The Jewish Eye
Sefer Ezra: Part 17 - Ezra’s Tells The Story of His Journey
Ezra now tells over the story of his return to Eretz Yisrael in first person. “These are the heads of the families and lineage of those who went up with me with me during the reign of King Artachshast from Bavel”
Each head of a household possessed a ksav yichus which showed his lineage up to one of the shevatim. In addition, everyone belonging to the family had a ksav yichus which showed their relationship with the family.
King Artachshast refers to Daryavesh, the king of Paras. Despite the Persian rule, most Jews still lived in Bavel, where they had originally settled when they were exiled from Eretz Yisrael.
“I gathered them at the river flowing into the Ahava (river), and we camped there for three days. And I examined the people and the Kohanim, and I did not find Leviim there.”
Leviim had previously moved to Eretz Yisrael when Bnei Yisrael ascended to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash during the reign of Coresh, so why was Ezra concerned that there were no Leviim traveling with him? Rashi says that when the Bavlim had exiled Bnei Yisrael to Bavel after destroying the first Beis Hamikdash, they commanded the Leviim to sing “songs of Tzion” to entertain them. Rather than complying with the order, the Leviim cut off their own thumbs, rendering them incapable of playing their musical instruments. Many years later, when these Leviim ascended to Eretz Yisrael, they were not fit to serve in the Beis Hamikdash due to their amputated thumbs. Ezra was now seeking Leviim who were fit for avodah.
Other mefarshim disagree, and say that Leviim who were fit for avodah were already in Eretz Yisrael, but Ezra wanted additional Leviim to accompany him on the journey.
Ezra sent a group of prominent members of Bnei Yisrael who were accompanying him back to Bavel to try to convince Leviim to join them on their trip. They were successful, and the group brought back both Leviim and Nesinim, who were the servants of the Leviim. The Nesinim were the Givonim who were one of the seven nations that originally lived in Eretz Yisrael before Bnei Yisrael conquered it. They had duped Bnei Yisrael into making a peace agreement with them, and they were relegated to becoming servants –wood choppers and drawers of water. They were called Nesinim since they were given to the Leviim to aid them in the service of the Beis Hamidash.
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