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Published by: outdash on Jan 25, 2013
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The Secret of the Seventy Year Exile
Rabbi Etan Moshe BermanWe typically view Meggilas Esther and the Purim story locally, as a compact story distinct from the generalhistorical context in which it occurred. However, according to Chazal this is not the case.What caused the first great threat of annihilation for the Jewish people? Why did God allow Haman to come topower and attempt the first holocaust. It cannot be that Haman had free will, and with it attempted to destroy the Jews.One has free will to kill oneself, but one’s free will is unable to affect another person
. These questions we can no longeranswer with certainty, but one advantage of having prophets, and perhaps the most essential one, is that we can preciselyanswer these questions. And yet, Meggilas Esther does not tell us one word in this regard. For this reason, the studentsof the holy Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai asked this of their holy teacher:
The disciples of R. Shimon ben Yochai asked him, “For what were the [haters of] Israel in that  generation decreed to be destroyed?” He answered, "You tell me.” They said, “Because they enjoyed from the feast of that Rasha.” “If so, only those of Shushan should be killed; those of the rest of theworld should not be killed.” They said to him, "You tell us.” He said to them, “Because they bowed down to the image (in the days of Nevuchadnetzar - Rashi).” They said to him, “Is there favoritism inthis thing (If so, how did they merit a miracle - Rashi)?” He said to them, “They only pretended (out of fear - Rashi), so too the Holy One Blessed Be He only pretended to do to them. And this is what  is written (Lam. 3:33), 'He doth not afflict from His heart.’" (Meggilah 12a)
Here we find two causes, one that was apparently enough for the Jews of Shushan to be, at least threatened,with annihilation, namely, for partaking in the feast of Achashverosh; and another that was significant enough for all theJews to be threatened with death, namely, that they pretended to bow to an image at the time of Nevuchadnetzar.What exactly was Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai referring to? An episode that is recorded in the book of Daniel:
Daniel Chapter 3
 King Nevuchadnetzar made an image of gold, its height sixty cubits, its width six cubits; he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the capital city of Babylon. And Nevuchadnetzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, the governors, the judges, thetreasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the capital cities to come to thededication of the image that King Nevuchadnetzar had set up.Then, the satraps, the prefects, the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the capital cities were gathered to the dedication of the image that  King Nevuchadnetzar had set up, and they were standing opposite the image that Nevuchadnetzar  had set up. And the announcement was issued aloud, "To you we are saying O peoples, nations and tongues. At the time that you hear the sound of the whistling horn, the clavichord, the harp, the psaltery,the bagpipes, and all kinds of music, you shall fall and prostrate yourselves to the golden imagethat King Nevuchadnetzar has set up., for example,
 `"nx devn jepigd xtq
regarding why it is forbidden to take revenge.
