Chanukah and Purim — Who was Zerubavel Anyway?

Most are familiar with the famous “Maoz Tzur” prayer which we sing on Chanukah after lighting the candles.  This song was composed in the 13th century.  The composer, named Mordechai, spelled out his first name in the initial letters of the first five stanzas.  The various exiles that the Jewish people endured are alluded to and G-d is praised for redeeming the Jewish people from each catastrophe.  The prayer concludes with the request for the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash to be built in Yerushalayim, Israel, on the Temple Mount and for the arrival of the Moshiach.

  • The first stanza, “מעוז צור” is a plea for the reestablishment of the Beis Hamikdash in the time of Moshiach.
  • The second stanza, “רעות שבעה” reminds us of the bondage in Egypt.  Egypt is described as a kingdom compared to a calf.

ירמיה מו:כ

עגלה יפה פיה מצרים, קרץ מצפון בא בא.

Egypt is a beautiful calf, but a slaughterer from the North is surely coming.  (Yirmiyahu 46:20)

  • Third stanza, דביר קדשו”” is a reference to the first Beis Hamikdash.  The oppressor is Bavel.  Of significance is the mention of Zerubavel.  At the end of the seventy year Babylonian exile, Zerubavel came and the Jewish Nation was saved.

דביר קדשו הביאני.

וגם שם, לא שקטתי ובא נוגש והגלני.

כי זרים עבדתי, ויין רעל מסכתי.

כמעט שעברתי

קץ בבל, זרבבל

לקץ שבעים נושעתי.

[To] the Holy of Holies (the Beis Hamikdash) He brought me.

            But there, too, I had no rest and an oppressor came and exiled me.

            For I had served non-Jews, and had drunk poisoned [sinful] wine.

            Scarcely had I departed [my land]

            When at Bavel’s demise Zerubavel came –

At the end of seventy years I was saved.

  • The next three stanzas: “”כרות קומת, “יונים נקבצו”, “חשוף זרוע” are references to Purim, Greece (Chanukah), and Moshiach.

Who was Zerubavel?

From the fact that we sing this hymn yearly, for hundreds of years, it seems that Zerubavel was very significant. Based on the order of miraculous events listed, another question to be asked is whether the holidays of Purim and Chanukah and the miraculous survival of the Jews from Haman and the Greeks was inevitable? In other words, were these events supposed to occur or was there an alternative narrative?  The answer to these questions lays in the not so well known story of Zerubavel.

Firstly, one needs to address the significance of the seventy years in Bavel.

ירמיה כט:י

כי כה אמר ה’  כי לפי מלאת לבבל שבעים שנה אפקד אתכם, והקמתי עליכם את דברי הטוב להשיב אתכם אל המקום הזה.

Thus said Hashem: after 70 years for Bavel have passed I will attend to you and I will fulfill for you my favorable promise, to return you to this place. (Yirmiyahu 29:10)

This was the 70 year period that was miscalculated by Achashverosh in the Purim story. Achashverosh miscalculated the end of seventy years from the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, and on that day he had the fateful party celebrating the abandonment of the Jewish people by G-d; the Jews participated in that feast.  The accurate conclusion of the seventy year period begins with the book of Ezra (3408/-353).

In the year 3390 (-371), the king of the Babylonian empire Darius I (the Mede) was killed in battle and his son in law Cyrus the Persian, became the king of the Persian Empire.  Cyrus encouraged the Jews living in Bavel to return to their homeland in Eretz Yisrael and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash.

דיברי הימים ב לו:כב-כג

ובשנת אחת לכורש מלך פרס לכלות דבר ה’ בפי ירמיהו, העיר ה’ את רוח כורש מלך פרס ויעבר קול בכל מלכותו וגם במכתב לאמר: כה אמר כורש מלך פרס כל ממלכות הארץ נתן לי ה’ אלקי השמים והוא פקד עלי לבנות לו בית בירושלים אשר ביהודה, מי בכם מכל עמו ה’ אלקיו עמו ויעל.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, upon the expiration of Hashem’s prophesy spoken by Yirmiyahu, Hashem aroused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, and he issued a proclamation throughout his kingdom – and in writing as well – saying:  “Thus said Cyrus king of Persia: Hashem, G-d of Heaven, has given to me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has commanded me to build Him a Temple in Yerushalayim, which is in Yehuda.  Whoever there is among you of His entire people – may Hashem his G-d be with him, and let him go up!”

