RabbI YY Jacobson
RabbI YY JacobsonYad Lachim

Dedicated by Leslie Hirsch in memory of Yosef Moshe ben Shia, and a prayer for the refuah of Paz ben Yehudit

Ravashke taunts the Jewish people. (Gary Dorning/PCG)

Is This the End?

In 1992, the global community was still enjoying the rosy after-glow of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist Soviet Union. The two great superpowers of the day, the East and the West, were slowly drifting closer together, now embracing value and ideals that had once been bitterly disputed. That same year, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama published a book bearing the dramatic title ‘The End of History.’ Fukuyama argued that recent world events and the growing international appreciation of liberal democracies and free-market economics were part of an inevitable global trend. Democracies were proving themselves to be the most effective, free, and the fairest form of governance. It was only a matter of time before it became the final form of governance, to be embraced by the entire world. Reminiscent of biblical premonitions of the ‘end of days,’ humanity seemed to be approaching a new chapter in history. For a time, it certainly seemed the world had made some real progress.

Today Fukuyama’s book is largely met with not much more than a snicker and a smirk; the author himself retracted and qualified many of his positions. Tyrannies strengthened their hold on their populaces, madmen were left to slaughter their citizens, and wars would rage on unabated, across the world. Revolutions in Eastern Europe, and of course the much-celebrated Arab Spring, brought fresh bouts of similarly confident proclamations about the inexorable march of freedom. But over time, these hopes have faded away as well, and been replaced with a more hardened, cynical view about the destiny of mankind.

It seems hard, then, to squarely place this Messianic vision into the world we inhabit. How is it possible for all of this to actually come about? How are we able to believe that the Moshiach can actually arrive this very day, and suddenly usher in an age of world peace? The references to universal appreciation of G-d—and of humanity as united as one—that Isaiah makes are just as difficult to see happening. Does the Western world today seem to be moving towards an embrace of the values of Divine Oneness, or away from it?

The prophecies and predictions associated with the coming of the Moshiach are meant quite literally, not to be taken as mere allegory, or as some piece of well-written poetry. They are to be fulfilled here, in this physical world: The harmony of humanity, the emergence of a new consciousness on our planet, the ingathering of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, rebuilding of the Temple, an era of peace, etc.

But when we look at the world around us, it can become enormously difficult to imagine the world as we know it being transformed in such a dramatic way. Just a quick read of the newspapers seems to suggest that the promise of Isaiah is only getting farther away.

G-d Will Save Us

Maybe you’ve heard about the time a simple Jewish village-woman went to hear a maggid, wandering preacher, who happened to be passing through town.

The Maggid regaled his audience with his account of the coming Redemption, drawn from Biblical and Talmudic sources. But the village-woman came home terrible concerned.

“Yankel” She said to her husband, “is it really true the Moshiach is about to come? We will we have to just pick up and leave? Suddenly go off to Israel? What will be with our house? Our land? Our cow?”

Yankel tried to soothe his wife. “Don’t worry Zlata. G-d saved us from the Cossacks. He saved us from drought, and he saved us from the pogroms. He will save us from the Moshiach too!”

Ch. 10 and 11

Amidst this pain and uncertainty come the Last Day of Pesach, and its resoundingly optimistic outlook. After seven days of commemorating the Exodus from Egypt - the first Redemption of the Jewish people - the last day of the Festival takes a look at the next, and final Redemption. The 11th and 12th Chapter of Isaiah - read as the Haftorah of the 8th day of Passover - explores the beautiful utopia that the days of Moshiach will be. The Messianic era will be one of authentic peace and tranquility; the wolf will live side by side with the lamb; children will play safely near snakes. The world will be swept by a universal divine consciousness, and led by a perfectly righteous, just leader - the Moshiach.

