In the last post, we started to discuss the five tragedies which occurred on the Ninth of Av. They are: the decree that our ancestors in the desert would not enter the land was issued; the first Temple was destroyed; the second Temple was destroyed; the city of Betar was conquered; the city of Jerusalem was plowed under. We pick up in this issue with the destruction of the second Temple.
3) The Destruction of the Second Temple
The Gemora, when addressing the topic of how we know that the destruction of the second Temple occurred on the ninth of Av, explains that the Temple must have been destroyed on this day, because of the principle “”Good things are brought to pass on auspicious days, bad things on an ominous day.”” The Gemora continues and explains that there were certain peculiarities about the events occurring at the time of the destruction of the first Temple, which were repeated at the time of the destruction of the second Temple as well. Therefore, the destruction of the second Temple had to occur on the day that the first Temple was destroyed – the Ninth of Av. The Me’iri writes that the sages on the Mishna clearly knew the exact date of the destruction of the second Temple. What the Gemora is telling us is that it couldn’t have been any other way, because misfortune is brought about in an ominous time.
4) The City of Betar was Conquered
The Gemora tells us that we know Betar was conquered on the ninth of Av because we have a tradition that this is so. The Medrash explains the events surrounding the fall of Betar. Fifty two years after the second Temple was destroyed, a large Jewish army massed in the city of Betar. The leader of this army was Bar Koziva, also known as Bar Kochba. The sage Rabbi Akiva became Bar Kochba’s armor bearer and regarded him as the Moshiach (Messiah). Bar Kochba was very successful in battle and managed to hold the Romans back for three and 1/2 years.
Bar Kochba’s eventual downfall stemmed from his belief that he could triumph without the assistance of G-d. He declared “”Lord of the Universe, neither help nor hinder us. Hashem, have you not deserted us (by allowing the Temple to be destroyed)? Now, you shall not go out with our armies.””
The real reason why the Roman general Hadrian, whose troops surrounded Betar, was not able to breach the city was because for those 3 1/2 years, the sage R’ Eleazar of Modi’in (Bar Kochba’s uncle) sat in sackcloth and prayed to Hashem that He “”should not sit in judgment today.”” Hadrian was about to abandon his siege when a Cuthite approached him and told him the secret of Betar’s defense – R’ Eleazar. The Cuthite also told Hadrian his plan of how to conquer Betar. The Cuthite managed to get into the city, and sought out R’ Eleazar. When he found the sage, he was engrossed in prayer and oblivious to what was occurring around him. The Cuthite, unbeknown to R’ Eleazar, went over to him and pretended to whisper in his ear. The guards of Bar Kochba who witnessed this incident were suspicious, and reported to Bar Kochba that “”your uncle R’ Eleazar is plotting to surrender the city.”” After the guards finished relating the incident, Bar Kochba sent for the Cuthite. Upon questioning, the Cuthite told Bar Kochba that R’ Eleazar told him that he is ready to surrender the city. Bar Kochba then immediately went to R’ Eleazar with the accusations the Cuthite made. When R’ Eleazar denied ever having such a conversation, Bar Kochba became angered, and kicked R’ Eleazar, who was instantly killed. Soon after R’ Eleazar died, the city of Betar was captured and Bar Kochba was killed, with his head presented to Hadrian. Hadrian acknowledged that had G-d not allowed him to defeat Bar Kochba, he would never have been able to do such.
The Tiferes Yisroel wrote that 580,000 Jews were killed in Betar. The Medrash says that the amount of casualties was so great, that horses were submerged in blood up to their noses. Blood flowed from Betar into the Mediterranean Sea, carrying huge stones with it. The Rambam (Maimonides) wrote that the capture of Betar and slaughter of its inhabitants was a tragedy as great as the destruction of the Temple.
5) The City was Plowed Under
According to one text in the Gemora, we know that the city of Jerusalem was plowed under from tradition. The Gemora relates that Turnus Rufus, a Roman officer, plowed the area of the Temple under. The Rambam adds to this that not only did he plow the Temple area, but the area around it as well.
Check out all of the posts on The Three Weeks: 17 Tammuz – 9 Av Mourning the Destruction. Head over to http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.