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9****Ezra and Nechemia

Ezra and Nechemia

Born: (year, ?)

Died: Eretz Yisrael, in 3442, 350 BCE. or 3448, 344 BCE.

Ezra and Nechemia were both prophets.                                                  

According to Tractate Sanhedrin (93b) all of the book of Ezra was composed by Nechemia. Why, then, does the Book not carry his name? Because he sought credit for himself, saying, "Remember to me, O my God, for good, all that I have done for his people" (Nechemiah 5:19).  "R' Yosef said: Because he recounted the misdeeds of those who preceded him (ibid. v. 15) [which included] Daniel, who was greater than he.  

The books of Ezra and Nechemia are accounts of the return of many Jews from their exile in Babylonia and their rebuilding of the Temple. As much as the books tell of the rebirth of the Jewish state, they also discuss the many hurdles that had to be overcome in that process. Of the many tens of thousands of Jews in Babylonia and neighboring countries, very few actually listened to Ezra's call to return to the Land of Israel, and the new community was sorrowfully small. Samaritans (Kutim) constantly attacked the Jews with arrows and swords, hoping to force them to give up the building. Eventually, the Samaritans slandered the Jews before the King, and asked him to force the Jews to stop building their Temple. It would be years before the work on the city walls and the Temple would continue. All of the delays and disappointments discouraged the settlers, that along with a leadership void during the time that Ezra was out of the country, caused a serious weakness in religious observance. The point was reached where there were Jews who actually intermarried with the neighboring tribes! 

Nechemiah spent 12 years in the Land of Israel fixing the walls of Jerusalem and returning the people of Israel, each one to his city and to his inheritance. When the Temple was finally completed, it was a only a subdued celebration. The songs of joy were drowned out by the cries of sadness from those who still remembered the grandeur of the first Temple. But the Temple was completed nevertheless, and this second Temple would serve the Jewish people for 420 years. 

EZRA was the greatest Torah scholar of his generation, and he played an integral role in maintaining the continuity of the Jewish people and the oral tradition in the critical time of transition between the prophets and the Talmudic scholars. After studying diligently under Baruch ben Neriah, the great teacher and prophet in Babylonia, Ezra returned to the land of Israel after the Babylonian exile (during which the Purim story occurred) and spearheaded the effort to construct the second Temple in Jerusalem. He was so enthusiastic and passionate about spreading the words of the Torah, that the rabbis said that Ezra was worthy for the Torah to have been given through him, had Moses not preceded him. Ezra and his beit din (court) instituted ten enactments, including the practice of reading the Torah on Monday and Thursday mornings and Shabbat afternoon. His extensive efforts to bring the Jewish people back to Torah continued as he founded several schools of Torah study.

Ezra's death ended a 1000 years period of prophecy, which started, according to some opinions, with Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu, the first and greatest prophet at Mount Sinai in 2448, 1344 BCE.

Ezra not only wrote the canonical work which bears his name, but also compiled the Book of Chronicles (Divrei HaYamim) until he reached the genealogy of himself, at which point it was completed by Nechemia. Ezra served as a member of the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei K'neset Hagedolah), and left a lasting legacy of rejuvenating the Jewish people to return to faith in God and keeping the flame of Torah alive, paving the way for the ultimate redemption.

In Chapter 8 of the book of the prophet Nechemia, its written: On Rosh HaShanah, the people gathered in Yerushalayim, and Ezra the scribe read to them from the Torah and explained to them what it's meaning. When the people heard and realized that they had been so delinquent in their spiritual work, that they began to weep and lament. Nechemia said to them, (v. 9-10), ". . . for today is Holy to your G-d; do not mourn and do not weep. . . go home, eat good food and drink sweet wine, and send portions to those who did not prepare anything; today is Holy to our God, and the joy of Hashem is your strength."

 May the merit of the tzaddikim Ezra and Nechemia   protect us all, Amen.

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