While the bulk of the Haftorah indeed deals with the Messianic vision as recorded in chapters 11 and 12 of Isaiah, the first few lines are concerned with an entirely different matter. These lines are the final verses of Isaiah Chapter 10, and read as follows:

עוֹד הַיּוֹם בְּנֹב לַעֲמֹד יְנֹפֵף יָדוֹ הַר בַּת צִיּוֹן גִּבְעַת יְרוּשָׁלִָם. הִנֵּה הָאָדוֹן יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת מְסָעֵף פֻּארָה בְּמַעֲרָצָה וְרָמֵי הַקּוֹמָה גְּדֻעִים וְהַגְּבֹהִים יִשְׁפָּלוּ. וְנִקַּף סִבְכֵי הַיַּעַר בַּבַּרְזֶל וְהַלְּבָנוֹן בְּאַדִּיר יִפּוֹל:

Still today, [he intends] to stand in Nob; he waves his hand toward the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem. Behold the Master, the Lord of Hosts lops off the branches with a saw, and those of lofty height are hewn down, and the tall ones shall be humbled. The thickets of the forests shall be cut off with iron; the Lebanon shall fall through a mighty one.

As is evident from earlier on in that chapter, these final verses are a reference to the dramatic events surrounding the 8th century BCE Assyrian assault, led by King Sancharev (Sennacherib) , against Judea and Jerusalem under King Hezekiah, or Chizkiyahu. These events are recorded elsewhere in Scripture in great detail, but here Isaiah only makes passing mention of them.

Isaiah recounts how Sancharev approached Jerusalem from the city of Nob, and upon sighting the Jewish capital, dismissed it with an arrogant wave. “He waves his hand toward the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.” But, as the prophet continues, G-d provided a miraculous salvation, and “cut down” the mighty Assyrian king.

Why Today?

A gripping, wonderful tale, and highly recommended reading. But what is it doing here? What does it have to do with the subject matter of the Haftorah; with the coming of the future Redemption? It comes from another chapter in Isaiah dealing with a completely different issue? Yes, it was another case of G-d providing salvation for the Jewish people, but are there not many other cases like it, throughout the Tanach?

The Rabbis instituted the regular public reading of selected texts from the prophets hundreds of years after the time of King Hezekiah.[1] They decided that on the last day of Pesach, we are to read of Isaiah’s description of the coming of Moshiach. Why did they deem it necessary to also throw in a shout-out to the story of Sancherev?

One reason given for the inclusion of the story is that Sancharev’s downfall occurred on Pesach.[2] However, the downfall happened on the first night of Pesach. That was a week ago! Why has it been snuck here, into this Haftorah, with its very specific focus on the future, final redemption? What did the Sages have in mind?

The Conflict between Assyria and Judea

For this we must delve into this chapter of history. Then we shall see that by appending this story, the sages were making a powerful statement to us, and providing us with the context needed to properly read the rest of the Haftorah about Moshiach.

(It’s clear that this episode was an important one in Jewish history: Apart from the reference in Chapter 10 of Isaiah, the details of the siege are discussed three more times in the Tanach: Later, in Isaiah, Chapters 36-37; a similar account earlier in Kings 2, Chapter 18-19, and somewhat more concisely in Chronicles 2, Chapter 32. It is an important narrative in Jewish history and worth reflecting upon.)

Let’s first take a looks at the story, its details, and its historical context.

Assyria and King Chizkiyahu

In the early 8th century BCE, some 175 years before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, Assyria was the power to be reckoned with. It was named after, and centered around, its capital city of Ashur, in present-day northern Iraq, but at the height of its power, extended across the Ancient Near East.

Previously, the nearby nation of Aram had been a regional power, until defeated, and superseded by Assyria. A few years later, a wary Babylon tries to create a coalition, with the Jewish people, to counter the growing influence of the Assyrians, now led by a brilliant but ruthless military commander. But in short time, Babylon too falls to the Assyrians; its cities are captured, plundered, and laid waste[3].

The name of this military commander was Sancharev, and the Land of Israel was in his sights.

Until just a few years prior, the Jewish people had been divided into two separate kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom of Israel, famously home to ten of the Jewish tribes, and the Southern Kingdom, dominated by the tribe of Judah, who along with the tribe of Benjamin, was host to the sacred city of Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple.

