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Sefer Ezra: Part 9: An Evil Tale of Deceit and Deception

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Sefer Ezra: Part 9: An Evil Tale of Deceit and Deception
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Revach L'Neshama

“And in the days of Artachshasta, Bishlam, Misredas, Taval, and the rest of his cohorts wrote to Artachshasta the king of Paras, and the original letter was in Aramaic writing and Aramaic language.”

Artachshasta was a royal name which was given to every king of Paras, and it is actually referring to Coresh (Rashi). Some say that Artachshasta was actually a different name, and that the building of the Beis Hamikdash was not halted until after the death of Coresh.

The Malbim comments that Coresh himself ordered that the Beis Hamikdash be rebuilt and claimed that Hashem Himself inspired him to do it. How could he have revoked his order so shortly afterwards? In addition, the laws of Paras and Madai did not allow an order written in the name of the king to simply be retracted (as well known from the story of Purim).

In addition, the letter claiming that the Jews were building and fortifying the walls of Yerushalayim was pure fabrication. How could they have dared to tell such brazen lies? Coresh could have easily investigated the matter, and would have severely punished anyone caught lying. The answer was that it was all accomplished through deception and bribery.

The kingdom of Paras was such a huge expansive kingdom, and it included many different nations speaking twenty one different languages. The law was that anyone who wanted to write to the king would write in his language. There were two translators appointed by the king who received all the letters from all over the kingdom. They would then translate the letters into the Persian language and script and send them to the king. The answer of the king (written in Persian) would then be sent these two translators, who then translated the answers into the language and script of the writer. The officials appointed in Syria were Rachum Bal Taam, who translated the letters, and Shimshi (Haman’s son) who was a sofer and copied the letters into Persian from Aramaic.

The Kutim accomplished their evil plans by reporting to Coresh that the Jews were building the Bais Hamikdash. However, they wrote this information in an ambiguous way – in a way in which it could be interpreted that the Jews were actually rebuilding the walls of Yerushalayim. When Rachum and Shimshi translated the letter, they utilized the deceptive interpretation. In this way, the writers of the letter could not be punished since they could claim that they intended the first interpretation. The translators would also not be culpable since they could claim that they mistakenly misunderstood the letter.

They also warned the king that the Jews will no longer pay taxes to the king if they accomplish their plan of rebuilding Yerushalayim. They advised the king to research the history of the Jews to discover the Jews’ history of rebellion against their kings. They further warned the king that the Jews’ rebellion will have serious consequences for the entire area of the Trans-River.

It was the law of the land that the two officials who translated the letter wrote their names on the head of the letter, and afterwards they wrote the names of the original writers of the letter. Rachum and Shimshi included the names of all the nations living in Eretz Yisrael so that the king would gain the impression that there was unanimous agreement about this serious issue. There is another view that Mithredath actually gathered signatures from local cities to allow him to make his request in their name. Ultimately, a deceptive letter with false accusations against the Jews with the signatures of all the nations and cities of the entire area was sent off to the king.

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