A Biblical Story of Treachery from the Second Temple Period
Translation Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
Translations from Hebrew
Copyright 2002 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
The Treachery of Traitors
By Sarah Feige Foner of the House of Menkin
Published in Hebrew in Warsaw 1891
A Word to the Readers
I applied myself to study the history of our people, and I saw that these events needed explaining. What did Ptolemy expect, and what did he get? Behold, he was the son-in-law of the High Priest and his wife was a daughter of the Hasmoneans who without a doubt was beautiful and wise. How extraordinary that he should kill her. Could he marry another daughter of Israel like her? If a man is angry with his wife, will he destroy his whole father-in-law's house? What was the political situation immediately following the death of the High Priest Simon, such that the king of Greece came with a mighty army and laid siege to Jerusalem? Therefore, I decided to shed light on these events.
The history of our people is known to every reader, that Ptolemy was a Hellenist, and how the aristocrats during this period inclined to the laws of the non-Jews more than they were inclined to the laws of the Israel. All of them chased after honors, including Ptolemy. Based on this we can quickly come to understand the thoughts of our people's historian. Ptolemy killed his wife because he had set his eyes on the daughter of the Greek king who had enmeshed him in her seductions, as we will see in this story. He slew his father-in-law along with his brother-in-law because he wanted to destroy all of the Hasmonean seed, in order that he alone would inherit the throne. In all the evil that he did, he was confident and sure that the king of Greece stood on his right, and maybe it would have been so had not the youngest son, Yochanan, escaped. When the Greek king saw that there was another son of Simon left and that the children of Israel would take him as king over themselves, he angrily expelled Ptolemy from his presence. King Antiochus himself went up against Jerusalem and besieged her, as is written in the book of Josephus. On these foundations I base this story, and I hope that the community of readers will find pleasure in it. I chose this time period because it is rich in meaning and drama.
Next to Mount Modein unfolded a large valley which was lovely to behold. To one side appeared Mount Modein, and to the other side, a high hill extended out a great distance. The hill was covered in vineyards, and the vineyards were interlocked to one another by their vines and branches to the point that whole hill looked like a single vineyard. To the third side was built a large and handsome house, and everyone who passed it would recognize that the rich man who lived amongst the pleasing fields was their lord. In the courtyard were built stalls for horses, asses and camels, and also sheds and pens for many sheep and cattle. To the fourth side of the valley, gardens, orchards and fields stretched into the distance. Everybody will quickly recognize that a very rich man was the lord of the house. Do you also, honorable reader, wish to know the name of this rich man? Here I will tell you his history and what happened to him from this time until the day of his death. The name of the master of the house and everything that you see around it was Aviazar. This man is pure and righteous, God-fearing and removed from evil. Even though he wasn't learned in Torah, for all of this he loved the Lord, with all his heart, his soul and his might, and he observed the Torah of the Lord like all the great and learned men of the Lord. On the days of pilgrimage and holiday he went to the holy city of Jerusalem to seek Torah from the mouths of the learned, and the lips of the righteous priests taught him knowledge and fear of the Lord. He never delayed in bringing the Meiser (tenth part) and Trumah Omer and First Fruits before the Lord, and the servants of the Lord warmed themselves from the fleece of his sheep. The poor always found the missed gleanings and the Peah in the fields of Aviazar. When the priests of the Lord gathered in his house, he would make for them a feast and celebration. Aviazar, his wife, his son and his daughter all waited on them and served them, and they did this willingly in perfect joy and satisfaction. At this time, as occurred every year, the ruler and high priest of Israel, Simon the son of Matitiyahu, would go with his sons and all the great and important people of the city to the tomb of Matitiyahu his father, to visit him on the anniversary of his death. Since the priests were not permitted to approach the tomb, but only those of Israel. Aviazar and his son Yehuda always went out to greet the high priest. They would bow before him and request him to detour into their vineyard and rest a little, a wish that was never denied. Many wondered about this honor that was given a villager and they didn't know the explanation for this, but it was obvious that they weren't family because Aviazar was of the tribe of Benjaman.
"Please look, my son," said Aviazar to Yehuda his son, as they stood in his great vineyard that was planted on a fertile slope. "From afar those look to me like an assembly of people are gathering and standing in rows next to our second vineyard below. Go and look and tell me who they are."
The youth ran off and returned in a moment, and signs of joy were visible on his face.
"My dear father," cried the youth in great excitement, "Behold the high priest with all the dignitaries of the city stand there and converse."
"You saw well, my son," Aviazar said joyously. "The anniversary is here, the day the high priest Matitiyahu expired and gave up his breath." As he spoke, he ran in excitement where they were assembled. But when he saw everybody gathered around the high priest listening to his words, he also stood at a distance to listen to the words of the ruler of Israel.
"Pray remember my people, people of the Lord, what the Lord has wrought for you in your lives. This very place we are now standing was not ours, because the enemy overcame us and took our land from our hands, not even allowing us passage for the soles of our feet. In this place stood an evil man from the aristocracy of our people, and he sold himself to do great abominations. He sacrificed a pig on the altar of a graven image, an appalling abomination. This man was an inflammatory enemy of the Lord, and a disgrace to the living God. Therefore, the Lord, God of Vengeance, roused the spirit of my father. All the zealots of the Lord formed an army, and they struck the enemies of the Lord and took their vengeance on them. From that time on, we went forth from slavery to freedom, and we stand here as free men this day. The Lord also set shepherds on his people as he saw fit, and my father led you with knowledge and wisdom. My brother Judah exposed his body unto death for our holy city and our people, and I will do the same until we god-fearing are revenged on all our enemies who rise against us. God forbid that I should abandon you even a moment, only be strong and brave! Serve the Lord in wholeness and seek him with all of your heart, then you will be redeemed in eternal salvation. Do not bow before our oppressors if you see that they are many. Remember this place, where with a few men and the help of the merciful God, my father put to flight a nation as mighty and numerous as the nation of Antiochus the Wicked. Many times my brother Judah was destined for terrible misfortune, and all of Israel with him, and every time the Lord saved them. Many times I have despaired of my life, and the Lord helped me. Now the Lord has widened our borders and made great our name, and with the help of God here we stand this day on the heights of success. But guard well in your souls lest you destroy what our fathers built, because then you will be forever in hardship. Do not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and do not lust after the palaces of the idolaters that surround us, their daughters, their slaves, and all that is theirs. If you make a covenant with them you will become their eternal slaves. The fate of lifelong slaves, if you don't know, is that as long as his master is pleased, he serves him. When the days come that the master is no longer pleased, the slave is driven out or put to death. So will happen with you in later days if you don't hearken to my advice."
"The Lord is our God, and you are our King!" cried the crowd when the high priest finished talking. "You are the light of Israel, you rule over us, you and your son and the sons of your son forever." So cried the assemblage in a great voice, except for one man who was mute and reflective. And who was this one? How extraordinary! It was Ptolemy, the son-in-law of the king, and the expression on his face showed that he didn't like the words of his father-in-law or the acclamation of the crowd. Yochanan, the young son of Simon, saw this and despised him in his heart.
And it happened that when the king rose to go on his way, Aviazar went to greet him. He bowed to him and said, "Please my lord, prince of God, make me a sign of affirmation, and honor me by visiting my vineyards and blessing your servant Aviazar, because through your blessing, many will be blessed."