However, at around the same time as the conquest of Aram, the Northern Jewish Kingdom had also been captured by the voracious Assyrians. The Kingdom disintegrated, as the Assyrians enslaved its population, and deported them to Assyria, and beyond. Since then -- around 720 BCE - for over 2700 years, the majority of the Ten Tribes disappeared from the Jewish scene, their identities or location one of the great mysteries of Jewish history. Only the Southern Kingdom remained, the Kingdom of Judah. This exile of the ten tribes occurred five years after the ascension of new king to the Judean throne—King Hezekiah.[4]

King Hezekiah was one of the greatest kings in Jewish history, rivaled only perhaps, by David and Solomon. He was a mercurial, transformative figure, who unlike some other kings who drifted away from morality, kindness and the Jewish way of life as they grew older and more complacent, remained introspective, receptive of criticism, and ready to accept and make amends for his mistakes. After the worship of pagan idols had been allowed to fester during reign of his father, the wicked King Achaz, Hezekiah inspired a national return to G-d and a rejection of the folly and cruelty of idolatry. Upon assuming the throne at the youthful 25 years of age, Hezekiah abolished any cults of worship outside of the Temple, and destroyed the pagan-trees and other idolatrous artifacts. Later he would institute universal education reforms, ensuring a thorough Torah education for every man, woman, and child. Hezekiah, declare the Scriptures[5], “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…trusted in the G-d Israel, there was none like him among all the kings of Judah who were after him, nor were there before him.”

Rebellion

At first Israel maid an alliance with Egypt, but Egypt too was ransacked by Assyria. So then Israel paid insane tribute to Sancharev, as described in the Tanach, and interestingly, corroborated by Assyrian records. “Hezekiah stripped the doors of the temple of the Lord, and thresholds [he] had overlaid.”[6] He was forced to pillage his own precious Temple in Jerusalem in order to raise the silver and gold need to pay off the Assyrian monarch. He send enormous gold and silver to Sancherev to appease him, draining Judea from its resources.

But enough was enough. Hezekiah, encouraged by the prophet Isaiah—the towering spiritual figure of the time—stopped paying tribute.[7] Sancherev warned that he would decimate Jerusalem and Zion.

Preparing for War

The Broad Wall discovered around ancient Jerusalem in the 1970s is believed to have been built by Hezekiah to resist Sancharev’s invasion. Chapter 32 of Chronicles 2 records how the King blocked off the Gichon stream outside of Jerusalem, ensuring that it flowed directly into the city. Hezekiah’s famous tunnel remains intact until today, open to any visitor to Jerusalem, a dazzling feat of construction and design that preserved the local water supply. But Sancharev, the most powerful king at the time, was on his way.[8]

A Poem

The 19th-century English poet Lord Byron captured the terror of the Assyrian advance on Jerusalem in verse:[9]

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,

And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;

And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,

When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

This was the superpower of the day, the subjugator of Egypt, Persia, Medea, Babylonia, Arabia, Phoenicia, Samaria, Chaldea, Moab, Edom, and more. He was the fear of every other kingdom. Now, Sancharev flew towards the quickly besieged city of Jerusalem with enormous, overwhelming, numbers. The Talmudic-era commentary of Yonasan ben Uziel[10] gives us an idea of the terrifying size, and the menace of the Assyrian army:

“With him 40,000 chariots of gold, of princes wearing crowns sitting in them, and he took with him 200,000 sword and spear bearers, and he took with him 260,000 archers, men running before him 100,00.”

The sight of the invading army alone would have been enough to strike fear in the hearts of the trapped Jerusalemites. But what happened next would an even more devastating blow in the psychological warfare already being waged against the Jews.

Ravshakeh’s Speech

As his armies gathered, Sancharev sent his official representative, Ravshakeh, to speak to the Jews. King Hezekiah sent out a few representatives – Eliakim ben Chilkiyah, a palace official; Shevna the scribe; and Yoach ben Asaph the recorder – to talk to him. But soon Ravshakeh was close enough for the rest of the city to hear him.

