On Tisha b’Av we commemorate numerous tragedies in Jewish history, most notably the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The Tanakh outlines quite clearly the events that led to the destruction of the First Temple. When it comes to the Second Temple, however, little is generally spoken of even though we have a lot more historical information about what was going on at the time. We tend to greatly simplify things by reducing it to the same old adage that “the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam”, baseless hatred. How did the destruction of the Temple really come about? What were the events that led to the Great Revolt and the first Jewish-Roman War? And who, exactly, were those Jews that harboured such immense hatred for each other?
This week we start reading the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, more commonly known as “Numbers” since it begins with a detailed census of the Israelites. The Torah concludes that there was a total of 603,550 men at this point in the Wilderness, implying a general population of about 3 million people. Or does it? While these are the numbers one generally hears when it comes to the question of how many Jews were present at the Exodus (about 600,000 men, and something like 3 million people when accounting for their families), there is an alternate way to read the Torah which might actually make far more sense.
(Please read the following with an open mind, and do not jump to any conclusions until you’ve read through to the end!)