The high priest answered him with a nod of his head as a sign that his wish would be fulfilled, and then he and the whole assembly continued on. But Ptolemy blocked his way, and said, "Please don't my lord and father-in-law. It's not proper for the high priest to go to the house of a villager." To Aviazar he said, "Remove yourself from the path, hollow man who chases after honor. How did you embolden your heart to request a thing like this?" Aviazar was humiliated by the words of Ptolemy, and he retreated backwards, but the high priest said to him, "Do not fear good man, peace unto you, because your ways are as wholesome as those of your father. Why should I not accept your offer? Behold I will fulfill your wish." And to his son-in-law he said, "God forbid, my son, that you should be sharp with a pure and upright man, whose heart is as his father's heart. His father was among the first that followed our father to take the vengeance of the Lord and his people from the hands of those who hated and pursued us. His tomb is beside the tomb of our father, and this is his son Aviazar, a neighbor of our father. Who is it that gives us honor and greatness if not He who makes equal the great and the small, and why did He set a king over His people? Are we not all children of one Father, and after everything is finished, our spirits and souls are all gathered to Him. How can a man be proud over his brethren?"
Ptolemy didn't say another word, but he devised evil thoughts in his heart. The high priest and the people that accompanied him turned to the vineyard of Aviazar, but Ptolemy with a few men that were part of his intimate circle set off on their way.
"I pray thee, dear father," said Yochanan the youngest son to his father, "I pray thee, don't keep bringing your son-in-law Ptolemy with you. Is he not always rebelling and finding ways to diminish you? And that's not enough for him, but he also refuses fulfill your wishes. He is emboldened with evil and he intends to violate your intentions and your council. I see this nature that he inherited from his fathers, to chase after honors and to seek office."
"He dresses himself in pride with our father," spoke up Hyrcanus, who until now had walked and conversed with other people.
"That he dresses himself in pride when he is with our father is very proper, because his father-in-law is the high priest and king while he isn't even a plain priest, but why act haughty with the villagers who are people of his standing?" said Yochanan in jest.
"Leave off speaking mockery," cried the father to his sons. "You! Do you also seek to diminish a man?" The sons were shamed by the words of their father and didn't say any more. Many of the people whispered and reinforced the words of Simon's sons. Everyone who loved of the Hasmoneans hated Ptolemy with a consuming hatred, but they didn't speak because of the respect they had for Simon.
The high priest together with all the people rested in the vineyard of Aviazar, blessed him, and continued on their way, but Simon's youngest son remained in the house of Aviazar.
Chapter Two - Yehudit and Her Mother
The sun faced the evening, husbanding the remains of her strength and gathering all her luminance about her. It was as if she wished to make reparations to all those now enjoying her rays, who had held back from them during the heat of the day. Many of the people had hidden themselves in their houses and closed and bolted their doors after them, in order that she shouldn't burn them with her heat. Now she was setting a little, but she cast her light on the tips of the towers and the trees and her skirts stretched out over all the square that was around the city like she was speaking to the creations of her making. "On your behalf, creations of God, on your behalf I went out from the city to dwell in the fields, the vineyards and the villages. In order that you know that I am the messenger of the God of Zion, and I treat equally the small and the large, the city dweller and the villager. You villagers carried out much labor today, and your work is seen throughout my lofty house, people of the earth. You didn't close your doors and bolt them after you, but you stood there and suffered before me. Now come and enjoy the bounty of peace, because you know no jealousy and there is no hate in your eyes."
A dry wind from the heights blew from every side of the valley, changing the fields to cities and the vineyards to nobles' palaces. All of the fields were filled with men, women and children. The respectable sons of Zion and esteemed daughters of Zion went out to breathe the air. The farmers and the villagers returned from their work to refresh themselves and rest from the labor of the day. Some walked carrying their sickles in their hands, and some came and went singing because they carried sheaves. Even the shepherds strolled and sang, because the day was retreated and the night called them to rest, and the bleats of their flocks were heard into the distance. The vineyards filled with people from the heights of Zion, sitting and drinking from wine bowls and eating the blessed fruits of the earth.
Yochanan, the son of Simon the high priest, sat in one vineyard that belonged to Aviazar, but he didn't eat and didn't drink. He just watched between the rows of the vineyard as the crowds passed before him. He looked, and behold! Amongst the daughters of the shepherds walked one maiden who was lovely as the moon and beaming like the sun. Her face was inscribed in purity and honesty, and her eyes sparkled like the stars in the sky as they searched in every direction, until she beheld her mother standing at a distance at the entry of the vineyard. She ran to greet her and to hug and kiss her, and she said, "Greetings, dear mother. I saw our king from a distance today, long may he live, together with a great assembly of Israel walking with him to Mount Modein. Without doubt this must be the anniversary of the death of his father the high priest Matitiyahu. I wanted to run home and help you in the house, but I couldn't abandon the flock that is under the supervision of Boaz and his brother Ustus, lest they all scatter in the hills without a shepherd."
The mother laughed at the words of her daughter, and she said, "Blessed is the Lord of Zion, Yehudit my darling daughter. Peace unto you. I did all of my work today without you, and it wasn't heavy on me, but what's this my ears hear that you were watching the flocks? Have your parents made you a shepherdess? Won't your father be wroth with you if he hears about this, because your parents didn't bring you up to watch the sheep. Secondly, didn't the high priest with his two sons and many of the dignitaries of Israel honor us today by visiting our vineyard? You weren't there and didn't see all the honor we merited today from the friend of God and the people, our King, because he spoke to your father and blessed him and all his house."
"God forbid that I should violate your instructions," replied the maiden, "But didn't you instruct Yehuda to go to the harvesters and supervise them, that they leave the gleanings as is proper? As there was a fresh breeze this morning, so I went with him, and thought that I would return in a little while. But when I arrived there, I saw the flock scattered over the face of the pasture, with only old Rueven sitting a ways off and unable to do a thing. I asked him, "Where are the shepherds?" He answered me "Go to Boaz's house and you will see what is there." I went there and behold, Boaz was lying on a sick bed. His brother stood beside him but he didn't know what to do. I ran to the fields and picked herbs, and I also milked one goat and gave him a drink. I boiled the herbs and I ordered his brother to give him one spoonful to drink every hour, and I also ordered him not to leave the bed of the sick man all day. And I promised him that in the evening my dear mother would also come to visit him, because maybe the drugs that I prescribed him wouldn't help and it was important to call in a doctor greater than I!" As she spoke a gentle smile was visible on her lips that added more favor and charm to her beauty and splendor. "Ustus said to me: "How can I sit all day next to my brother! Won't the flock disperse without a shepherd?" So I promised him on my word that I would watch them all day, and what could I do? Truthfully I was very sad that I was too late for their visit, but for all that I am satisfied because I saved a man from harm, and who wouldn't have done as I? Besides this, it escapes my reason to understand how it is shameful, my dear mother, to herd sheep? Wasn't Rachel the Matriarch a shepherdess?"
"It's not shameful my daughter, only we don't put such labor on your shoulders. There is always the danger that you will ruin yourself with the gentle daughters of Zion, for if they knew that Yehudit the daughter of Aviazar was herding sheep, then they would abhor you in their souls."