Ravshakeh drew close and began his message in the name of the Assyrian empire. To shock of the Jewish representatives, instead of speaking in Aramaic, the traditional language used in the royal courts, and for international diplomacy, Ravshakeh began speaking in fluent Hebrew, so that every Jew in Jerusalem could understand him directly.

He began to taunt, threaten, cajole, and persuade[11]. Ch. 18 of Kings II describes his speech—and no question it was a brilliant speech in its psychological impact.

“Who do you have to rely on?” Ravshakeh taunts. ‘No-one! Your alliance with Egypt is worthless. You are all alone, defenseless. Next he declares that even G-d has abandoned His people. He twists Hezekiah’s motives for removing the foreign altars outside of Jerusalem, turning them into something entirely different:

And if you say to me, 'We trust the Lord our God,' is He not the one Whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed? He has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, 'Before this altar in Jerusalem shall you prostrate yourselves.'

‘You think your king is righteous?’ asks Ravshake. ‘He only restored the centrality of the temple to centralize his own power. He couldn’t care less for G-d, and G-d will do nothing to save you from the Assyrian onslaught.

Then he goes on to add that the Assyrian king was actually sent by G-d to capture Jerusalem! G-d Himself has decreed the supremacy of the Assyrians. Now is it with other than the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, 'Go up against this land and destroy it.'"

These boasts, lies, and corruptions of the truth must have been awful to hear, all the more so that they were delivered in Hebrew. The representatives of the Jewish king are clearly frightened of the toxic effects Ravshakeh’s words would have on the Jerusalemites:

And Eliakim the son of Hilkiah and Shebnah and Joah said to Rabshakeh, "Please speak to your servants in Aramaic for we understand it; do not speak with us in Judean within the hearing of the people who are on the wall."

Ravshakeh laughs them off:

And Rabshakeh said to them, "Did my master send me to speak these words to your master and to you? Is it not to the men who sit on the wall to eat their dung and drink their urine with you?"

Ravshakeh’s address was cruelly calculated, intended to inflict enormous damage on the morale of the Jewish people. He continues to speak in Hebrew and tell the Jews, that Hezekiah is deceiving them by telling them to rely on G-d. the local gods have not rescued any other country from the hands of the Assyrians, nor will the Jewish G-d save Jerusalem. In his words:

Have the gods of the nations saved each one his land, from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad, where are the gods of Sepharvaim? He exiled them and twisted them. Now, did they save Samaria from my hand? Who are they among all the gods of the lands who saved their land from my hand, that the Lord should save Jerusalem from my hand?' "

He finally makes his plea to the Jews to surrender, and promises, that they will be led to the most affluent, prosperous life in Assyria. In his own words:

Do not listen to Hezekiah, for so has the king of Assyria said, "Make peace with me, and come out to me, and each man will eat of his vine and each man of his fig tree, and each man will drink the water of his cistern. Until I come and take you to a land like your land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil yielding olives and honey, and you may live and not die, and do not heed Hezekiah for he will mislead you, saying, 'The Lord will save us.'

The Wayward Son

But how did this Assyrian royal official even know Hebrew at all? And what a Hebrew! You read the original words of the Tanach and you see that he had mastered the language. This is a “Shakespearean” Hebrew!

The Sages, of course, reach the conclusion that Ravshakeh was a Jew himself! He was an Assyrian defector, a traitor to his faith and his people.

This would have been bad enough, but a Midrash makes a claim that would increase the depth of Ravshakeh’s betrayal by orders of magnitude.

The Talmud[12] recounts a fascinating early episode in the relationship between Hezekiah and the great prophet of the time, Isaiah, a major advisor, critic, and influence throughout the king’s lifetime.

The Talmud explains the biblical story (Kings 2, 20:1): “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet, son of Amoz, came to him and said unto him, Thus, says the Lord, set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.

King Hezekiah said to Isaiah: Why so bad [a punishment]? He replied: Because you did not try to have children [he never got married].

