Monday, July 22, 2013

Shimon HaTzadik

שמעון הצדיק היה משירי כנסת הגדולה, הוא היה אומר, על שלשה דברים העולם עומד: על התורה ועל העבודה ועל גמילות חסדים.
Shimon the Tzadik was from the remnants of the Great Assembly. He used to say; “The world stands on three things, on Torah [study], on the service [of HaShem], and on bestowing kindnesses.”
Unfortunately, despite the great stature of Shimon HaTzadik, our historical knowledge of him is very poor. We know that he was the primary Torah leader of his time and that he was the kohen gadol (high priest) for forty years. We also know that he was descended from Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek HaKohen,[1] the first kohen gadol of the second Temple. Some authorities[2] say that he was the son of Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek and refer to Shimon HaTzadik as “Shimon ben Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek.”[3] Most, however, say that Shimon was the seventh generation from Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek, thus making Shimon HaTzadik, “Shimon ben Chonio ben Yadua ben Yonasan ben Yo’yada ben Elyashiv ben Yo’yakim ben Yehoshua.”[4]

There is also some disagreement on the meaning of the Talmud’s statement that Shimon HaTzadik was “from the remnants of the Great Assembly.” Some authorities[5] maintain that he was one of the one hundred and twenty original members of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, but that he, as one of the youngest members, outlived the rest of the group. Others[6], however, maintain that he was not an actual member of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah but that he received the mesorah (tradition) from them. Regardless of his actual relationship with the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, there is no question regarding his immense importance in conveying the mesorah to later generations. The Meiri (Pesicha L’Mesechta Avos) writes:
כאשר תמו הדורות ההם ונאסף עזרא הסופר אל עמיו, הגענו לזמן אנשי חכמי התלמוד, וראשון שבהם היה שמעון הצדיק, שהיה אחרון לאנשי כנה"ג וראשון לחכמים, כמו שכתבנו [לעיל, "והוא [שמעון הצדיק] היה ממוצע בין זמן אנשי כנסת הגדולה לזמן חכמי התלמוד, דהיה אחרון לאנשי כנה"ג וראשון לחכמים"].
When these generations [of the Knesses HaGedolah] ended and Ezra HaSofer was “gathered unto his people”, we come to the period of the Sages of the Talmud. The first of these was Shimon HaTzadik, who was the last of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah and the first of the Sages, as we have written [earlier, “He [Shimon HaTzadik] is the intermediary between the period of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah and the Sages of the Talmud, for he was the last of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah and the first of the Sages”].