Yehudit laughed and said, "If what happened to me today were to happen to them and they didn't do as I, then my soul would abhor them, even though they are the daughters of ministers and aristocrats."
"You are right my darling daughter," said the mother. "The Lord will recompense according to your deeds, and your heart is whole with the Lord and the people. Now pray know that the son of the high priest, young Yochanan, remains in our vineyard by his fathers permission until tomorrow."
The maiden blushed from happiness and asked, "Where is he?"
"In the vineyard," the mother answered.
"If so, let us go home, because it's not proper for us to stand here," and she didn't know that Yochanan watched her closely and listened attentively to everything she said.
"How beautiful and wonderful she is, attractive and wholesome like no other! In her beauty and wisdom she resembles my aunt Yehudit when she was young," said the youth in his heart. Then he turned and went to sit on a bench that was made for resting, and he submerged himself in the refuge of his thoughts.
Chapter Three - Yochanan and the Children of Aviazar
The night came and went, and the dark curtain that covered the light blue skies rose slowly to reveal them. The first rays of the sun began spreading their brightness and awakening all those who were sleeping and drowsing.
The whole household of Aviazar rose to do their work, but Yochanan, the son of Simon, remained lying on his bed in the summer house in the vineyard. Aviazar closed the vineyard in order not to disturb the man from his sleep. Yehudit and Yehudah, the children of Aviazar rose also and they went to another vineyard which was near the first.
"Pray tell me, dear brother, what is the appearance of the young priest, this son of the high priest? Does he look like his father, who always seems to me as an angel on high?" asked Yehudit.
"He is a beautiful lad beyond compare," answered Yehuda.
"May the Lord grant that I see him and speak to him face to face, then I would be happy," said Yehudit at the end of the walk.
"Sit here," said Yehuda, "until he rises from his sleep, and then you will be able to see him."
"I will go home and I won't again come here as long as the young priest will be here, because it's not proper," said Yehudit on second thought, even though every limb of her body trembled from longing to see the son of the king.
"Pray pardon me, lily of the valley," a voice was heard speaking from behind them. "Pray pardon me. If I am disturbing you then I will leave your father's house immediately. But tell me please, my innocent one, what wickedness you find in me that you distance yourself from me even while I seek to be near you."
Yehudit and Yehuda were stunned when they turned about and saw that Yochanan, the son of the king, spoke such good and pleasing words to them. Yehuda was mute and didn't answer a word, but Yehudit stood firm with a brave spirit and said, "God forbid that you, a prince of God, should think such about your maidservant, the daughter of your servant Aviazar. As great as the respect for your father and our ruler's household is in the eyes of all Israel, so it is in our eyes. How could your coming to us be for me anything other than a boundless honor? Why does my lord speak words like this? If it is good in your eyes, then remain with us many days. We will always be at the ready for anything you command."
"If you await my command, saffron of the Sharon, then the instruction I lay upon you is that from this day you will think of me as a brother. And I, like a brother, will think to the welfare of his dear sister."
Yehudit blushed and was mute, but Yehuda said, "And how is your sister, the wife of Ptolemy?"
"Alas, my sister is miserable. She is wretched like no other because despite her anger and wrath she was made Ptolemy's wife."
"And who compelled her like Mount Sinai leaning over the children of Israel, that she be married to a man that her heart despises?"
"This is an incomprehensible wonder to us," said Yehudit and Yehuda as one. "Does he not rule men justly, and not place any yoke on a man, much less his children?"
"My father did this for peace," said Yochanan. "After the defeat of the army of Antiochus at the hands of my grandfather Matitiyahu, wars began with all our enemies near and far, large and powerful wars. New destroyers continually sprouted from the midst of our people. Verily my grandfather slew a man while he was offering up pig fat to an appalling abomination, and many rose up in his place who did no better than him. My grandfather and my uncles Judas and Eliezer pursued them in hot anger, but even as they pursued them, they multiplied and spread."
"The evil ones will always flourish, like the poisonous herbs in the furrows of the fields and the more one uproots them, the more they sprout," said Yehudit and turned red.
Yochanan laughed and said, "You are correct, honorable maiden, and you have given voice to a parable that was unknown to me. As the Lord favored you with kindness and beauty, He also included wisdom and knowledge."
"If only my sister had been a man," said Yehuda. "By now, without doubt, she would be studying wisdom and would be a wonder in Israel."
"If she had been a man," said Yochanan, "She wouldn't be able to make happy the man that she chooses! But let us return, please, to our discussion. When my father rose in the place of his father and brothers to be the priest and also the ruler, the first thing he did was to make peace with those who pursued honor, as my father always called them. All of the evil done in Israel is done only for the sake of honor. It was their desire to make themselves rulers over the people of the Lord and to strip their skins from them. This was why they wanted to deliver the city of God into the hands of the Greek king, because he promised to raise them to be under-lords and lieutenants. In the cause of peace, my father gave his daughter as a wife to one of these pursuers of honor, and this was Ptolemy. Then everyone knew that only towards the sinners and the rebels that angered the Lord did my father turn his hand to strike them with the vengeance of the Lord of hosts. As to those who sought peace for their people, my father entered a covenant with them. But the eyes of a man will not be satisfied, least of all the eyes of Ptolemy. Verily he will not say that it's enough of an honor to be the son-in-law of the high priest. To increase his honors he requested my father to give him permission to war against our enemies, and the land the he would conquer would be his to govern. But my father refused to provoke war with those who didn't do us any harm and who didn't violate our borders. This answer raised the anger of Ptolemy to a murderous pitch, and my sister told my father that she was very frightened for our lives. Her heart told her that he plots evil against us, because many chieftains of the people come to his house and hold friendly council with him. But my father calmed her heart, and said to her, "Do not fear. Are you not his wife whom he loves with an eternal love? Furthermore, it's not in his power to do anything to us." From these words you can understand that my sister is very wretched." Yochanan wished to talk more, but Aviazar came and requested Yochanan to come to the garden hut to take refreshment, and he was astonished to see his children talking to the son of the high priest.
Chapter 4 - The Feast in Antiochia
The palace of the king of Greece in Antiochia was a wonder this day. It was even more splendid and glorious than normal days, because it was a holiday for the king. All the great and respected chiefs of all the foreign lands that were vassal states came to the festival. Great crowds flowed from every direction. From the poorest of the people to the loftiest citizens, all came to stare at the magnificence inside. The guests went inside, and those who weren't invited stood without and searched for some occasion they could talk about.
Behold, here came a carriage harnessed to four horses, and the horse's gear was of pure silver, and the carriage body was of welded silver.
"Look, Sabinous! Here is King Litira, son of the Egyptian Queen, arriving at the feast of the king."
"And what's the wonder in this, Giganus? Kings visit kings. Had King Litira come to you, you would have cause to wonder."
Giganus laughed and said, "You are a great clown for jesting, but look there, look! A chariot is traveling this way, and it exceeds the splendor and glory of Litira's carriage by a factor of ten. Who is sitting in it?"
"We will go and look," said Sabinous.
"Stay where you are, because if you lose your place you won't see a thing." The chariot noisily and rapidly passed in front of them. The two speakers stared in amazement and said to one another, "The chariot glitters with silver and fine gold as only seen with great kings. Who is he?"