Hezekiah said: The reason was because I saw by divine inspiration that the children issuing from me would not be virtuous. He said to him: What have you to do with the secrets of G-d? You should have done what you were commanded, and let the Holy One, blessed be He, do that which pleases Him.

The king said to him: Then give me now your daughter; perhaps through your merit and mine combined virtuous children will issue from me. He replied: The doom has already been decreed. Said the king: Isaiah, Son of Amotz, finish your prophecy and go. This tradition I have from the house of my ancestor (King David): “Even if a sharp sword rests upon a man's neck he should not desist from prayer.”

Indeed, Hezekiah survived the illness, he married the daughter of Isaiah the prophet. They had two children. One child was the famous Menaseh, who would succeed his father and reign for 55 years, becoming one of the most ruthless tyrants in the history of Israel. He would murder his own grandfather, Isaiah.[13] But who was the second son?

In the Targum to Ecclesiastes 9:10 and in a gloss on the side the of the page in the Talmud, the ‘Bach’, Rabbi Yoel Sirkes, a 16th century commentator celebrated for his Halachic work, quotes a Midrash: Hezekiah went on to have two sons. One son was of course the wicked Menashe; the other went by the name of… Ravshakeh.[14] Menashe became one of the most evil kings in our history; and Ravshakeh became the spokesman for Assyria. Indeed, Hezekiah’s great fear that his children would not give him much nachas has been fulfilled to its maximum dread.

This throws the story of the Assyrian siege and Ravshake’s speech in an entirely new light. This was the king’s own son, the prince of his people, intimately familiar with their traditions, culture, beliefs, and their tactics, and he turned against them. It was astonishing betrayal, and one that would have struck hard at the heart of the Jewish people. No wonder this man knew such a beautiful Hebrew!

One can only imagine the devastating psychological damage Ravshakeh inflicted on his listeners.

The Enemy Within

Throughout history, the Jewish people have suffered enormously at the hands of such traitors—Jews who defected to the enemy side. Even today, some of the Jewish people’s most vicious opponents have come from within. Richard Falk, still serves as the ‘United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories.’ This is a man who has often made comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, who regularly accuses the Jewish state of apartheid, who claims that Hamas is not a terrorist group, and who publicized blatantly anti-Semitic material on his blog. He is a Jew. Tragically, other Jews such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal, George Soros, and others, continue to cause tzores for the rest of us.

Karl Marx, the grandson of two Orthodox rabbis (and, to be entirely accurate, son of parents who converted to Christianity), wrote one of the most significant anti-Semitic essays of the 19th century, “On the Jewish Question” (1844). In it one finds such statements: “Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may exist. . . The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of the world. . . . The social emancipation of Jewry is the emancipation of society from Jewry.”

Leon Trotsky, born Lev Bronstein, may be regarded as the intellectual father of Russian, later Soviet, Communism. He along with Stalin and three others fought to succeed Lenin as leader of the Communist Party after Lenin’s death in 1924. In 1920, when Trotsky was head of the Red Army, Moscow’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Jacob Mazeh, asked him to use the army to protect the Jews from pogromist attacks. Trotsky is reported to have responded, “Why do you come to me? I am not a Jew.” To which Rabbi Mazeh answered: “That’s the tragedy. It’s the Trotskys who make revolutions, and it’s the Bronsteins who pay the price.”

And here was Ravshakeh, son of the Jewsh people, shouting the seditious, vicious, message of Sancharev at the people of Jerusalem, in fluent Judean.

And Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in Judean, and he spoke and said, "Listen to the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! So has the king said, 'Let not Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from his hand. And let not Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord, saying, 'The Lord will save us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.'

It is a similar message to what some people keep telling Israel today. You must surrender to every demand of your enemy, even if it means endangering your security, because if not you will be isolated, banned, and you will have no hope.