(Divrei Hayamim II 36:22-23)

עזרא א:א-ד

ובשנת אחת לכורש מלך פרס לכלות דבר ה’ מפי ירמיה, העיר ה’ את רוח כרש מלך פרס ןועבר קול בכל מלכותו וגם במכתב לאמר: כה אמר כרש מלך פרס כל ממלכות הארץ נתן לי ה’ אלקי השמים, והוא פקד עלי לבנות לו בית בירושלים אשר ביהודה:  מי בכפ מכל עמו יהי אלקיו עמו ןועל לירושלים אשר ביהודה, ויבןאת בית ה’ אלקי ישראל הוא האלקים אשר בירושלים:  וכל הנשאר מכל המקמות אשר הוא גר שם ינשאוהו אנשי מקמו בכסף ובזהב וברכוש ובבהמה, עם הנדבה לבית האלקים אשר בירושלים.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, upon the conclusion of Hashem’s prophecy by the mouth of Yirmiyah, Hashem aroused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, and he issued a proclamation throughout his kingdom – and in writing as well, saying: “Thus said Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth has Hashem, G-d in heaven, given to me and He has commanded me to build Him a Temple in Yerushalayim, which is in Yehuda. Whoever is among you of His entire people – may his G-d be with him –  and let him go up to Yerushalayim which is in Yehuda and build the Temple of Hashem, G-d of Israel – He is the G-d- which is in Yerushalayim.  And whoever remains, in whatever place he dwells, let the inhabitants of that place bestow upon him gifts of silver and gold, of valuables and of animals; together with the contribution for the Temple of G-d which is  in Yerushalayim.  (Ezra 1:1-4)

More than 40,000 people returned with Zerubavel, this included: Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol, Nechemya, and Mordechai.  Sadly, most of the Jewish people chose to remain in Bavel.

עזרא ב:סד

כל הקהל כאחד, ארבע רבוא אלפים שלש מאות ששים.

The entire congregation together numbered forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty. (Ezra 2:64)

תלמוד קידושין סט.

עשרה יוחסין עלו מבבל כהני לויי ישראלי חללי גירי וחרורי ממזירי נתיני שתוקי ואסופי.

Ten genealogical classes went up from Bavel [to Eretz Yisrael]: Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim, chalalim (disqualified Kohanim), converts, and freed [Canaani] slaves, mamzerim, shetukim (known identity of mother not father), and asufim (not know identity of father or mother). (Talmud Kidushin 69a)

תלמוד קידושין סט:

איתמר אביי אמר עלו  מאיליהם תנן ורבא אמר העלום תנן.

It has been taught: Abaye said: The Mishna states: the ten groups went up (of their own will).  But Rava said: The Mishna states: They took them up (against their own will)…

In the year 3391 (-370) Zerubavel, from the tribe of Yehuda, and Yeshua the Kohen Gadol began building the Beis Hamikdash by building the mizbeyach.

עזרא ג:א-ב

ויגע החדש השביעי ובני ישראל בערים, ויאספו העם כאיש אחד אל ירושלים: ויקם ישוע בן יוצדק ואחיו הכהנים וזרבבל בן שאלתיאל ואחיו ויבנו את מזבח אלקי ישראל, להעלות עליו עלות ככתוב בתורת משה איש האלקים.

The seventh month [Tishrei] arrived and the children of Yisrael were [settled] in the cities.  The people then assembled as one man to Yerushalayim.  Then Yeshua son of Yozadak [the Kohen Gadol] arose, along with his brothers the Kohanim and Zerubavel son of Shealtiel and his brothers, and they built the Altar of the G-d of Yisrael, to offer burnt-offerings upon it, as it is written in the Torah of Moshe, the man of G-d. (Ezra 3:1-2)

That year on Rosh Hashanah they began the daily karbanos of the Beis Hamikdash.  Many who made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrel at that time were not from the tribes of Yehuda or Binyamin.

That Iyar, Zerubavel and Yeshua the Kohen Gadol initiated the construction of the Beis Hamikdash.  A choir of Leviim began to sing during the services as they did in the Beis Hamikdash.

עזרא ג: ו- י

מיום אחד לחדש השביעי החלו להעלות עלות לה’, והיכל לא יסד: …ובשנה השנית לבואם אל בית האלקים לירושלים בחדש השני, החלו זרבבל בן שאלתיאל וישוע בן יוצדק… ויסדו הבנים את היכל ה’, ויעמידו הכהניםמלבשים בחצצרות והלויים בני אסף במצלתים להלל את ה על ידי דויד מלך ישראל.