"Maybe a king's son comes from a far nation, and wishes to take the king's daughter, Helena, the most beautiful of women."
"This can't be right, because Litira loves Helena and she also loves him." The chariot stopped, the driver opened the door, and from it emerged a young man of beautiful countenance, tall like a date palm and sturdy like an oak. On his face shone pride and a haughty heart, and his black eyes sparkled like stars on a bright night, beaming rage and hatred together, as if he was prepared for war. But when he stepped from the cab, one of the great ministers of the Greek king ran to greet him, and they hug and kissed one another.
"I am happy and overjoyed, Ptolemy my friend, that you fulfilled everyone's wish. Come now, come my dear, because the King, Queen and also the beautiful Helena are waiting for you with pining eyes." When Ptolemy heard the name Helena, all the sorrow fled from his face and he struck palms as a token of thanks for the warm greeting that had been delivered, and the two of them disappeared into the hall of the palace. Sabinous stood shocked and astonished, and said to his friend Giganus, "Do you know who this rich man is, with the chariot more splendid then the carriage of King Litira? He is a Jew. He is Ptolemy, the son-in-law of King Simon of Jerusalem.
"If that's the case," said Giganus, "Then there's no wonder in all the richness we saw on his chariot. Are they not the champions and men of the Lord? They have subjugated many peoples and taken their silver and gold from them. Many are the lands that have to pay them tribute, so who has money now if not the Jews? The brothers of the king, Yehuda, Yonatan and Eliezer, caused many of our citizens to fall wounded. Now we are all happy that we are at peace with the Jews. But what is Ptolemy doing here?" asked Sabinous, as if to himself. "Is he not a Jew, and the Jews will not worship the gods, neither do they know idols or masks. They say, "The God of Zion is greater than all the gods, and He gives strength and daring to those who serve Him faithfully." I was one of the King's soldiers who camped around their city, and we saw that God fought for them. Look over there," said Sabinous, "There in the great palace stand the two greatest gods, Jupiter and Adonis covered in fine gold, with many candles placed around illuminating them from all sides. And here Ptolemy sits in the chair on the right hand of the king. This honor was never given to a Jew."
"The ways of the Lord are miraculous," said the king to Ptolemy. "Who would have said to the kings of Greece who were your adversaries that they would now seek after your peace and well being."
"May the Lord grant it be so, and let the hearts of all my people turn to peace as your own hearts," answered Ptolemy.
The king examined Ptolemy, but didn't say a word. Ptolemy continued to speak, "My father-in-law, the king, wants to cause all those who serve the gods to pass from the earth."
"Who will hearken to him? Who will command me to choose a new god for myself?" the king asked Ptolemy.
"His sword and his arm," Ptolemy answered the king.
"Pray tell me about this, my friend Ptolemy," said the king, and he drew his chair to Ptolemy's, lest anyone overhear their words.
Upon seeing that they were having a quiet conversation, all of the ministers rose from their places and wandered about the great palace to its length and breadth, in order not to interrupt them. "Pray tell me. Will it be from the great temple in Jerusalem and at the service before the Highest that this profanity will go out? Is it conceivable that Simon the high priest will desecrate his oath and end the peace in the land? From the first, I assumed you came here because you were angry at your father-in-law, but I tell you that a man like Simon will not act perversely."
"And what he did to the children of Edom was not wicked?" Ptolemy asked the king.
"His love for his God compelled him to this."
"Let us assume that," said Ptolemy, "But pray imagine, my lord king, what you would say if your beautiful daughter or handsome son were to give their hand to common folk, children of low families. Would you approve of this?"
"God forbid that I or my children do a thing like that. I will not give my children to any but the mightiest rulers of earth."
"Imagine now, my lord king, that the brother of my wife, the king's son, has picked for himself the daughter of a villager to marry. The villager has no name, beyond the fact that his father slew many of the soldiers in the army of Antiochus in the days of Matitiyahu. The king told them to cleave well to one another, because the maiden found favor in the eyes of Yochanan and his mother, Chagbira."
"Maybe the king did this for the peace?" the king asked Ptolemy, "He is a good man, and this could be very useful in buying him the hearts of the people, more so than majesty and force."
Ptolemy shook his head and said, "My lord king! For the scorn and disgrace he will pour on me through the giving of my wife's brother to the daughter of a low family, I will never pardon him. I will always look at him as a man who has stripped my honor from me."
"Pray relax, my friend," said the king to Ptolemy, "And what is the honor of your father-in-law to you? Do I not respect your honor greatly, because I see that honor is dearer to you than any fortune, and you will receive the respect due to a king in my house and in my land." The king rose and Ptolemy after him, and they went into the ballroom. King Litira took Helena, and after them all the beautiful wives and daughters of the chiefs of Greece went out to dance. Helena sat to rest and the king took Ptolemy by his arm and sat him next to his daughter, who received him with grace and enchanting lips, as if they were already old acquaintances.
Helena, the daughter of the King of Greece was so very beautiful and lovely that she was beyond compare. With her bewitching lips she could lead mighty men astray, and malice and cunning dwelt together within her. Her father had previously instructed her to ensnare Ptolemy, and she went out to dance with him.
In the arms of the beautiful Helena, Ptolemy forgot his God, his people, his country, his wife and his family. The daughter of Greece was all he could see, and she understood his thoughts and assisted him on the way to destruction. She put her arm about him and brought him out to the garden of the king to converse. There she enticed him with great skill, and with smooth words she pushed him until he sold himself to do every abomination.
Ptolemy, on seeing that nobody was with them, got on his knees and said, "Beautiful Helena, daughter of the heavens! Could I possibly hope that you will say the words that will make me eternally happy? It never would have occurred to me to think this way, but your goodness and the loveliness of your speech taught me how to speak of things like this."
"Away with you, Jew," cried Helena laughingly, "Does not my father swear by the name of the god Jupiter? He would never give me to a man who hasn't placed on his head the crown of a king. If you will do this, then I will be yours, because I also love you."
Ptolemy's face glowed with happiness, and he said, "Listen to me now, daughter of the heavens! I didn't hope to hear this from you, but now I will swear to you by the greatest God of all the gods that I am yours. Pray know that the throne of Simon, my father-in-law, the throne of Judah, I will overthrow to the ground and I will lay the dead at your feet. By the God of Zion I swear to you, that I will put an end to the entire family of my wife, just for you."
"If you do this thing, I will be yours forever, and my father will give you a mighty army that will help you to the throne. But promise me on your word that if you become the king of Judah and Jerusalem, you won't compel me to serve the God of Zion, because I fear the gods of my father." They continued talking, and the king came to the garden and saw them in friendly conversation, and he said, "I am happy, my daughter, because I see that Ptolemy has found favor in your eyes more than all the ministers and King Litira."
Helena laughed and said, "Know now my dear father that I did a great thing without asking you, but I hope that you will agree with me. I chose this honorable man Ptolemy for myself, to be my husband, and he will make me the queen of Judah. Therefore, if he requests from you soldiers and armies, don't withhold his wish from him."
"I will fulfill both of your requests," answered the king.
Ptolemy parted from the king and his daughter full of happiness and cruel murder.
