people speak of eating the animals set aside for sacrifices in the Temple.

“If they do this, then the wrath of the Holy One Blessed Be He will be unquenchable. My maidens and I will be able to tell you just when the decree will be in effect so that your army may strike at that moment without losing even one man.”

“I will need to leave the camp three times a day,” Yehudis continued, “so that I may commune with G-d.”

Heliphornus agreed, and Yehudis and her servants were given a place in the camp.

At the end of the third day, the Greek general planned a great feast for his generals. Yehudis was asked to come as well.

Cunningly, she plied Heliphornus with delicacies made of cheese and milk. In addition, she gave him glass after glass of wine.

As the night wore on, the other guests left and soon Yehudis was alone in the tent with the drunken Greek.

Telling her servants to stand guard outside the tent, Yehudis lifted a tear-stained face to heaven:

“Give me strength, in this moment when the fate of my people depends upon me. Let me be revenged on our enemies.”

Walking to the foot of the bed, Yehudis lifted the great sword of Heliphornus from its sheath. Lifting the heavy blade high, she struck him again and again until he was dead.

Deliberately and calmly, Yehudis placed the head of her victim in the basket, and walked through the camp, past the guards and out into the desert.

 

A Great Victory

When they were well past the Greek lines, Yehudis and her maid hastened towards the besieged city of Jerusalem. They were greeted with joy by those who had given her up for dead.

Yehudis explained all that had happened and declared: “Now is the hour of victory. G-d has granted you hope. Go and strike at the heathens:”

When the Greeks saw the Jews pouring out of the city to battle with them, they rushed to call Heliphornus. When they found his dead body, they were gripped by panic, and fled before the Jews, who gained a great victory.

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