From the first day of the seventh month they commenced offering burnt-offerings to Hashem, but the foundation of the Sanctuary of Hashem had not yet been laid…In the second year of their arrival at the [site of the] Temple of G-d, to Yerushalayim, in the second month Zerubavel son of Shealtiel and Yeshua son of Yozadak…When the builders  had laid the foundation of the Sanctuary of Hashem they stationed the Kohanim, [elegantly] attired , with trumpets, and the Leviim, the sons of Asaf, with cymbals, to praise Hashem through [the Tehillim of ] Dovid, king of Yisrael. (Ezra 3:6-10)

The Kutim (“good” Samaritans) disrupted the building of the Beis Hamikdash and persuaded Cyrus to withdraw his authorization to build.  Construction was halted and the [wicked] Samaritans actively sought to have the ban continued.

עזרא ד: ד-ה

ויהי עם הארץ מרפים ידי עם יהודה, ומבהלים אותם לבנות: וסכרים עליהם יועצים להפר עצתם, כל ימי כורש מלך פרס ועד מלכות דריוש מלך פרס:

Then, people of the land [Samaritans] weakened the hands of the people of Yehuda and frightened them [from] building. They [the Samaritans] hired advisers against them [the Jews] to disrupt their plans, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:5)

Achashverosh II became the Emperor in 3392 after the death of Cyrus.  He maintained and confirmed the moratorium on the building of the Beis Hamikdash after being persuaded by the Samaritans. However, a miracle occurred and in 3406 (-355), Mordechai and Queen Esther declared the 15th of Adar as the holiday celebration of Purim.

In 3408 (-353), Chagay conveyed a prophecy to Zerubavel and Yeshua on the first of Elul, that they should rebuild the Beis Hamikdash, even in the absence of official permission.  Darius II, the son of Esther and Achashveirosh, eventually allowed the official building of the second Beis Hamikdash to continue.  This was the accurate conclusion of the seventy years after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash.

עזרא ה: ב

באדין קמו זרבבל בר שאלתיאל וישוע בר יוצדק ושריו למבנא בית אלהא די בירושלים, ועמהון נביאיא די אלהא מסעדין להון.

Then Zerubavel son of Shaltiel and Yeshu son of Tzodak arose and began to build the Temple of G-d that was in Yerushalayim, and with them were the prophets of G-d, assisting them. (Ezra 5:2)        

On the 24th of Elul preparations began and on the 24th of Kislev (3426/-335) the actual construction of the Beis Hamikdash resumed.

חגי א: א-ב, יב, יד-טו

בשנת שתים לדריוש המלך בחודש השישי ביום אחד לחודש, היה דבר ה’ ביד חגי הנביא אל זרבבל בן שאלתיאל פחת יהודה ואל יהושע בן יהוצדק הכהן הגדול לאמר: כה אמר ה’ צבקות לאמור, העם הזה אמרו לא עת בא עת בית ה’ להבנות:…וישמע זרבבל בן שלתיאל ויהושע בן יהוצדק הכהן הגדול וכל שארית העם בקול ה’ אלקיהם ועל דיברי חגי הנביא…ויער ה את רוח זרבבל בן שלתיאל פחת יהודה…ביום עשרים וארבעה לחדש בשישי בשנת שתים לדריוש המלך.

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month [Elul], on the first day of the month, the word of Hashem came by the hand of Chagay the Navi to Zerubavel son of Shealtiel, governor of Yehuda, and to Yoshua son Yehozadak, the Kohen Gadol saying:  “Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions: This nation has said, The time has not yet come! [But I say] It is time for the Temple of Hashem to be rebuilt!”…And so Zerubavel son of Shealtiel and Yoshua son of Yehozadak, the Kohen Gadol, and the entire remnant of the people listened to the voice of Hashem their G-d and to the words of Chagay the Navi…Hashem aroused the spirit of Zerubavel son of Shaltiel, the governor of Yehuda…On the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth [month of Elul], in the second year of King Darius. (Chagay 1: 1-2,12,14-15)

The future holiday of Chanukah is to occur 200 years later

Chagay related his prophesy about the future holiday of Chanukah.  Chanukah was officially proclaimed a holiday on the 25th of Kislev (3623/-138).  This was a victory rejecting Greek secular culture and rule.  The Beis Hamikdash was rededicated to the service of G-d without Greek interference.  Secular influence was not to be tolerated.