Chapter Five- Helena Before the Assembly
After Ptolemy set out on his way from the palace of the king of Greece, the king summoned all of his great men along with King Litira, and said to them, "Hear me now, my brothers, my people! I have a great thing to tell you, but first swear to me lest you make it known to anyone before the proper time. Pray know that what we were never able to achieve with our swords and our bows, neither us and nor our fathers, has now been obtained by my daughter using only her wisdom and beauty." Then Helena, the daughter of the king of Greece, came in and spoke to them saying, "I will be glorified over you, great men and heroes of Syria. Many are the lands and peoples you have conquered and the kings you have captured. But at Jerusalem your champions were slaughtered. There the shield of your heroes was vilely cast away and you were smitten and retreated back. You fled before the Jews, fleeing the sword and the slaying. I, a young maiden who has never held a sword and scorned the javelin, never worn armor and helmet, I will deliver to you all of the champions and great men of Jerusalem, even the King of Judah. You will be revenged on him for the blood of our heroes that was spilled by his hand, and by his father and brothers."
All of the listeners wondered, and they said, "If you will do this thing, princess, you will miraculously subdue a people. Kings will rejoice in you and queens will praise you, and as the temple of Minerva marks that she was a woman of wisdom, so in the days to come will the temple of Helena stand for wisdom and courage. Tell us how and by what means are you able to do this?"
"I delved into the heart of Ptolemy the Jew. He cares only about modern things and he hates the old. He utterly hates the laws of his father-in-law, and he has complained in the ears of my brother many times saying, "How happy are the people of your land, because the king and the priests are two different factions. Not so in my country, the king is also the high priest, and his family has the great priesthood, the captains and the government. All the treasure that our heroes amass is brought under the hands of the priests, and apart from the priests, no man is free to act. What will be our end? Did they not call us Hellenists? Because the aristocracy of our people made common cause with you, my father-in-law and my brothers-in-law were out to destroy us. But my father-in-law made peace with us, and what is this peace? From all the cities and lands of the people we conquered, did he give us even a single city to rule over? Because he gave me his daughter to wed I should forgive him for all the evil he did to us?" So spoke Ptolemy and when I heard this I said to myself, "Here you have caught a traitor to the land of his fathers." In accordance with my council, my father invited him to the feast. This evening I stole the heart of the Jew, and he swore by the God of Zion that he will throw down the throne of Judah to the earth and place the dead at my feet. He will destroy his father-in-law and all his wife's family, the Hasmoneans, if I will only be his wife. I swore to him on this matter, and I hope that Jupiter won't think this a sin when I profane my oath, because after he does all these things, my father will send his whole army there to capture the city. And if Ptolemy comes for his reward, I will laugh and scorn him as is fitting for a fool and wicked one like he. I will say to him, "Shame on you, traitor to his god, traitor to his land, traitor to his people, traitor to his wife. Do you imagine that the daughter of a Greek king is like you? If I was to be yours, then I would also be called a traitor, because who knows? Maybe you would become wroth with me, and therefore my father, and then you would do to my father's whole house what you did to the house of your wife. Thus I will speak to him, and I will laugh at his distress, because I am for this honorable king." As she finished speaking she approached Litira the son of the Queen of Egypt and gave him her hand. King Litira and all of those who listened to her words applauded and cheered. They swore further on the matter saying, "Any man that reveals this secret to Ptolemy will be killed and all of his possessions confiscated." Replete with joy, laughter and happiness, King Antiochus and King Litira and Helena left the palace assembly.
Chapter Six - The Day of Atonement in the Days of Simon the high priest
The sun came out in her glory to illuminate the earth and cast admiring rays on the beautiful perfection of Zion. There the splendor of the Lord in His holiness washed over the people who arrived and congregated to bow in the holy temple and to offer endless sacrifices. A multitude of priests stood in two rows, the high priest came in with his bull, and the bull was positioned between the vestibule and the altar. The high priest lay his two hands on the bull and confessed. Afterwards he brought out two lots and called to the Lord, and the people responded, "Blessed is His name." He tied a sign of warning to the head of a goat to be sent away and stood it by the house of the messenger. The second he ritually slew in front of the slaughterhouse, and he did all the work according to the laws until it was finished. Our glorious house was full of men, women and children from end to end. The priests stood in their service, the Levites in song and melody, and the ushers stood at their posts. The songs the Levites sang in the Temple could be heard throughout the streets of Jerusalem. The high priest was dressed in the garments of the Day of Atonement and he prepared himself to go into the Holy of Holies. He spoke words of encouragement to the people saying, "Hear me now my people, people of the Lord! Behold the Torah of the Lord is with you and you will love its statutes. Don't you know that our enemies and the enemies of the Lord are all around us? You know that all the nations have sought to cut off our name from the face of the earth since the day we were first called by the name Israel. Pharaoh was the first to make his yoke heavy on our fathers, and this last one, Antiochus, was mightier then he. Had not the Lord our God been with our fathers, and if not for his great mercy and the able deeds of our fathers who returned to the Lord with all their hearts and souls, we would be nearly finished from the earth. According to your will, I rose in the place of my father to be priest in the place of His dwelling. Fear and trembling enter me and quaking engulfs me, because woe to us if we secretly transgressed the word of the Lord and didn't seek forgiveness and atonement for all of our sins. Now my brothers, my children and my people, call to the Lord with all of your hearts that He hear our voices from within His sanctuary and we not be destroyed. This is the eighth time that I have prepared to enter the Holy of Holies, and on none of those occasions has my heart been as afraid and anxious as this day. Do not think, my children, that my heart is afraid on my own behalf and on behalf of my father's house. God forbid, for I am no better than my brothers who were all devoured by the sword. It is on your behalf, my people, children of the living God, on your behalf I melt in tears. The Lord knows what will happen with us this year, and He knows who will return, because merciful and forgiving is the Lord. On this great day you will atone for all of your sins before the Lord." As he completed his words he vanished from their sight, but the sound of ringing bells that were on the borders of his garments were heard, so that all the people knew that the high priest had come within the Holy of Holies. The weeping of the people was stronger that day than any other Day of Atonement. But Ptolemy stood amongst all the people, he in whom we know ripened all the great evil that would come in this year to the high priest and most upright man and all his house. Ptolemy didn't cry and didn't take the words to heart.
And as the weeping of the people swelled as he went into the Holy, so multiplied the joy as the high priest came out of the Holy of Holies whole and uninjured. All the dignitaries of the city and all the people escorted the high priest to his home. There they rejoiced in great happiness and celebrated their good spirits, and they ate and drank and pleased their hearts. When the rising tempest of people in the house of the high priest lapsed into silence, he said to Yochanan his youngest son, "Was Aviazar here also?"
"He was, dear father, and he is still here now, but he stands at the side of the house and blesses you from afar."
"Approach me, Aviazar, my friend," the high priest called to him. Aviazar approached with great respect and bowed towards the high priest, and blessed him and waited for him to speak.
"A month ago I sent you my words by way of Yochanan, my son. Did you receive them?" the high priest asked him.
"I received them, my lord high priest," answered Aviazar fearfully.
"Why didn't you answer me?" the high priest continued the questioning.