The Meeting with Alexander

Aside from the mishna in Pirkei Avos, Shimon HaTzadik is probably best known for his famous meeting with Alexander the Great. The story is recorded in numerous sources with minor variations. The Talmud (Yoma 69a) tells us:
בחמשה ועשרים בטבת יום הר גריזים הוא דלא למספד ביה יום שבקשו כותיים את בית אלקינו מאלכסנדרוס מוקדון להחריבו ונתן להם רשות באו והודיעו לשמעון הצדיק מה עשה שמעון הצדיק לבש בגדי כהונה ונתעטף בבגדי כהונה ומיקירי ירושלים עמו ואבוקות של אור בידיהם והיו מהלכין כל הלילה כולה הללו מהלכין  מצד זה והללו מהלכין מצד זה עד שעלה עמוד השחר כיון שעלה עמוד השחר אמר להם מי הם הללו אמרו לו הללו יהודים שמרדו בך כיון שהגיע לאנטיפרס זרחה חמה פגעו זה בזה כיון שראה את שמעון הצדיק ירד ממרכבתו והשתחוה לו. אמרו לו מלך שכמותך משתחוה ליהודי הזה אמר להם דמות דיוקנו של זה היא מנצחת לפני בבית מלחמתי. אמר להם למה באתם אמרו לו בית שאנו מתפללין עליך אעל מלכותך שלא תחרב יתעוך כותיים הללו להחריבו ותתן להם רשות. אמר להם מי הם הללו. אמרו לו הללו כותים  שעומדים לפניך. אמר להם הרי הם מסורין בידכם מיד נקבום בעקביהם ותלאום בזנבי סוסיהם והיו מגררים אותם על הקוצים ועל הברקנים עד שהגיאו להר גריזים כיון שהגיאו להר גריזים חרשוהו וזרעוהו כרשינין כדרך שבקשו לעשות את בית אלקינו ואותו היום עשאוהו יו"ט.
The twenty-fifth day of Teves[7] is Yom Har Grizim[8] on which you may not eulogize, [for it was] the day that the Samaritans sought [permission] from Alexander the Macedonian to destroy the Temple of God and he gave them permission.[9] They came and made this known to Shimon HaTzadik.[10] What did Shimon HaTzadik do? He donned the priestly garments and wrapped himself in the priestly garments and went with the nobility of Jerusalem with lit torches in their hands and they walked the entire night, some walking on one side and some walking on the other side, until morning. When morning rose, [Alexander] said to [the Samaritans], “Who are these?” They said to him, “These are the Jews who rebelled against you.” When they reached Antipras the sun shone forth and the groups met. When [Alexander] saw Shimon HaTzadik he got down from his chariot and bowed before him. [The Samaritans or his servants] said to him, “A king like you bows before this Jew?!” He said to them, “The image of this man is victorious for me in battle.”[11] [Alexander] said to [the Jews], “Why have you come?” They said to him, “The Temple where we pray for you and your kingdom that it should not be destroyed, these Kussim (Samaritans) have deceived you to destroy it and you have given them permission.” He said to them, “Who are these?”[12] They said to him, “These Kussim standing before you.” He said to them, “Behold, they are given into your hands.” Immediately they punctured their ankles and hung them from the tails of their horses and they dragged them upon thorns and thistles until they reached Har Grizim. When they came to Har Grizim, they plowed it under and they planted karshinim[13], as [the Samaritans] wanted to do to the Temple of God, and that day they made into a yom tov (festival).[14]
This story raises a problem with the opinion that Shimon was several generations after Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek because, according to Chazal (the Sages) (Avodah Zara 9a, Seder Olam Raba 30), Alexander came to Eretz Yisrael only thirty-four years after the building of the Second Temple. At first glance it would seem difficult to say that eight generations of kohanim gedolim served during a period of only thirty-four years. However, if we assume that each generation fathered the next at a young age, and that Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek became kohein gadol at a very old age, it is indeed possible that each generation served during this period. The Malbim (Nechemiah 12:10) explains:
הנה בפסוק זה לא מצאו כל אנשי חיל ידיהם, אחר שאמרו חז"ל ל"ד שנה פשטה מלכות פרס בפני הבית – ר"ל, מבנין הבית עד אלכסנדר מוקדון היו ל"ד שנה – והם אמרו כי שמעון הצדיק יצא לקראת אלכסנדר בשובו ממלחמת דריוש, והיה א"כ שמעון הצדיק דור שני לעזרא ונחמיה, כמ"ש הרמב"ם בהקדמתו לסדר זרעים וכן כתבו רבים וכן שלמים, ואיך בזמן הקצר ששה דורות? בפרט לרש"י שכתב שכלם היו כהנים גדולים....
בכ"ז לא ידעתי מה הרעש הזה. מי יאמר להם שנולדו באותם ל"ד שנים? אם נאמר שיהושע בן יהוצדק ששב מגלות בבל ובנה הבית היה אז בן ק"ה שנה, והוא ובניו הולידו כל אחד לט"ו שנה, א"כ בעת שהיה יהושע בן יהוצדק בן תשעים שנה כבר נולד שמעון הצדיק ובעת שבנה הבית היה שמעון הצדיק בן ט"ו שנה. ובעת אלכסנדר כבר היה בן מ"ה שנה וכו' ע"ש.
Behold! Regarding this verse [Nechemiah 12:10-11, which discusses the descendants of Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek] “none of the warriors can find their hands!”[15] Chazal state that “For thirty-four years the Persian Empire was spread before the Temple,” meaning that from the building of the [Second] Temple until Alexander the Macedonian was thirty-four years. And [Chazal also] say that Shimon HaTzadik went out to greet Alexander on his return from the war with Darius. If this is so, then Shimon HaTzadik was the second generation from Ezra and Nechemiah [i.e. Ezra and Nechemiah were one generation and Shimon was the second], as the Rambam writes in his introduction to Seder Zeraim and is also written by many great authorities. If so, how could there be six generations in such a short time? Especially according to Rashi who writes that all of them were kohanim gedolim.