חגי ב: ו, י, יח-יט

כי כה אמר ה’ צבקות עוד אחת מעט היא, ואני מרעיש את השמים ואת הארץ ואת הים ואת החרבה:…בעשרים וארבעה לתשיעי בשנת שתים לדריוש, היה דבר ה אל חגי הנביא לאמר…ויען חגי ויאמר…שימו נא לבבכם מן היום הזה ומעלה, מיום עשרים וארבעה לתשיעי למן היום אשר יסד היכל ה’ שימו לבבכם:מיום הזה אברך:

For thus said Hashem, Master of Legions: There will be one more; it is a small one [Greek rule, Chashmonaim revolt, miracle of Chanukah]I will shake heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land…On the twenty-fourth of the ninth [month of Kislev], in the second year of Darius, the word of Hashem came to Chagay the Navi, saying:…Chagay spoke up and said:…set now your heart [to consider] from this day and before, from the twenty-fourth of the ninth [month, Kislev], [back] to the day when the foundations of the Sanctuary were laid [in the days of Cyrus]; set your heart [to consider]…But from this day on I will provide blessing. (Chagay 2: 6, 10, 18-19)

The second Beis Hamikdash was completed on the 3rd of Adar 3412 (-349).

עזרא ו: טו

ושיציא ביתה דנה עד יום תלתה לירח אדר, די היא שנת שת למלכות דריוש מלכא.

This Temple was completed by third day of the month of Adar, during the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. (Ezra 6:15)

In the year 3413, Ezra Hasofer, as the head of the Sanhedrin (the Anshei Kineses Hagedolah), went up to Eretz Yisrael.

עזרא ז: א-ח

ואחר הדברים האלה במלכות ארתחשסתא מלך פרס, עזרא בן שריה בן עזריה בן חלקיה:..בן אבישוע בן פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן הראש: הוא עזרא עלה מבבל…ויבא ירושלים בחודש החמישי…

After these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia (Darius son of Queen Esther), Ezra son of Serayah son of Azaryah son of Chilkiya…son of Avishua son of Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon, the first Kohen…this Ezra ascended from Bavel…He arrived in Yerushalayim in the fifth month [Av]…

(Ezra 7:1-8)

He arrived in Yerushalim on the first of Av (3413/-348) with a small group of Jews compared to the larger numbers that returned with Zerubavel.  The majority of Jews, millions (including great Torah scholars) chose to remain in Chutz La’aretz (Bavel), similar to current times.

יומא ט:

            ריש לקיש הוי סחי בירדנא אתא רבה בר בר חנה  יהב ליה ידא א”ל אלהא סנינא לכו.

Reish Lakish, who lived in Eretz Yisrael, was once swimming in the Yarden River.  Rabah bar bar Chanah, [who was from Bavel] came [by and noticed him starting to leave the water.  Thereupon], he gave him his hand to assist him. [Reish Lakish] then said to [Rabah bar bar Chanah]: G-d hates you [Babylonians]!   (G-d hates all Babylonian Jews who did not make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in the days of Ezra, and thus prevented the Shechina from returning and resting in the second Beis Hamikdash).  (Talmud Bavli Yoma 9b)

The Babylonian exile officially came to an end. Ezra officially gave the months Babylonian names (Nissan, Iyar etc. instead of 1st month second month etc.) as a form of commemoration of the exile that had been in Bavel.

Nechemya, in 3426, gained support of the King Darius II in Babylonia to go up to Yerushalyim and rebuild its walls. During this reconstruction they had to keep a continuous guard against their enemies, the Samaritans.  Ezra and the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, excommunicated the Samaritans from the Shomron area, because of all the difficulties they caused the Jewish nation.

Zerubavel was still very significant at this time, since he was part of the one hundred and twenty elders of the Anshei Kineses Hagedolah, who led the Jewish people during the early years of the Second Beis Hamikdash.  Their members included eighty Neviim (prophets).  Among the distinguished prophets were: Ezra (the leader), Zecharyia, Chagay, Daniel, Chananyah ,Mishae’l, Azaryah, Nechemya,  Mordechai, Zerubavel, and Shimon Hatzadik. They instituted the daily prayer, the Shmonei Esrei, Kiddush, havdallah and regular berachos.

(Continued in part 2: Was Zerubavel Moshiach?)

About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA , made aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. Received Rabbinical ordination in 1997. He is also a active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Currently practicing in Laniado Hospital in Netanya; speciaizing in the surgical care of all problems of the colon, rectum and anus.
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