"I am humbled, my lord and king, by all the honor and respect that your servant has already been allotted. How could my heart overflow to believe also in this great honor that has never been merited by the majority of the great families of Israel? I am from the youngest of all the families of Israel, and I am reckoned amongst the toilers of the soil. I haven't entered the courtyards of kings and lords, except to go before you and your father. I always ran after him under swords and slung stones saying, "May the Lord grant that my life ransom the life of my lord." When the high priest Matitiyahu died, I exchanged my inheritance with my uncle, even though the value of my inheritance was twice that of my uncle's. Despite that I rejoiced on the purchase and the exchange like on a fortune, because now I am close to the deceased high priest. I commanded my son that when I die he should bury me in the corner of my vineyard, where it presses up against Mount Modein. But this matter ..." - Here Aviazar sank into silence, but the high priest understood his embarrassment and said to him, "Pray hear me, Aviazar! Does not your own mouth answer that you were a friend of my father's in his life, and you wish to be a friend to him also after your death? Why can't you believe that I also choose you to be my friend in life and in death? I have also carved myself a tomb in Mount Modein. Now we will make a covenant, the two of us, and you will give your daughter to my youngest son Yochanan to be his wife."
Aviazar's face paled, then reddened like scarlet from great happiness, and he said, "If these words emerge from the mouth of the high priest, without doubt it is the word of the Lord. I am your servant and I hearken the word of the Lord and your voice, my lord, and accept this great honor that is not for men of my standing."
"And why not for men of your standing?" said the high priest to comfort him. "Honor belongs not to us but to God. He will give it to those who are worthy before Him, and take it from those who make themselves vain. He despises the proud and raises the oppressed. Before Him the noble is not recognized before the meek. Only the eyes of men are never satisfied, and they always seek a fig tree on the land that the Lord apportions them. But you, my friend, the Lord removed from you all the lusts of mankind and you distance yourself from honor, therefore it pursues after you. The Lord gave you a son and a daughter through whom there will be many blessings, so why not recognize their value? My son's mouth is always full of praise for your son, because he is greatly learned in Torah, wisdom and fear of God. He is also a champion in war who bows down before no man. Why should he not inherit honor? And your daughter is pure in conduct and God-fearing, and she is a refuge to the poor and downtrodden, providing for them on their sick beds. One time she remained to watch a flock in place of a shepherd in order that he rest and ease his illness. Is she not suitable to be reckoned amongst the daughters of Aaron? What can you object to? Now you will tell your daughter that during the four days between Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles she will celebrate her marriage with my youngest son Yochanan."
Aviazar went forth from the house of the high priest and delivered the wonderful news to his wife and daughter, and their hearts grew faint because they couldn't believe it. Ptolemy had lived in the house of his father-in-law until this time, but when he heard all of these things, he left the presence of his father-in-law in a rage. He said, "We are seen by your words as kinsman to the rabble, my word of honor if it's not so. Verily you said He will make low the proud and raise the humble, and so it is. You make contemptible the majesty that you dress us in, and I will be raised in your place."
Chapter Seven - Feast and Mourning
Woe, cruel pen! You will not rest nor be quiet until you complete this history and these shocking stories. They will anguish the souls of those who read them, yet they are the events of our people's history. Every story about the people of our nation is written not with ink, but with blood, the blood of those martyrs for the Lord. They will be a support to the children of Israel who say, "In darkness we will live amongst the heathens." They were trapped and outnumbered in these massacres. The innocent are cruelly murdered from the world because they are not wary of evil men, believing in their loyalty and giving their confidence to those who intend ill for them. The anointed of the Lord, Simon the high priest, listened to the voice of his son-in-law the sycophant. With words of peace in his mouth, Ptolemy invited Simon to a feast, at which he was preparing to ambush and kill him.
Ptolemy and all his Hellenist companions arrived at the house of Ptolemy during the morning watch and waited there for the arrival of the high priest with his wife and sons. They welcomed them with open respect and love, and with hidden hostility. "I give thanks and blessings to you all for accepting my invitation," said Ptolemy, "But to you, ma'am, the greatest respect," said Ptolemy to his mother-in-law with a smooth tongue. "How good and pleasant this day will be, because you also, Hyrcanus and Yochanan are present. But Yochanan, why didn't you bring your wife Yehudit, who is the loveliest of women?"
"I didn't want to bring her here, because she is a villager and she shouldn't be spoiled by the aristocracy of Judah."
Ptolemy stared at Yochanan with a penetrating look, and said, "Even in my house will you express your words like sword thrusts, Yochanan?"
"Do you invite guests to your house to shoot burning arrows and death at them? Then you say, "Wasn't I kidding?" Ptolemy! Is this what you will do?"
"It's contentious of you, my son, to quarrel with the husband of your sister!" cried Simon. "Have you forgotten that he is greater than you in both years and wisdom?"
Yochanan left him for the other room, and Simon the high priest said to Ptolemy, "I was very happy, my son, that you brought the aristocracy of Judah here to make a covenant of peace, as you asked of me. I am always for peace, even with those who are for war. Now that they seek peace, I give to you the five cities that we conquered from the inhabitants and all the possessions within them. Just be whole with the Lord and with His land and His people."
"As your word, my lord, we will do," answered Ptolemy and the rest of the Hellenists who were gathered in the house of Ptolemy at his wish.
"Will the elders of Jerusalem also come here, my lord father?" Ptolemy asked his father-in-law purposefully.
"I didn't bring anybody, aside from my two sons," answered Simon. "My son Yochanan said I should bring the elders of the city and also their men with him, but I refused him, for what are men and servants to me? Am I not in the house of my son?"
The cruel heart of Ptolemy was dreadfully exultant on hearing from the mouth of his father-in-law that he was caught in the trap.
They all sat around the great table to eat and drink to their heart's content. They praised the good deeds of the high priest and they all conducted themselves benevolently as if seeking peace. Hyrcanus sat on the left hand of his father and Ptolemy on his right, but Yochanan didn't want to sit at the table and he found a pretext in saying that it was too hot for him. In truth his heart was afraid and anxious because he knew the wicked heart of Ptolemy.