Despite all this, I don’t know what all the noise is about. Who says that they were all born within thirty-four years? If we say that Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek was 105 years old when he returned from Bavel and built the Temple, and that he and his sons all had children at the age of fifteen, if so then when Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek was ninety years old, Shimon HaTzadik was already born, and when the Temple was built he was fifteen years old, and at the time of Alexander he was already forty-five years old….
Moreover, as mentioned earlier (in a footnote), Rav Yitzchak Isaac HaLevy writes in his Doros HaRishonim (Vol. 1, pp. 196-7) that Shimon HaTzadik was not yet the kohein gadol when Alexander came to Eretz Yisrael:
... הכהן גדול המשמש בשם כהן גדול היה אז ידוע, אבל בהיות ידוע אז כבר זקן גדול, ושמעון הצדיק נכדו כבר היה אז לאיש, וכדברי המשנה המפורשים עליו שהיה משירי כנסת הגדולה. ובהיות שמעון הצדיק – לבד גדלו בתורה ובמעשים אשר בטחו בו הכהנים והעם בעזר ה' על יראיו – הנה היה גם מראהו כמלאך ה' בהוד נורא... כי על כן נבחר הוא ללכת במלאכות עמו בראש הכהנים והעם לקראת אלכסנדר.
The kohein gadol that served in the office of kohein gadol at that time was Yadua. But Yadua was a very old man and his grandson, Shimon HaTzadik, was already a [respected] man, as the clear words of the Mishna say that he was “from the remnants of the Great Assembly.” And because – in addition to his greatness in Torah and deeds, which the kohanim and the nation trusted in for HaShem helps those who fear Him – Shimon HaTzadik also had the appearance of an angel of HaShem with his awesome glory…. Therefore he was chosen to go on the mission for his nation at the head of the kohanim and the people to greet Alexander.
Several sources extend the story of the meeting with Alexander further. Yossipon (ch. 5) states:
ויהי אחרי כן, ויבא הכהן ואלכסנדרוס המלך אל ירושלים. ויביאהו הכהן אל מקדש אלקינו, ויראהו הכהן את היכל ה' ואת חצרות המקדש ואת גנזיו ואולמיו. ויראהו את מקום קדשי הקדשים, ואת מקום המזבח ואת מקום העולה, ויאמר המלך: "ברוך ה' אלקי ישראל אלקי הבית הזה! ואשריכם אתם עבדיו המשרתים לפניו במקום הזה. ועתה אעשה לי זכר הנה ואתן זהב לרוב לאומנין ויבנו את צלמי ויקימו אותו בין הבית ובין קדש הקדשים ויהי צלמי לזכרון לי בבית הזה, בית אלוק הגדול." ויאמר הכהן אל המלך: "הזהב אשר נדבו שפתיך, תנהו למחית כהני ה' ולמחית עמו הבאים להשתחות בבית הזה. ואני אעשה לך זכר פה, טוב מאשר שאלת אתה." ויאמר המלך: "ומה יהיה הזכר ההוא?" ויען הכהן ויאמר: "זכרך יהיה זה, כי כל ילדי הכהנים אשר יולדו בשנה הזאת בכל יהודה וירושלים, יקראו על שמך אלכסנדרוס, ויהיה לך זה לזכרון, כאשר יבאו לעבוד את עבודת ה' בבית הזה. כי אין לנו רשיון מאת אלקי הבית הזה, הוא ה' אלקינו, לקבל פסל וכל תמונה." ויתמה המלך את דברי הכהן ויכשרו בעיניו ויעש כן. ויתן המלך זהב לרוב לבדק הבית וישתחו לה' אלקינו ויצא.
And after this, the kohein and Alexander came to Jerusalem, and the kohein brought him to the Temple of God, and the kohein showed him the Heichal of God and the courtyards of the Temple and its treasuries and halls. And he showed the place of the Holy of Holies and the place of the altar and the place of the offering. And the king said, “Blessed is HaShem, God of Israel, God of this House! Fortunate are you, His servants, who serve before Him in this place. And now, I shall make a memorial for myself here and I shall give abundant gold to the craftsmen and they will construct [a statue of] my image and they will erect it between the Temple and the Holy of Holies, and my image will be a memorial for me in this Temple, the Temple of the Great God.” And the kohein said to the king, “The gold which your lips have donated, give it for the sustenance of the kohanim of God and for the sustenance of His people who come to bow [to God] in this House, and I will make a memorial for you here that is better than what you have asked for.” And the king said, “What will this memorial be?” The kohein answered and said, “Your memorial will be this, that all the children of the kohanim that are born this year in all Judea and Jerusalem will be called by your name, Alexander. And this will be your memorial, when they come to serve God in this House. For we do not have permission from the God of this House – He is HaShem our God – to accept sculpture or any image.” The king wondered at the words of the kohein and it was proper in his eyes and he did so. The king gave abundant gold to the bedek habayis (fund for upkeep of the Temple), he bowed to HaShem our God, and he went out [of the Temple].[16]
Several sources[17] add that Shimon HaTzadik also offered to commemorate Alexander’s arrival by having all documents dated from that period on. This was the system called minyan shtaros, which was used in all Jewish legal documents until the late Geonic period. However, not all sources agree that this was the reason for the adoption of the minyan shtaros dating system.[18]