A Bleak Picture

The Jews at the time were devastated. This Jewish prince Rabshake got into their “kishkes.” The king and his advisors were crushed and rent their garments in grief. Imagine your own child turning against you and telling his former people that his father is a charlatan. Just try to picture in your mind the incredibly bleak situation the Jewish people were in. Imagine the atmosphere of dread, doom, and despair they must have felt upon seeing the awesome power of the Assyrian army. According to Assyrian records,[15] Sancharev had already conquered 46 Judean cities. What sort of resistance was tiny Jerusalem capable of putting up? Think about the terrible demoralizing effect Ravashkeh’s words must have had on the Jewish people. In the face of all this, what can they do?

But it was the prophet Isaiah who sent a message to Hezekiah not to fear. He prophesied in the name of G-d to “have no fear of the words” they had heard, and he promised a miraculous salvation.

מלכים ב פרק יט: ו וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם יְשַׁעְיָהוּ, כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן אֶל-אֲדֹנֵיכֶם: כֹּה אָמַר ה', אַל-תִּירָא מִפְּנֵי הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתָּ, אֲשֶׁר גִּדְּפוּ נַעֲרֵי מֶלֶךְ-אַשּׁוּר, אֹתִי. ז הִנְנִי נֹתֵן בּוֹ רוּחַ, וְשָׁמַע שְׁמוּעָה וְשָׁב לְאַרְצוֹ; וְהִפַּלְתִּיו בַּחֶרֶב, בְּאַרְצוֹ.

It is one of the most powerful and moving prophesies in the Tanach:

And Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, "So has the Lord God of Israel said, 'I have heard what you prayed to me concerning Sennacherib, king of Assyria… Through your messengers you have insulted the Lord, and you said, "With my many chariots I have ascended to the heights of mountains, to the end of the Lebanon, and I will cut down its tallest cedars, its choice cypresses, and I will come to its remotest lodge, to its farmland forest… Because you have raged against Me, and your tumult has ascended into My ears, I will place my ring in your nose and My bit in your lips, and I will return you by the road by which you have come…

"Therefore, so has the Lord said concerning the king of Assyria: 'He shall not enter this city, neither shall he shoot there an arrow, nor shall he advance upon it with a shield, nor shall he pile up a siege mound against it. By the way he comes he shall return, and this city he shall not enter,' says the Lord.

"'And I will protect this city to save it, for My sake and for the sake of My servant David.'"

Incredibly, the people managed to remain stoic. Although there were some who resigned to an Assyrian victory[16], they remained within the walls of the city, and did not capitulate to the temptations of Ravashkeh. Hezekiah believed in his prophet, and stood his ground. He strengthened his program of Torah education[17], and prayed to G-d. Their faith remained firm.

The End

Jerusalem was surrounded—185,000 Assyrian soldiers were encamped on the outskirts of the city, sharpening their weapons, preparing siege implements, waiting for orders to attack. The Jews in Jerusalem were trapped. The siege had begun; no one could leave or enter the city.

And just like that, it was over.

Late one night in the enemy camp—the first night of Passover—Assyrian soldiers suddenly began dropping dead. Thousands of vigorous, highly trained, experienced soldiers were dying for no apparent reason. At dawn, when the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem peered into the Assyrian camp, they were speechless. The entire Assyrian army, 185,000 soldiers, lay dead.

The fall of the Assyrian army is recounted in single verse.[18] 2 Kings 19:35 records what happened:

And it came to pass on that night that an angel of the Lord went out and slew one hundred eighty-five thousand of the camp of Assyria. And they arose in the morning, and behold they were all dead corpses.

And Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, left and went away, and he returned and dwelt in Nineveh.

In single stroke, salvation arrived.

King Sennacherib was left with no choice but to return to Nineveh, shocked and humiliated. Upon his return, Sennacherib set his artists to work recording his impressive military campaign in Judah. The king adorned the walls of his palace with images of the siege of Lachish. He recorded his destruction of Azekah. He chronicled his subjugation of 46 of Judah’s fortified cities.

Among the items Sennacherib commissioned were three clay prisms. These prisms document King Sennacherib’s victories in Judah and specifically mention Assyria’s destruction of 46 Judean cities, including the large cities of Azekah and Lachish. But what about Jerusalem?

