Balak: The Breach in the Wall – A Good Development or a Bad One?


השיעור לפ’ בלק
.לעילוי נשמת הרה”ח הרה”ת ר’ משה בן הרב נפתלי ע”ה גרינברג. נלב”ע י’ תמוז ה’תשע”ג
.נתרם ע”י בנו הרה”ת ר’ ישראל מרדכי וזוגתו מרת חנה ומשפחתם שיחיו גרינברג
.על פסא, טקסס

On which date did the Babylonians invade Jerusalem? Was it the ninth of Tammuz or the seventeenth? An apparent contradiction in ancient Jewish sources is resolved by examining biblical military strategies — with the insight and awareness that that a bad situation can always be turned into a good one.

Lesson Contents:

A. When was Jerusalem Breached?

This lesson revolves around a question: When did Nebuchadnezzar breach the wall of Jerusalem? 

At first glance, the answer seems simple: The Mishna says that it was on the seventeenth of Tammuz (source 1). But Jeremiah states that it was on 9 Tammuz (source 2). The Babylonian Talmud clarifies that the Mishna is referring to Second Temple period while Jeremiah was speaking about the first (source 3). Indeed, being that the tragedy occurred on both dates, Jewish law suggests that extra-devout individuals fast on both (source 4-5).

However, the Jerusalem Talmud complicates matters. Instead of attributing the Mishna to the Second Temple period, it merely concludes that Jeremiah’s date is a miscalculation (source 6).

The Rebbe presents the two sides, and points out that there is a real-life consequence to the disagreement—should the devout person fast on both days? But more importantly: How could Torah contain an argument over facts? Doesn’t it contradict the rule of “ein machlokes bimitzius”?

B. The Malleable Outcome

The answer is that the beginning of a story doesn’t always indicate the end. At the beginning of a sequence of events, G-d leaves the door open for us to change our behavior – and for the events to change as well.

For example, when G-d punished humanity with the Great Flood, He began it as a drizzle, hoping that they would first repent (source 7), in which case He would transform the flood into a benign rainfall. Likewise, when G-d judges us on Rosh Hashanah, things could still change on a daily basis (source 8-9).

The same is true in our case: When the wall was breached, G-d was waiting to see whether the people would repent. Although Babylonian soldiers were pouring into the city, all was not lost. But how, indeed, was that so?

C. Military Tactics

The explanation can be culled from two other stories of battles in Tanach, Moses vs. Sichon and Joshua vs. the city of Ai. From there, we know that battling an enemy is far easier when the war takes place outside the city gates (sources 10-11). 

When Nebuchadnezzar managed to breach the wall, all was not lost. With soldiers passing one by one through the opening, it could have been a perfect opportunity for the Jews to gain the upper hand. G-d waited to see whether the Jews would repent.

With that in mind, the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud no longer need to be interpreted as an argument. The wall was initially breached on the ninth. But it was not the end of the road; only by the seventeenth, when the Jews had not repented, did the breach become irreversible and final.  

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