Josephus and Yossipon also both record that Alexander was shown the verses in the book of Daniel that predicted his rise to power.

Leader of the Jewish Nation

Shimon HaTzadik served as kohein gadol for forty years. During his tenure as kohein gadol, several special blessings were granted to the Jewish people. The Talmud states (Yoma 39a):
תנו רבנן, מ' שנה ששימש שמעון הצדיק היה גורל עולה בימין, מכאן ואילך פעמים עולה בימין פעמים עולה בשמאל, והיה לשון של זהורית מלבין, מכאן ואילך פעמים מלבין פעמים אינו מלבין, והיה נר מערבי דולק, מכאן ואילך פעמים דולק פעמים כבה, והיתה אש של מערכה מתגברת ולא היו כהנים צריכין להביא עצים למערכה חוץ משני גזירי עצים כדי לקיים מצות עצים, מכאן ואילך תשש כחה של מערכה, פעמים מתגברת פעמים אינה מתגברת ולא היו כהנים נמנעים להביא עצים למערכה כל היום כולו, ונשתלחה ברכה בעומר ובשתי הלחם ובלחם הפנים וכל כהן מגיעו כזית יש אוכל ושבע יש שבע ומותיר, מכאן ואילך נשתלחה מארה בעומר ובשתי הלחם ובלחם הפנים וכל כהן מגיעו כפול מצרי הצנועין מושכין את ידיהם והגרגרנין נוטלין ואוכלין
The Rabbis taught, [during the] forty years that Shimon HaTzadik served [as kohein gadol] the lot [cast for the Yom Kippur sacrifice] always came up in the right hand, from then on it sometimes came in the right and sometimes in the left; the tongue of scarlet wool [tied to the head of the scapegoat] would turn white, from then on sometimes it would turn white and sometimes it would not turn white; the western lamp [of the menorah] would remain lit, from then on sometimes it would remain lit and sometimes it would go out; the fire of the ma’aracha (the pile of wood on the altar) would stay strong and the kohanim only needed to bring two pieces of wood [a day] for the ma’aracha to fulfill the mitzvah of wood, from then on the power of the ma’aracha was weakened, sometimes it would stay strong and sometimes it would not stay strong and the kohanim did not cease from bringing wood all day long; and a blessing was sent into the omer, the two loaves [of Shavuos], and the lechem hapanim, and every kohein received a k’zayis – some ate and were satisfied and some were satisfied and [even] left over, from then on a curse was sent into the the omer, the two loaves, and the lechem hapanim, and every kohein received the amount of an Egyptian bean (i.e. a very small amount), the modest [kohanim] withdrew their hands and the gluttons took and ate.
Shimon HaTzadik was also unique in that he was both the kohein gadol and the head of the Sanhedrin. The Doros HaRishonim (Vol. 1, p. 197) points out:
והנה, היה בימי שמעון הצדיק דבר גדול ונפלא מאד אשר לא היה בכל ימי הבית בשני כי הכהן הגדול הוא היה גם המופלא שבסנהדרין ראש כל חכמי התורה.
In the days of Shimon HaTzadik there was a very great and amazing thing that did not exist throughout the days of the Second Temple, that the kohein gadol was also the mufla (primary authority, instructor) of the Sanhedrin, the chief of all the Torah sages.
The period of time of Shimon HaTzadik’s primary activity as the leader of the Jewish people was after the death of Alexander, under the rule of the Greek king of Egypt, Ptolemy son of Lagos, also known as Ptolemy Soter.[19] Ptolemy Soter was one of Alexander’s generals and had been appointed by Alexander as the governor of Egypt. After the death of Alexander, Ptolemy had assumed power in Egypt. A lengthy and violent series of struggles began among the various successors of Alexander[20], and the land of Israel passed in and out of the hands of different rulers several times over the next several decades. Ptolemy conquered the land of Israel four different times, and in at least some of these conquests he inflicted great suffering on the Jewish population. Josephus (Antiquities XII:1:1) tells us:
While these princes ambitiously strove one against another, every one for his own principality, it came to pass that there were continual wars, and those lasting wars too; and the cities were sufferers, and lost a great many of their inhabitants in these times of distress, insomuch that all Syria, by the means of Ptolemy the son of Lagus, underwent the reverse of that denomination of Savior (Soter), which he then had. He also seized upon Jerusalem, and for that end made use of deceit and treachery; for as he came into the city on a Sabbath day, as if he would offer sacrifices he, without any trouble, gained the city, while the Jews did not oppose him, for they did not suspect him to be their enemy; and he gained it thus, because they were free from suspicion of him, and because on that day they were at rest and quietness; and when he had gained it, he ruled over it in a cruel manner. Nay, Agatharchides of Cnidus, who wrote the acts of Alexander’s successors, reproaches us with superstition, as if we, by it, had lost our liberty; where he says thus: “There is a nation called the nation of the Jews, who inhabit a city strong and great, named Jerusalem. These men took no care, but let it come into the hands of Ptolemy, as not willing to take arms, and thereby they submitted to be under a hard master, by reason of their unseasonable superstition.”[21] This is what Agatharchides relates of our nation. But when Ptolemy had taken a great many captives, both from the mountainous parts of Judea, and from the places about Jerusalem and Samaria, and the places near Mount Gerizzim, he led them all into Egypt, and settled them there.[22] And as he knew that the people of Jerusalem were most faithful in the observation of oaths and covenants; and this from the answer they made to Alexander, when he sent an embassage to them, after he had beaten Darius in battle; so he distributed many of them into garrisons, and at Alexandria gave them equal privileges of citizens with the Macedonians themselves; and required of them to take their oaths, that they would keep their fidelity to the posterity of those who committed these places to their care. Nay, there were not a few other Jews who, of their own accord, went into Egypt, as invited by the goodness of the soil, and by the liberality of Ptolemy.
As we see from this account from Josephus, during the wars Ptolemy inflicted severe sufferings upon the Jewish population of the land of Israel, especially on the Jews of Jerusalem, and many Jews were taken as slaves to Egypt. Although it appears that in peacetime he was not an excessively oppressive ruler, this does not make up for the immense harm he inflicted on the Jewish people during these wars.
Shimon HaTzadik was the leader of the Jewish people during this extremely difficult period and he succeeded in rebuilding the land and repairing the damage.

In a famous passage, the ancient writer Yeishua (or Yehoshua) ben Sira[23] describes the greatness of Shimon HaTzadik (Ben Sira[24] 50):[25]
Shimon the high priest, the son of Chonio[26], who in his life repaired the house again, and in his days fortified the temple: And by him was built from the foundation the double height, the high fortress of the wall about the temple: In his days the cistern to receive water, being in compass as the sea, was covered with plates of brass: He took care of the temple that it should not fall, and fortified the city against besieging:
How was he honored in the midst of the people in his coming out of the sanctuary! He was as the morning star in the midst of a cloud, and as the moon at the full: As the sun shining upon the temple of the most High, and as the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds: And as the flower of roses in the spring of the year, as lilies by the rivers of waters, and as the branches of the frankincense tree in the time of summer: As fire and incense in the censer, and as a vessel of beaten gold set with all manner of precious stones: And as a fair olive tree budding forth fruit, and as a cypress tree which grows up to the clouds.
When he put on the robe of honor, and was clothed with the perfection of glory, when he went up to the holy altar, he made the garment of holiness honorable. When he took the portions out of the priests' hands, he himself stood by the hearth of the altar, compassed about, as a young cedar in Lebanon; and as palm trees compassed they him round about.
So were all the sons of Aaron in their glory, and the fire offerings of HaShem in their hands, before all the congregation of Israel. And finishing the service at the altar, that he might adorn the offering of the most high Almighty, He stretched out his hand to the cup, and poured of the blood of the grape, he poured out at the foot of the altar a sweet smelling savor unto the most high King of all. Then shouted the sons of Aaron, and sounded the silver trumpets, and made a great noise to be heard, for a remembrance before the most High.
Then all the people together hasted, and fell down to the earth upon their faces. To prostrate themselves before the Most High, before the Holy One of Israel. The singers also sang praises with their voices, with great variety of sounds was there made sweet melody. And the people besought HaShem, the most High, by prayer before him that is merciful, till the solemnity of HaShem was ended, and they had finished his service.
Then he went down, and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the children of Israel, to give the blessing of HaShem with his lips, and to rejoice in his name. And they bowed themselves down to worship the second time, that they might receive a blessing from the most High.
Shimon has been remembered throughout history with the name Shimon HaTzadik (the Righteous). Josephus explains that “He was called Simon the Just because of both his piety towards God, and his kind disposition to those of his own nation.[27]

