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Sefer Ezra: Part 1 - Introduction: Ezra Ezra - The Moshe Rabbeinu of the Oral Torah
Sefer Ezra begins during the seventy year era following the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash by Nevuchadnetzer, king of Bavel. Nevuchadnetzer exiled the Jews to Bavel, and it was known through Yirmayahu's nevuah that Hashem had promised to redeem the Jews after seventy years. During these seventy years, Bavel had been conquered by Paras and Madai. During the reign of Coresh, the king of Paras, Yirmayhu's nevuah began to be fulfilled. Coresh announced to his kingdom that all the Jews should ascend to Yerushalayim and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash. The Jews who heeded this call were led by Zerubavel, Yeshua, Nechemia, and Mordechai Bilshan, among others. Mordechai Bilshan was Mordechai Hatzaddik who appears in the story of Esther. When the construction of the Beis Hamikdash was halted, Mordechai traveled to Paras to try to influence the king to allow the Jew to continue the construction of the Beis Hamikdah, which explains his presence in Paras during the story of Purim.
Ezra himself, the author of Sefer Ezra, and the most important leader of that era, was not included in the list of Jews who first heeded the call to ascend to Yerushalayim and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash. Where was he? The Gemara tells us that Ezra remained in Bavel to continue to learn under his teacher, the navi Baruch ben Neriah, who was too old and weak to undertake the trip to Eretz Yisrael. Ezra's decision to choose Torah learning over the construction of the Beis Hamikdash was symbolic of a new era in Jewish history.
The Gemara says that if Moshe Rabbeinu had not lived prior to Ezra, the Torah could have been transmitted through Ezra (Sanhedrin 21b). However, Ezra transmitted the Torah in his era - the Torah shebe'al peh. It was during this period that the Torah shebe'al peh and Torah sages emerged as the dominant spiritual force of Yiddishkeit.
The Shechina did not rest on the second Beis Hamikdash, and the remaining neviim gradually passed away, and the era of nevuah came to an end. The Anshei Knesses Gedolah, which was headed by Ezra, were aware that a new spiritual force was needed to replace nevuah in this new era. Torah study would have to be strengthened. The Anshei Knesses Gedolah davened that Hashem should allow them a deeper and broader clarity of Torah. Hashem granted their wish, and despite the loss of the Shechinah and nevuah, the era of the most expansive Torah wisdom commenced during the second Beis Hamikdash. Ezra led this new period of Torah history, and was the "Moshe Rabbeinu" of Torah shebe'al peh. This era of the dominance of Torah learning is still continuing today.
Ezra, who was a sofer and Kohen, spiritually strengthened Bnei Yisrael in other important ways as well. Unfortunately, many men of Bnei Yisrael had married non-Jews in Bavel, and even those Jews who ascended to Eretz Yisrael retained these marriages. When Ezra finally joined the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, he succeeded in dissolving these marriages, something the other leaders in Eretz Yisrael had not succeeded in doing. Ezra gathered Bnei Yisrael in Yerushalyim from all over Eretz Yisrael, and recited the Torah out loud. He said vidui for the sins of the people, and everybody cried together and resolved to adhere to the Torah. Ezra restored the purity of Am Yisrael, and strengthened them in the new era of the second Beis Hamikdash.
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