The Roman/Edom Exile
The Roman conquest, the destruction of the Second Temple, exile, and the Land of Israel from the first to the thirteenth centuries
The Roman Conquest
For over five centuries the Roman Empire ruled most of the world. Its military, legal, and political systems left a permanent impact on Western civilization. Despite internal problems, revolts, assassinations, and many different rulers, Rome managed to consolidate and maintain its power for several centuries.
According to the Talmud, One hundred and eighty years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Romans invaded the Holy Land (Avodah Zarah 9a). They entered the Land due to their long-standing alliance with the Hasmonean dynasty. The civil war between the brothers John Hyrcanus II and Judah Aristobulus II resulted in Roman intervention. The Romans already had conquered much of the Near East, and in 63 , the leading Roman general, Pompey, invaded Jerusalem, entered the Temple, and imposed Roman rule.
The Greek exile (the darkness), which gave way to nearly a century of Jewish sovereignty under the Hasmoneans, merged with the depths the exile under Rome. The Romans backed the despotic Herod, who ruled the Land with a heavy hand during the late first century Several years after Herod's death, with the failure of his son Archelaus (Agrippus in Talmud) as an effective ruler, the Romans took over direct rule of Judea, leaving the Galilee under their Herodian client kings. Herodian and
Roman rulers allowed more Greeks to live in the Land, promoted Hellenism, and encouraged the further fragmentation of a divided Jewish society. In addition, power-hungry and corrupt Roman governors and their Jewish allies tightened Rome's grip on the Land of Israel. The Talmud relates the decline of morality and increase in crime and corruption (Sotah 47b), and asserts that even the Sanhedrin was not free of Roman influence.
The corruption and cruelty of the Roman governors gave rise to anti-Roman sentiment among the Jews. In addition, groups known as Zealots openly advocated armed resistance against foreign rulers and their Jewish collaborators. In 66 , the Jewish population in the Land of Israel rebelled against Rome. Zealot factions took Jerusalem, while the Romans initially concentrated on conquering the Galilee. With the fall of the Galilee in 67 , Jewish resistance continued mainly in Jerusalem and the Judean desert.
The divisiveness of Jewish society brought about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. A fragmented people could not defeat the powerful Roman army. The background, causes, and conduct of the revolt against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem were recorded by Josephus Flavius in Sefer Yosifun, The Jewish War.
Josephus (Joseph ben Mattathias), who was a priest, an aristocrat, and a Sadduccee, served as commander of the Jewish forces in the Galilee. He surrendered to Vespasian (who later became emperor), took the latter's family name, Flavius, and subsequently wrote the history of the war. Several sites excavated in Israel, such as Masada, Gamla and the southwestern area near the Temple Mount corroborate Josephus' account (although not everything he recorded is accepted as accurate, since he surrendered to his enemy and traded his faith for his life).
Spiritual leadership was in the hands of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, the temporary head of the Sanhedrin during the siege of Jerusalem. Seeing the imminent destruction of the city, he surrendered to Vespasian in order to spare the rabbinical academy and its leader, Rabban Gamliel, a descendant of Hillel the Elder of Davidic background. Rabban Gamliel later became head of the Sanhedrin (Gittin 56ab).
With the destruction of the Temple by Vespasian's son Titus on the Ninth of Av in 68 , Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai preserved an enclave of Torah study and interpretation in the town of Yavneh,located on the coastal plain.
Roots of the Roman Empire
The legacy left by the Roman Empire remains one of the main foundations for modern-day societies: a search for physical pleasures at the expense of one's spirituality. But from what could such a colossus grow to engulf an entire world? As we shall soon see, the enormous empire and unprecedented power of Rome came from the vacuum created by the sins of Israel. It originated with the rivalry of the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, which alludes to the battle between the material and the spiritual. It is written, One shall rule over the other (Genesis 25:23), and Rashi explains, The two cannot rule at once. When one ascends, the other descends. Thus, either Jacob (Israel) will prevail, or Esau will rule over him.