Shimon HaTzadik is best known for his statement, quoted in the second mishna of Pirkei Avos, “The world stands on three things, on Torah [study], on the service [of HaShem], and on bestowing kindnesses.” As the Bartenura there tells us, this was something he always repeated and stressed; it was his primary teaching to his generation. What was the significance of this particular lesson? Rav Shlomo Brevda explains:[28]
והנה מתחילת שלטונם בארצנו הקדושה, השתדלו היוונים להשפיע עלינו מחכמתם, חכמת הטבע (ובסוף שלטונם גזרו גזירות להשכיח מאתנו את התורה הקדושה ולהעבירנו מחוקי רצונו ית"ש). שמעון הצדיק שהיה גדול הדור וגם כהן גדול בתחילת מלכות יון, השתדל בכל כחו לחזק את העם שישארו שלמים ונאמנים אך ורק לתורתנו הקדושה, ושלא ישימו לב כלל וכלל לחכמי יון ודבריהם. על כן באו תמיד דבריו הקדושים לעם סגולה שהעולם עומד על ג' דברים, עסק התורה, עבודת הקודש, וגמילות חסדים. ודבריו הקדושים סותרים לגמרי את שיטת חכמי הטבע. כי תורה ועבודה וגמילות חסדים לא יעניקו לאדם, על פי טבע, אפילו פת לחם, ואיך יתקיים האדם. אבל אנחנו מקבלי התורה, מאמינים בני מאמינים, יודעים שמצבינו למעלה מהטבע, והקב"ה זן ומפרנס ומכלכל העוסקים בתורה ובעבודה וגמ"ח. והצליח שמעון הצדיק בזמנו להחזיק את העם בשלימות האמונה וקיום המצוות. ולכן זכו בדורו לסייעתא למעלה מדרך הטבע. וראו חבתם לפניו ית"ש כי כל מצבם בבית המקדש, יום יום ובש"ק ובימים טובים, הכל היה למעלה מהטבע.
From the beginning of their rule in our holy land, the Greeks strove to influence us with their wisdom, the wisdom of nature [i.e. science] (and towards the end of their rule they made decrees to make us forget our holy Torah and to remove us from the decrees of His Will). Shimon HaTzadik, who was the gadol hador and also the kohein gadol at the beginning of the Greek dominion [over Eretz Yisrael], strove with all his strength to strengthen the people that they should remain completely loyal only and exclusively to our holy Torah, and they should not pay any attention at all to the wise men of Greece and their words. Therefore he would always repeat his words to the treasured people that the world stands on three things, Torah study, the holy service, and bestowing kindnesses. His holy words completely contradicted the philosophy of the wise men of nature [i.e. scientists]. For, according to nature, Torah, service, and kindness do not provide a person with anything, not even bread, so how will a person survive [on these alone]?[29] But we who have received the Torah, believers and children of believers, know that our circumstances are above nature, and the Holy One, blessed be He, feeds, supports, and provides those who involve themselves in Torah, service, and kindnesses. Shimon HaTzadik was successful in his time in strengthening the people in perfection of emunah (faith) and in fulfillment of the mitzvos (commandments). Therefore, in his generation they merited to receive supernatural help, and they saw how beloved they were before Him, for their entire situation in the Holy Temple, on ordinary days and on the Sabbath and festivals, was supernatural.[30]