Thus it happened that as Simon the Righteous sat tranquilly and without fear at the table of his son-in-law, the evil servants of Ptolemy rose up at the command of their wicked lord and slew this righteous innocent for no crime he had done. So ended the life of this hero who had fought many mighty wars and always triumphed over the enemy. No man could oppose him and he succeeded in all that he tried. Behold, he fell at the unclean hands of an evil man who utterly separated himself from God. And when Hyrcanus saw that the blood of his father was spilled on the earth, he said, "Slay me together with my father, and maybe I will revenge my father's blood vengeance." He grabbed the sword from the hand of one of the assassins and slew many of them, then he also fell to the earth, killed by the sword of Ptolemy. Yochanan, when he saw all this, quickly fled from them saying, "Here I am one and they are many. If I oppose them, then they will kill me like my brother and I won't be able to revenge the blood vengeance of my father and brother." He fled to Gaza and Ptolemy pursued after him, but didn't catch him, and he fled to the city of Ragona and stayed there a couple days. When Yochanan's whereabouts became known in Jerusalem, they sent all the elders of the city and all the to bring him to back to Jerusalem and anointed him King and high priest in place of his father. Then he went out with a great army to war against Ptolemy and revenge from him the blood vengeance of his father and brother. Ptolemy went and closed himself up in a fortified city, and he took his wife and his mother-in-law with him. And it came about that when Ptolemy saw Hyrcanus storming the city to destroy it, he took his wife and mother-in-law and hoisted them to the top of the wall. He commanded that they be bound, and tormented them in a cruel manner. Hyrcanus was very distressed and he decided to withdraw, but his mother called to him saying, "Don't, my son. God forbid you move away from the city before you exact revenge on the enemy of your father and your brother. Pray, my son, remember your father, the most straight and righteous of men. He was the last of his father and brothers, the right pillar that the whole house of Israel was supported on. If the pillar falls, then what is supported on it will utterly collapse, if you don't hurry to rid the land of the awful wickedness of Ptolemy. Do not soften your heart because of the cruelty of the wicked one who tortures us. Would he not return to his evil path? Verily he will kill us dead, and we can live no longer after our honor and our skin is stripped from us. So what are you waiting for! Here I command you, my son, the command of a parent. Don't look upon our torture. Destroy the city and revenge the blood vengeance of us all. Be cruel this day and you will be merciful the rest of your life." When he heard his mother's words, he started to storm the city as before, but Ptolemy increased the cruelty of the torments in an awful manner and the young man didn't know what to do. He wept from the rage in his heart and he said, "Lord God of hosts, who dwells with cherubs. You know the innermost thoughts of every man and You know that it is in my grasp to take blood revenge on this man. You oblige and command us to do this vengeance, because the earth will not be atoned for blood except by the blood of those who spill it. But I am greatly distressed seeing the torments with which he tortures my mother and my sister. Therefore, I pray to You with all my heart, Lord God, excuse me from the wheels of justice. Woe, my miserable mother and sister. Where will I take consolation for your bodies covered in the desecrating blows of the wicked one who offered his hand in peace and violated his covenant. Woe! Wicked one son of evil. Whether I kill you or whether I don't kill you, you will be an object of abhorrence forever. Know that the blood of my father and my brother and my mother and my sister all call out to me from the earth, but I am not able. Shall I wait until Judgement Day arrives for him? No! No, I cannot wait. Come, my brothers! Behold the blood of the Hasmoneans who redeemed you from all suffering, who saved you and your fathers from robbery and murder, who expanded your borders until this day. The blood cries to you to take revenge on this ravenous man and bloody son-in-law." At his word they all approached to break the city walls by force, but the wicked one continued to do his singular work until the blood poured from the women, and he called to Yochanan and said, "Hear me, Yochanan. If you don't withdraw from the city then I will cast them from the wall and their skulls will explode on the rocks." And his mother cried, "Don't withdraw, my dear son. These torments are beloved to us in our knowing that you, my son, will take revenge on the man who destroys us. Even more so, because I see that all the people are taking your orders."
"In love and willingness we obey the commands of your son, honorable lady!" called the multitude of people around the walls. "Oh, woe! Woe to us. Woe to us that we have seen you so, wife of the high priest, whose honor is dearer to us than our own lives. We are all prepared to die together on behalf of this son of yours if a hand be against him. He is our king, and he will minister in the Holy in the place of your husband, because all of Judah and Israel anointed him to be king over them."
"You will be blessed by the Lord, my children," the mother of the king called courageously from atop the wall, and she suffered the torments without crying out, in order that her son wouldn't withdraw from the city. "The Lord bless you all who served me in this great happiness. Bless the Lord who showed me this consolation before my death, because I leave a son sitting on the Hasmonean throne after them. Woe to you, completely wicked one. Torment us, but these consolations you will not steal from us anymore, and he will demand our blood from you."
The walls of the fortified city were starting to breach under the iron rams that struck them, and Hyrcanus thought that in just a short while, the blood of Ptolemy would be flowing down like the blood of his father. But that very moment Ptolemy approached the women and swore he would push them from the wall. Then a great and dreadful war was stirred up in the heart of Hyrcanus, a war that no sensitive man could withstand. He cried to the angel of death, "Stop it, because I can't look upon the blood of my parent and my sister. Would doing this bring my father and my brother back to life?" And he cried to Ptolemy, "Leave off and I will withdraw from the city. But don't say in your heart "Behold I am saved, Yochanan withdraws before me!" It may be that my sword will not take you, but if you don't die from our hands, do you imagine you will live? Remember well the words that I speak to you this day. Behold the day is coming that you will say, "Better I should die than live." The blood of the Hasmoneans will pursue you always and overtake you when you rest. Woe, traitor! Traitor to the living God! Traitor to his people! Traitor to the land of his birth! Traitor to his wife! Woe, my sister, dear soul. Woe, my mother. I see your blood dripping to the ground, yet God lacks hands to save you." When he finished speaking he withdrew from the city in depressed sprits. But the wicked traitor Ptolemy said to his wife and his mother-in-law, "You wished to deliver me to Yochanan to be killed by his sword, therefore you will both die." He slaughtered the daughter of the high priest before the eyes of her mother in cruel murder, then he slew also the mother, wife of the high priest. So the lives of these good and dear women were ended by the warring hand of the wicked aristocrat. He ran after foreign honor and set his eyes on a strange woman who manipulated him. But his day would also come.
Chapter Eight - From Mourning to Joy
The darkness passed and the heavy clouds that covered the splendor of the skies gathered and left, and the light of the heavens began to shine on our Holy land. The sun began to spread her light to all who awaited her, and brought with her a healing balm to heal the bruised hearts that hadn't been shined on for a very long time. And what is the name of this good balm that heals the sick and redeems the imprisoned? Is it not time, because the Lord changes the seasons. Truly the Lord caused his people to mourn by taking the crown from the head of Simon the high priest. That righteous man, a Hasmonean and the son of a Hasmonean, had governed his people in righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy. He had inherited from Aaron, his forefather, the quality of loving peace and pursuing it. Through all of this he didn't abandon his people and won't ever abandon them, for he gave them his son Hyrcanus in place of his fathers, that there would be a just man to govern them. The holy city of Jerusalem was filled with joy, the joy of the Lord, and from all the cities they came to celebrate the festival of Succoth. There was joy and happiness in the palace of King Hyrcanus and all the dignitaries of the city came to cheer the king and high priest. These days were days of happiness and rejoicing for all the Jews, because the days of celebrating the Temple of Foundation had arrived. It was now four days after the young high priest went into the Holy of Holies to do the service of the Day of Atonement and emerged whole. This day, the joy in Israel was multiplied more, because after Ptolemy slew his wife and mother-in-law, his hope had been that he would go to Antiochus and take the king's beautiful daughter as his wife. Ptolemy had hoped that her father would give him a mighty and numerous army to lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy it, and to take the kingdom by force from his wife's brother. His hope went for naught because when he went to the king and told him all he had done to his wife's family, the rage of the king was roused to a murderous pitch, and he said, "Out of my presence, traitor! You would be my son-in-law? My daughter would be the wife of a man as sinful and soured as you! Not many days would pass before you did to my daughter and to all her father's house as you did to your wife, the daughter of the King of Judah. Was she not also the daughter of a king, and of the most beautiful daughters of Zion? My daughter requested of me that I never let you see her face again, because fear seized her when she realized all the great abominations you did to your wife. She has given her hand to the son of King Litira who rules in Pryfaliya."