Sennacherib boasted about his siege on Jerusalem and trapping King Hezekiah “like a caged bird.” Yet among the volumes of reliefs, inscriptions and ancient records and artifacts documenting King Sennacherib’s campaign in Judah, it is not once mentioned that he captured Jerusalem.[19]

Even today, historians study the annals of Sennacherib and are perplexed. Why would Assyria’s king boast of trapping King Hezekiah “like a caged bird” in Judah’s most prestigious city, the center of Judah’s identity, yet refrain from conquering Jerusalem?

Death of Sennacherib

Ancient records show that King Sennacherib was later killed by his sons, just as Isaiah prophesied. One Babylonian document implicates Arda-Mulissi (the biblical Adrammelech) for the murder. Evidently, he teamed up with his brother Nabu-sarru-usur (biblical Sharezer) to kill their father, which they did while he was worshiping.

This history is also recorded in 2 Kings 19:37: “And it came to pass, as he [Sennacherib] was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.”

A Poem

The poem by Lord Byron quoted earlier, entitled The Destruction of Senacherib, imagines the striking suddenness of this miraculous rescue of Jerusalem:

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,

That host with their banners at sunset were seen:

Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,

That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,

The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,

And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;

And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,

Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.

The Redemption is Never Far

The Talmud[20] declares that the story of Hezekiah, will be mirrored in the Final Redemption. It is even said that[21] that G-d almost made Hezekiah himself the Moshiach, and the ultimate redeemer.

Clearly, the lessons learned from this story, and from the Jewish people’s extraordinary salvation apply to us today. No more how bleak the picture, no matter how demoralized and despaired one might feel, and no matter how distant and unlikely the Redemption may seem, this story reminds us that it could just be a moment away. No situation is too desperate, and no cause can ever be truly lost.

This is precisely the message of the Sages and the reason those extra lines were added to the Haftorah of the Last Day of Pesach. Isaiah presents a glorious, wonderfully utopian vision of the days of Moshiach. But if you think that it altogether too perfect, or just a little unlikely; if you think it just some other prophetic flight of fancy; think again. Isaiah came through once before, and he will come through once again. It happened once, and it will happen again.

Those three verses provide the most powerful introduction to the Haftorah possible. Never mind your despair, or lack of imagination. If you think things are bleak now, or difficult, or unlikely, think back to times of Ravshakeh and Sancharev. Through the thickest cloud of doom, a ray of light, and hope, still shines. The vision of Moshiach is a real one, more immediate, and close, than you can imagine. Even Fukuyama wasn’t that far off.[22]

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[1] Shulchan Oruch Harav OC 284:1 and references noted there.

[2] Shulchan Oruch Harav OC 490:13 and references noted there.

[3] Yehuda Eizenberg, Daat.ac.il

[4] Kings II, 18:10

[5] Kings II, 18:3-7

[6] Kings II, 18:14-16

[7] Radak

[8] See Malbim to Kings Ibid.

[9] The Destruction of Senacherib, Hebrew Melodies, 1815

[10] On Isaiah 10:32, translation from Judaica Press.

[11] Kings II, 18

[12] Brochos 10a

[13] Talmud Yavamos 49

[14] The Bach says that Ravshakehs died as a child. But the Targum on Koheles 9:10 suggests that this boy became the Assyrian representative.

[15] Inscribed in the ‘Taylor Prism’, a clay prism with cuneiform inscriptions, discovered in the 19th century, in Nineveh. Currently in the British Museum.

[16] Talmud Sanhedrin 21a

[17] See ibid. 94b

[18] Kings 2, 19:35

[19] See here for more details and pictures: https://armstronginstitute.org/631-seals-of-isaiah-and-king-hezekiah-discovered

[20] Sanhedrin 95b

[21] Ibid. 94a

[22] This sermon is based on a talk from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, on Acharon Shel Pesach, 5723, April 26, 1962. Special thanks to Rabbi Boruch Werdiger for his assistance.