The Death of Shimon HaTzadik & the Fall of the Kehuna Gedolah

The Talmud records the following information regarding the death of Shimon HaTzadik:
דתניא אותה שנה שמת שמעון הצדיק אמר להן שנה זו הוא מת. אמרו לו מנין אתה יודע? אמר להן כל יום הכפורים נזדמן לי זקן אחד לבוש לבנים ונתעטף לבנים ונכנס עמי ויצא עמי שנה זו נזדמן לי זקן אחד לבוש שחורים ונתעטף שחורים ונכנס עמי ולא יצא עמי. לאחר הרגל חלה שבעת ימים ומת ונמנעו אחיו הכהנים מלברך בשם.
For it is taught, the year that Shimon HaTzadik died he said to them that this year he would die. They said to him, from where do you know this? He said to them, “Every Yom Kippur an old man dressed in white and wrapped in white meets me and goes in with me [to the Kodesh haKedoshim (the Holy of Holies)] and comes out with me. This year an old man dressed in black and wrapped in black met me and went in with me but did not come out with me.” After the festival he was sick for seven days and died. And his brothers, the kohanim, refrained from blessing with the Name [of God in the Birchas Kohanim - the Priestly Blessing].[31]
Shimon HaTzadik passed away during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the son and successor of Ptolemy Soter. After his death, the status of the kehuna gedola (high priesthood) fell dramatically. As the Bartenura records (Yoma 1:1 based on the Gemora 8b):
...הכהנים הגדולים שהיו בבית שני אחר שמעון הצדיק היו נותנים ממון כדי לשמש בכהונה גדולה, ומתוך שרשעים היו לא היו משלימין שנתן והיו מתחלפין כל שנים עשר חדש כפקידי המלך שהמלך מחליפן כל שנה...
The kohanim gedolim of the Second Temple after Shimon HaTzadik would give money [to the non-Jewish rulers] in order to serve in the kehuna gedolah. Because they were wicked, they would not survive the year, and they would switch every twelve months [to a new kohein gadol], like the officers of a king which the king changes every year.[32]
In fact, this degradation of the kehuna gedolah did not take place immediately, and there were some kohanim gedolim – even in later periods – who were good men, although none of similar status to Shimon HaTzadik. Nevertheless, the process did begin almost immediately after the death of Shimon HaTzadik with the dispute that took place between Shimon’s sons on the succession. The Talmud continues (Menachos 109b)[33]:
בשעת פטירתו אמר להם חוניו בני ישמש תחתי. ... לא קיבל עליו חוניו שהיה שמעי אחיו גדול ממנו שתי שנים ומחצה ואף על פי כן נתקנא בו חוניו בשמעי אחיו. אמר לו בא ואלמדך סדר עבודה והלבישו באונקלי וחגרו בצילצול והעמידו אצל המזבח. אמר להם לאחיו הכהנים ראו מה נדר זה וקיים לאהובתו אותו היום שאשתמש בכהונה גדולה אלבוש באונקלי שליכי ואחגור בצילצול שליכי. בקשו אחיו הכהנים להרגו. סח להם כל המאורע בקשו להרוג את חוניו. רץ מפניהם ורצו אחריו רץ לבית המלך ורצו אחריו. כל הרואה אותו אומר זה הוא זה הוא. הלך לאלכסנדריא של מצרים ובנה שם מזבח והעלה עליו לשם שמים, שנאמר "ביום ההוא יהיה מזבח לה' בתוך ארץ מצרים ומצבה אצל גבולה לה'" (ישעיה יט:יט)
At the time of [Shimon HaTzadik’s] death, he said to them, “Chonio my son shall serve in my place.”[34] Chonio would not accept the office, for his brother Shimi was two and a half years his elder. Even so, Chonio became jealous of his brother Shimi. He said to him, “Come and I will teach you the procedure of the avodah.” He dressed him in an un’klie[35] and girded him with a tziltzul[36] and stood him by the altar. [Chonio] then said to his brothers, the kohanim, “Look at what this one swore to and fulfilled for his beloved[37], ‘the day when I shall serve in the kehunah gedolah, I will wear your un’klie and I will gird myself with your tziltzul.’”[38] His brothers, the kohanim, wanted to kill [Shimi] [for denigrating the kehuna]. [But Shimi] told them all that had happened, and they [the kohanim] wanted to kill Chonio. [Chonio] fled away from them and they pursued after him. He fled to the palace of the king and they pursued after him; all who saw him said, “This is he! This is he!” He went to Alexandria of Egypt and erected there an altar and offered upon it offerings for the sake of Heaven, as it says (Isaiah 19:19), “On that day there will be an altar to God within the land of Egypt, and a monument to God by its border.”[39]
This incident resulted in a great fall in the prestige of the kehuna gedolah. In the end, neither Chonio nor Shimi succeeded their father. Instead, Shimon HaTzadik was succeeded by his brother, Elazar, in the position of kohein gadol. In his position as head of the Sanhedrin, Shimon HaTzadik was succeeded by his primary disciple, Antignos Ish Socho.[40]

[1] Also known as Yeishua ben Yehotzedek.

[2] Sefer HaKabala, Sefer Yuchsin, Abarbanel (Nachalas Avos, hakdama and 1:2).

[3] The Toldos Am Olam maintains that the Sefer HaKabala and Yuchsin do not intend this literally, but only that he was descended from Yehoshua ben Yehotzedek.  He does not mention the Abarbanel who does appear to hold this opinion to be literally true.

[4] See Seder HaDoros (ג"א תמ"ח) for discussion.

[5] Rambam, Mishneh Torah – Hakdama

[6] Rashi, Avos 1:2, Doros HaRishonim

[7] Megillas Taanis places this event on the twenty-first of Kislev.

[8] Har Grizim was the location of the main Samaritan city and later became the location of their temple.

[9] Josephus tells us that when Alexander was besieging Tyre, an important city north of the land of Israel, the Samaritans, who were—like the Jews—subjects of the Persian Empire, approached Alexander and offered to join him and betray the Persians. The Jews, however, remained loyal to the Persian emperor. This combination of events caused Alexander to initially favor the Samaritans and to believe their false accusations against the Jews.