When Ptolemy heard these words, he drew his sword from it scabbard and sought to stab the king in the belly, but the servants of Antiochus grabbed the sword from him and the king expelled him from his city and from all his kingdom. And he went to Tyre and he dwelt there.
The king went out with a great army and all his camp, and he laid siege to Jerusalem and sought to make a breach. When Succoth festival arrived, Hyrcanus sent messengers to Antiochus and requested him that he make a truce for all the days of the festival and not interrupt the worship of the Lord. This suited Antiocous and he greatly honored the messengers. He sent his own messengers to Hyrcanus, the king, with words of peace and faith, and sent a sacrificial bull to the temple of the Lord, and the horns of the bull were gilded in gold to the honor of the Lord. The priests waved the bull in a wave offering to the Lord and they raised it on the altar. The messengers of King Antiochus returned to him whole and well satisfied as is written in the book of Josephus - "And these were the events that made the festival happy and joyful for all the Jews, and they forgot the evil that had occurred to them."
But one person who should have been happier this festival than all the rest of Israel was sad spirited. She was Yehudit, the daughter of Aviazar, the wife of Hyrcanus the king and high priest. When the tidings came to Jerusalem that Ptolemy had slain Simon the high priest, her father Aviazar couldn't bear this great pain. He sobbed bitterly over the loss and became bedridden, and after a couple of weeks he died. And Hyrcanus the king decreed that Aviazar be buried on Mount Modein next to the tomb of Simon his father.
And Yehudit, despite all the honors that she received now, took no comfort and was depressed and mourning for her father, because he would never see with his own eyes all the honor that the Lord granted to his beloved daughter.
Chapter Nine - The End of the Wicked
In Pryfaliya, which was ruled by King Litira, a man lay on his sick bed. His face was white like the face of death, and his hands shook with occasional tremors. The seal of death had come to his flesh and was plain upon him. A little longer and he would be redeemed from all the wounds and injuries that tore at his brain these many years. Were they not the pangs of conscience, the final chastisement that comes to every sinner and criminal at the end of his days? Next to his bed sat an old man. This man was not of his family and not of his people, but a man of a foreign nation. His office was to stand watch next to the bed of the sick as a kindness to the common people. The watchman said to himself, "May the Lord grant that this be the last day for this lunatic, who continually relives his old deeds, as if he did good and he can find some delight in them. Were it not for the orders of the king and queen to watch him until the last moment of his life, I would have already put an end to this sad and shameful life which is a burden to us all."
"This man lies on his bed with his eyes shut as if he fears to open them, and he speaks these words: "God in heaven! How awful is death to one loaded with sins and transgressions. How heavy it is for the sinner to die as he confronts the memories of murderous deeds done for imaginary honor, and in a moment he will dwell with his creator. He delivered up his very soul to the king of destruction, and he sold himself to every abomination and every murder and robbery. He didn't think then that feelings of regret would later conquer his heart and burden him greatly, or that the voice of rue would cry constantly in his ears, "Be gone with you! You will not come into the midst of human beings anymore, because your honor is in ignominious disgrace and you rage for the imaginary prestige you trafficked in. Behold, so is the end of every evil-doer. He can't even die like everybody else. Not so is the fate of someone who keeps himself from sin and is innocent of robbery and murder. The heavens always rejoice over such a one, and if such a man sees death before him, he will go calmly and confidently to greet it, because that man is given a vision of life until its end. As a merciful mother takes her playful child and puts him to sleep at her breast, so death will take him in its arms to sleep at its bosom. He will be laid on a silk couch and put to sleep in the cradle of eternity. But I, I! Where am I? In a foreign land, lonely and naked. Far from everyone, far from the Lord, even should I cry my prayer with eyes closed. Far from the land of my fathers, far from my people, without a wife or children. Here my life will end, here I die! Here, who will cry for me, who will shake their head. Nobody! If my people hear of my end they will rejoice and praise the Lord God as they rejoice at the fall of an enemy. And why shouldn't they rejoice? Was I not worse to them than all of their enemies? Woe, woe to me for what I did! I brought destruction to the dwelling of the upright. I spoke of peace and faith and they believed in my peace, but with a sharp and polished sword I pierced them. I pray to you, high priest with the holy anointing oil on your head. Have pity on my soul and torture me no longer. Here you stand before me in the precious white garments you wore on the holiest day of the year. In one hand you hold the censer to light the incense, and with the other hand you cast flaming coals on my head, burning me with your fire. You shout in my ears, "See now, murderer! See the blood that you spilled like water on the ground! You made me blemished, and I won't be able to go before the Holy to atone. Therefore your sin will not be atoned for even when you die, because your fire won't be extinguished and the worms devouring you won't die, and you will be an everlasting abhorrence. Woe! How true were the words that Yochanan spoke: "Hear me now Ptolemy. Behold the days will come to you that you will say "May the Lord grant I expire from this life." The blood of the Hasmoneans will pursue you always and prevent you from resting. Woe, traitor! Traitor to the living God! Traitor to your people! Traitor to the land of your birth! Traitor to your wife. He raised his hand against the sanctified of the Lord." A curse be on you, Antiochus. A curse be on your daughter that incited me to do these abominations and afterwards jeered me. The highest authority prepared this awful instrument of torture for me when I was sent to this cursed land and always saw that snake before me. It was the beautiful Helena who led me astray to do all this. Every day I see, I ask the God of Zion whom I angered to hurry and speed my end. But she, she is the statue of jealousy that in order to acquire her I came to this awful condition today. Truly I am not alone now, for here are my father-in-law and his son and my mother-in-law and my wife, all of them standing around my bed and their blood dripping on my back. They are full of anger and seek to tear me to pieces. See, pray. See them all coming here to watch the end of their enemy. See, pray. Is his fate not inscribed, so what more could you want? Surely the God of Zion arranged this, that I didn't fall dead then to the hands of Yochanan. If only he killed me then, but now the suffering is hidden from my eyes."
Another watcher of the sick approached the bed and said, "And what will be the end of this sick, insane person? How long can he live?" The other watcher of the sick waved his hand against him as a sign to be quiet, and he also approached the sick bed. He saw that now the final moments of life were drawing close.
Ptolemy raised his two hands and put them over his eyes as if he desired to hide before his pursuers, as if they spoke to him from the ground. He said, "Forgive me, forgive me, righteous people and sanctified of the Highest. Do you not see the end of Ptolemy, the son-in-law of the high priest? Pardon me for all the evils with which I wronged you in malice of my heart and in awful murder. Maybe you will also forgive me..." He didn't complete these words because the shackles of death set about him. The first watcher ran to tell this to the king and queen, as they sat eating and drinking to their hearts content. The watcher of the sick told them of all these things, of all the awful visions that haunted Ptolemy, and of all the things he said in the heat of his soul. The queen Helena answered with these few words: "Surely the hand of his god was punishing him. Thus is the end with all traitors, traitors to their gods, their homelands and their women."
I welcome and questions or comments.
About Sarah Foner | Memories of My Youth | The Treachery of Traitors | Letter to HaYom | Memories of My Childhood | The Convert from Germany | The Children's Path | A Righteous Love | Contact Information | Order Published Book