When King Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, the angel Gabriel descended and plunged a reed into the sea. A sandbank formed around it, on which was built the great krakh (city) of Rome (Sanhedrin 21b).
It is difficult for modern man to understand how great structures such as the Coliseum and the Forum were built on marshes. But the Sages held that Rome came into existence as a direct result of King Solomon's marriage to Pharaoh's daughter. When Gabriel plunged the reed into the sea, Rome was not a viable entity. As sins accumulated, like waste matter on a reed, the city (and eventually, the empire) of Rome came into existence. Rebbe Nachman further elaborates on this teaching, by applying it to all of humanity:
When King Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, Gabriel descended and plunged a reed into the sea. Solomon, the wisest of all men, reflects wisdom. Bat Pharaoh, the daughter of Pharaoh, represents extraneous philosophies that affect one's mind. This is because PhaRAoh (vgrp) is reminiscent of the word l'haPhRiA (ghrpvk), to disturb. Bat, daughter, parallels the transformation of pure wisdom, knowledge of God, into the lower level (as an offspring), and thus represents the devolvement of that wisdom into extraneous philosophies and ideas.
Thus, the Rebbe explains Solomon's marriage to Pharaoh's daughter as one of pure intellect polluted by extraneous thoughts and wisdom, detrimental to spiritual growth. He who accepts foreign or impure influences upon his intellect may be compared to a reed planted in the sea around which waste matter collects until it becomes a sandbank and a marsh of extraneous matter. A sea of pure wisdom becomes diminished, and a sandbank made up of extraneous thoughts clutters the mind, diminishing the space of holy and pure intellect.
The ARI speaks of the sefirah of Gevurah, Judgment. On High, Gevurah connotes restraint, a necessary component to receiving Chesed, the Lovingkindness of God, because too much kindness can be overwhelming. When Chesed is received with restraint, it is extremely beneficial. If, however, one commits sins, then Gevurah is transformed into severe judgment, which brings about varying degrees of suffering.
If one opens up his mind to extraneous wisdom, Gabriel plants a reed in the sea. Gabriel (GaVRiel) is the angel that represents GeVuRot (severities, strict judgment). On High, the Gevurot represent Divine restraint. But when they devolve, as when someone sins (a result of being influenced by extraneous wisdom), the Gevurot transform into strict judgment. They become like a reed planted in the sea they restrain all the flowing matter about them in the
sea of wisdom around which waste matter of the mind accumulates. Thus, Gabriel (the severities) plunged that reed into the sea of wisdom, diminishing the space of holiness.
A sandbank formed around it this represents odious traits that result when one allows extraneous and impure thoughts to dominate the mind. The evil inclination latches on (KaRuKh) to holiness and diminishes it, just as the great KRaKh (Rome) originated from the sandbank of evil traits (based on Likutey Moharan I, 35:1).
Rebbe Nachman shows how his explanation of the meaning of the Roman Empire and its culture is always applicable. According to the Rebbe, Rome embodies alien philosophies, idolatry, arrogance, lust, extraneous ideas, brute force, anger, and other repugnant traits. When there are lapses in our spiritual endeavors, and we give up our struggle against immoral invasions of our thoughts, pollution sweeps across our sea of wisdom and accumulates within our intellects. Consequently, we become architects and builders of the great city of Rome, which invades our personal holy land and destroys our individual temples (our Daat).
All this points to the significance of the Roman exile, which Scripture alludes to as the depths. When one succumbs to evil thoughts, he becomes mired in the depths, in the sandbank and marshes of Rome, from which he cannot extricate himself.
The Rebbe's teaching, however, inspires us and encourages us to break the cycle of quicksand for the great power that is Rome is built upon marshland and not solid earth. Just as the Roman Empire itself was swallowed up and disappeared, man can be released from the mire that envelops him