[10] In Yossipon the kohein that meets Alexander is named Chananya. However, some versions of Yossipon omit this and the name is probably erroneous. Similarly, Josephus (Antiquities XI:8:4-5) writes that the kohein was named – in Greek – “Iaddou”, which most translations understand as Yadua, the name of Shimon HaTzadik’s grandfather. There are a number of possible explanations for this discrepancy (asides from simple scribal error). Some authorities, most notably the Sefer HaKabala, claim that Shimon was also known by the name Iddo (עדו), which may be a different reading of the Greek name used by Josephus. (The Abarbanel, in Nachalas Avos 1:2, points out that the use of multiple names was common throughout the Second Temple period.) Other authorities, such as the Doros HaRishonim (Vol. 1, pp. 196-7), believe that at this time Yadua was still the kohen gadol but he was too old to go out to meet Alexander, so he sent his grandson Shimon in his place. Thus, Josephus may have erroneously concluded that the entire story happened with Yadua. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, however, believes that Josephus changed the story deliberately (Torah Nation 206).

[11] Megillas Taanis states slightly differently, דיוקנו של זה אני רואה כשאני יורד במלחמה ונוצח – “The image of this person I see when I go down to war and am victorious.”

[12] The implication here is that Alexander was not aware of the actual plans of the Samaritans. In fact, in the version told in Megillas Taanis, the Samaritans did not actually inform Alexander of their intentions, they simply “purchased” the location of the Temple from Alexander. Alternatively, the Ben Ish Chai explains that Alexander certainly knew that the Samaritans were guilty, but he wanted to know if any of his own officers were also included in the plot. To this the Jews responded that only the Samaritans were guilty.

[13] A kind of inferior grain used primarily as animal feed.

[14] This story is also told in Yossipon and Josephus. However there are a number of differences, some of which raise historical difficulties. According to the both of these alternate accounts, after his conquest of Gaza, Alexander marched on Jerusalem with intent to destroy it and he met the Jews just outside the gates of Jerusalem. However, according to the non-Jewish accounts of Alexander’s conquests, Alexander traveled from Gaza to Egypt in just one week, making a visit to Jerusalem (which is in the opposite direction) impossible. However, according to the Talmudic account there is no reason to believe that Alexander planned on traveling to Jerusalem himself. The Talmud also does not specify at what point in his conquests he met the Jews. Moreover, the location of the meeting, according to the Talmud, was a town called Antipras. This almost certainly refers to the town Antipatris (Kefar Saba), a town not far from the ocean shore along which Alexander traveled. The relatively brief meeting described in the Talmud took place early in the morning and would not have significantly affected the traveling time of Alexander’s army, which may explain why it is unmentioned in non-Jewish accounts. As for the accounts of Alexander’s visit to Jerusalem and the Temple, which most authorities accept as reliable, this may have taken place later, after Alexander’s conquest of Egypt, when he was traveling back towards Babylon. Josephus and Yossipon may have combined two separate stories.

[15] A phrase from Tehillim 76:6 poetically expressing the idea that the great scholars appear to have lost their skills.

[16] Josephus adds that Alexander summoned the Jews and “bid them ask what favors they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired. And when they entreated him that he would permit the Jews in Babylon and Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to do hereafter what they desired. And when he said to the multitude, that if any of them would enlist themselves in his army, on this condition, that they should continue under the laws of their forefathers, and live according to them, he was willing to take them with him, many were ready to accompany him in his wars.” (Antiquities XI:8:5)

Unfortunately, it appears that Alexander was not always fully consistent in fulfilling this promise. Josephus, in his Contra Apion (1:22), quotes extensively from Hecateus of Abdera, a Greek historian who was also a contemporary of Alexander, about the Jews in Alexander’s armies. He writes that, “Alexander was once at Babylon, and had an intention to rebuild the temple of Belus [an idol] that was fallen to decay, and in order thereto, he commanded all his soldiers in general to bring earth thither. But the Jews, and they only, would not comply with that command; nay, they underwent stripes and great losses of what they had on this account, till the king forgave them, and permitted them to live in quiet.”

[17] Sefer HaKabala, Yuchsin, Abarbanel Avos 1:2, Gr”a on Seder Olam Raba 30, and others.

[18] Tzemach Dovid

[19] The name “Soter” means “Savior” in Greek.

[20] The Macedonian generals who succeeded Alexander are referred to as the “Diadochi”, the Greek word meaning “successors”.

[21] This supposed incident appears to be the source of the myth that the ancient Jews would not wage war – even defensive war – on the Sabbath. In fact, as is clear from the previous statements of Josephus, Ptolemy Soter took the city by deceit, by pretending to come in peace.

[22] The Doros HaRishonim adds (presumably based on the Ben Sira passage quoted below) that Ptolemy also destroyed the walls of Jerusalem to prevent it from being used as a fortress against him. Victor Tcherikover, in his Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (p. 58), argues that the destruction of the walls was done when Ptolemy, in the course of the war, was forced to evacuate from Jerusalem and he wished to prevent its use as a fortress by his enemies.