The Secret of the Seventy Year Exile1
 And whoever will not fall and prostrate himself, will at that time be cast into a burning, fiery furnace."  In view of this, at that time, when all peoples heard the sound of the whistling horn, the clavichord,the harp, the psaltery, and all kinds of music, all peoples, nations, and tongues would prostratethemselves to the golden image that King Nevuchadnetzar had set up. In view of this, at that time, some Chaldean men approached and denounced the Jews.They spoke up and said to King Nevuchadnetzar, "May the king live forever!You, O king, gave an order that any person who hears the sound of the whistling horn, theclavichord, the harp, the psaltery, the bagpipes, and all kinds of music, shall fall and prostrate himself to the golden image. And whoever does not fall and prostrate himself shall be cast into the fiery furnace.There are Judahite men whom you appointed over the affairs of the capital cities of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah - see Rashi to Daniel 2:49); these men did not take counsel to follow your decree, O king. They do not worship your god and they do not prostrate themselves to the golden image that you have set up." Then Nevuchadnetzar, in wrath and anger, ordered to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.Then these men were brought before the king. Nevuchadnetzar spoke up and said to them, "Is it [my decree] meaningless, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that you do not worship my god and that you do not prostrate yourselves to the golden image that I have set up?"  Now behold, you are destined, at the time that you hear the whistling horn, the clavichord, the harp, the psaltery, the bagpipes, and all kinds of music, to fall and prostrate yourselves to the image that I made, and if you do not prostrate yourselves, at that time you shall be cast into aburning, fiery furnace, and who is a god who will save you from my hand?Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, "Nevuchadnetzar, we do not care to answer you about this matter. Behold there is our God whom we worship; He can save us. From the burning, fiery furnace and from your hands, O king, He will save [us]. And if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not worship your god, neither will we prostrate ourselves to the golden image that you have set up." Then Nevuchadnetzar was filled with wrath, and the features of his face changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; he shouted and ordered to heat the furnace seven times as much as it  should be heated. And he commanded certain mighty men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego,to cast them into the burning, fiery furnace.Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their trousers, their robes, and their [other] garments, and they were cast into the burning, fiery furnace. In view of this, since the word of the king was urgent and the furnace was heated excessively,these men who had brought up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were killed by a spark of fire. And these men, the three of them, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell into the burning, fiery furnace, bound.Then King Nevuchadnetzar was bewildered and stood up in haste. He shouted and said to his leaders, "Did I not cast three men into the fiery furnace, bound?" They answered and said to the
The Secret of the Seventy Year Exile2
 king, "The king is true."  He called out and said, "Behold, I see four free men walking in the midst of the fire, and there is no wound upon them, and the form of the fourth one is like [that of] an angel." Then Nevuchadnetzar approached the gate of the burning, fiery furnace. He shouted and said,"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, the servants of the Most High God! Step out and come!" Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the leaders of the king gathered [and] saw these men, that the fire had taken no effect on their bodies, the hair of their heads was not singed, their  robes had not changed, and the smell of fire had not been absorbed by them. Nevuchadnetzar cried out and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego,Who sent His angel and rescued His servants, who trusted Him, deviated from the command of the king, and risked their lives in order not to worship or prostrate themselves to any god except to their God. Now an order is issued by me that any people, nation, or tongue that will speak amiss about theGod of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and his house shall be made a dungheap because there is no other god who can save in this manner." Then the king made Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego prosper in the capital city of Babylon. King Nevuchadnetzar, [said] to all peoples, nations, and tongues that dwell in the whole earth,"May your welfare increase!The signs and wonders that the Most High God has done with me it behooves me to recite. How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and His dominion is with every generation." 
It would appear that the entire Jewish people bowed down to Nevuchadnetzar’s image except for Chananiah,Mishael and Azariah. Why did they not bow down? Or, perhaps a more appropriate question is why did the rest of theJewish people bow down? Either way we have a problem: if this image was an idol, then all the Jews should have giventheir lives rather than bow, and if it was not an idol, so then why were these three Tzaddikim willing to forfeit their livesfor nothing?The Talmud is bothered by this:
Come and hear: Furthermore extrapolated Thodos, the man of Rome: What justified Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to permit themselves to be thrown into the fiery furnace for the sanctification of G-d’s name? They derived their justification from an a fortiori conclusion from the frogs. If in regardsto the frogs, which are not obligated to sanctify the name of the Lord, it is written (Exodus 7), “And they will come [and ascend] in your homes [etc.] and in your ovens and in your dough.” - When isdough found in an oven? We would say at a time when the oven is hot - we, that are commanded to sanctify the name, how much more so. (Pesachim 53b)
How does this answer our question? If bowing down to this image was an act of idolatry, then the source toforfeit their lives is from the verse of, “And you shall love the Lord God with all of your heart... and all of your soul (Deut.6:5)”, which teaches us that one must forfeit his life rather than do an act of idolatry, not an a fortiori conclusion fromfrogs! But perhaps the biggest question on the Gemara is how they can learn anything from frogs, who do not make
The Secret of the Seventy Year Exile3

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