[23] The Doros HaRishonim (Vol. 1, p. 194) writes about Ben Sira, ובן סירא אשר הלך עם חכמים ויתחמם לאור חכמי התורה וכו' – “And Ben Sira, who walked with the sages and warmed himself by the fire of the Torah sages…”

[24] The book of Ben Sira (also known as Sirach or Ecclesiasticus) was originally written in Hebrew, but the original Hebrew text was lost for a very long time, and the book only existed in its Greek translation. In modern times scholars have found parts of what they believe to be the original Hebrew version, but the full Hebrew original text is still not found and much of what has been found is of uncertain reliability. Thus there are no fully reliable editions of Ben Sira available. The primary Hebrew edition in print is the edition published by Avraham Kahana in his Seforim Chitzonim.

[25] This translation is taken, with some minor changes, from the KJV translation. It does not agree, in many details, with the Kahana version, but the basic ideas are the same. (The Catholic Church includes the book of Ben Sira in its version of the “Old Testament.” Such books are called Apocrypha.)

[26] In most English translations the name used here is Onias, which is the English equivalent of Chonio. Kahana’s Hebrew edition, and some translations, use the name Yochanan. (The name Chonio may be a diminutive for Yochanan.) The Doros HaRishonim (Vol. 1, p. 194), in quoting this passage, uses the name Chonio.

[27] Antiquities 12:2:5. The Doros HaRishonim (Vol. 1, p.194-195) points out that the description, “HaTzadik”, was not added to Shimon’s name until many years later. As proof he cites the passages from Ben Sira which praise Shimon HaTzadik. If Shimon was already popularly known as Shimon HaTzadik, then Ben Sira, who was a contemporary of Shimon’s, would certainly have referred to him by that title. Thus, the Doros HaRishonim argues that the title “HaTzadik” was added later to distinguish Shimon HaTzadik from a later kohein gadol also named Shimon ben Chonio who caused great troubles for the Jewish people.

[28] In his Kuntres L’Hodos U’l’Hallel b’inyanei Chanuka, p. 16.

[29] Shimon HaTzadik’s list implies that only these three things are truly necessary for the support of the world, yet, by normal “laws of nature”, none of a person’s basic needs are provided by these three things!

[30] Rav Brevda is referring here to the special blessings which took place in the Beis HaMikdash while Shimon HaTzadik was alive mentioned earlier.

[31] See Rabbeinu Gershom Menachos 109a, Rashi Yomah 39b, Tosafos Sotah 38a ד"ה הרי , and Rambam Hil. Nesias Kapayim 14:10, for explanations. Although most of the commentaries appear to maintain that this was a permanent change, the Ben Yehoyada (Yoma 39b) suggests that the kohanim may have ceased using the sheim hameforash only during the period immediately after Shimon HaTzadik’s death, when they felt great grief, because the sheim hameforash can only be used in a state of joy. However, after the grief lessened they returned to using the Name.

[32] To properly understand this passage one should see the context in mesechta Yoma. Here I have only quoted the portions directly relevant to our discussion.

[33] The following selection is abridged. There are actually two versions of the story of Chonio told in the Talmud in Menachos, the version told by Rabbi Meir and the version told by Rabbi Yehuda. As the commentaries clearly consider Rabbi Yehuda’s version to be the primary version, we are only including his version here.

[34] Although Chonio was younger than his brother Shimi, he was more knowledgeable in the laws of the avodah. (Rambam, Bartenura – Menachos 13:10)

[35] Rashi defines this as a “leather garment”. Rabbeinu Gershom says it was “a woman’s garment”. Bartenura describes it as “a shirt of thin linen that women wear upon their skin.”

[36] A kind of belt or girdle. This was also a feminine garment.

[37] His wife (Rashi, Rabbeinu Gershom) or his lover (Rambam, חשוקה שהוא מזנה עמה).

[38] Rambam writes that Chonio’s intent was to kill Shimi so that he could get the position of kohein gadol. Rav Yerucham Levovitz (Daas Torah, Lech Lecha p. 107) writes that this incident is a classic example of the principle from Pirkei Avos (2:4), אל תאמן בעצמך עד יום מותך – “Do not trust yourself until the day you die”, meaning that no matter how many good things you have done in your life, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) is always ready to trap you if you let down your guard. So, even after Chonio did this great kindness of surrendering the position of kohein gadol so as to give honor to his elder brother, when he let down his guard the yetzer hara of jealousy was able to trap him.

[39] The nature of this altar, and the temple that followed called Beis Chonio (which was not located in or near Alexandria, is a matter of some debate. Tosafos comments that the altar in Alexandria may have been only for non-Jews, thus avoiding the prohibition of shchutei chutz (slaughtering offerings outside of the Temple). This also explains how Chonio was permitted to become the kohein gadol at a later period. A later Chonio, during the reign of Ptolemy Philometor, erected a temple in Leontopolis, a village in the district of Heliopolis. See the discussion of this topic in Toldos Am Olam, p. 394.

[40] Another important sage of this period was Rav Elazar ben Charsom (Yuchsin, Tzemach Dovid, and Seder HaDoros). He is best known for his immense wealth, which, the Talmud (Yoma 35b) tells us, “obligates the wealthy” to study Torah. Interestingly, the Talmud (Yoma 9a) states that R’ Elazar ben Charsom served as kohein gadol for eleven years.


Note: This material was originally written for a course in Jewish history at a yeshiva high school. I have modified it for a general audience.

1 comment:

delos13 said...

I came across your blog by chance and want to express my gratitude for this post. I was looking for a very long time for the origin of this story - popularity of the name Alexander among the Jews.

Thank you very much.