Last update: July 26, 2005
14 Then I looked, and behold, a white
cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown,
and in His hand a sharp sickle.
From this verse to the end of the chapter, John depicts what seem to be two related but
separate "judgments." He is not specific as to who makes up these two groups.
The first (verses 14-16) is carried out by what seems to be the Messiah, the second
(verses 17-20) is carried out by an angel who emerges from the heavenly Temple. As opposed
to the first judgment, where no punishment is mentioned, in the second case those
"reaped" are thrown into the "winepress" of God.
It is clear from Scripture that both Israel and the nations are judged at the time of
Midrash Rabbah - Numbers II:13 - Another interpretation of,
As the sand of the sea. What is the nature of sand? If it is put into the fire
it comes out as glass from which utensils can be made. So it is with Israel. They go into
fire and come out alive; as it is said: Ye servants of God Most High, come forth, etc.
(Daniel 3:26). In the hereafter they will enter Gehinnom and the nations of the world will
also enter. The latter having entered will perish, but Israel will come out therefrom
unscathed; as it is said: When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt.
Why? For I the Lord thy God hold thy right hand (Isaiah 41:13). Therefore he compares them
to sand. When referring to the hereafter, however, he compares them to stars. As the stars
sparkle throughout the firmament so will they sparkle in the hereafter; as it is said: And
they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn the
many to righteousness
God told Moshe that His judgment would befall Israel at the end of days:
Deuteronomy 31:16-21 - And the Lord said to Moses, Behold, you
shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise, and play the harlot after the
gods of the strangers of the land, where they go to be among them, and will forsake me,
and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be kindled against
them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they
shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in
that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will
surely hide my face in that day because of all the evils which they shall have done, in
that they are turned to other gods. Now therefore write this poem for you, and teach it to
the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this poem may be a witness for me
against the people of Israel. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I
swore to their fathers, that flows with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and
filled themselves, and become fat; then will they turn to other gods, and serve them, and
provoke me, and break my covenant. And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles
have befallen them, that this poem shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall
not be forgotten in the mouths of their seed; for I know their inclination and what they
do, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.
The prophet Joel depicts the judgment of the nations as follows:
Joel 4:9-17 - Proclaim this among the nations; Prepare war, stir
up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up; Beat your
plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, I am strong.
Hasten and come, all you nations, and gather yourselves together around; cause your mighty
ones to come down, O Lord. Let the nations be stirred up, and come to the valley of
Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the nations around. Put in the sickle, for
the harvest is ripe; come, tread down; for the press is full, the vats overflow; for their
wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision; for the day of the
Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars
withdraw their shining. And the Lord roars out of Zion, and utters his voice from
Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shake; but the Lord will be a refuge for his
people, and a fortress for the people of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord
your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain; then shall Jerusalem be holy, and no
strangers shall pass through her any more.
Midrash differentiates the reasons that God will punish the nations and Israel. The
former are judged for their treatment of Israel (i.e., Matthew 25:31-46):
Midrash Rabbah - Ruth V:9 - The vengeance taken of the idolatrous
nations will be on account of Israel, while the vengeance taken of Israel will be on
account of their poor. The vengeance taken of the idolatrous nations will be on account of
Israel, as it is said, And I will lay My vengeance upon Edom by the hand of My people
Israel (Ezekiel 25:14); the vengeance taken of Israel will be on account of their poor, as
it is said, And he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin in thee (Deuteronomy
15:9). R. Abun said: The poor man stands at your door, and the Holy One, blessed be He,
stands at his right hand. If you give unto him, He who stands at his right hand will bless
you, but if not, He will exact punishment from you, as it is said, Because He standeth at
the right hand of the needy (Psalm 119:31).
Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations I:44 - 44. THE LORD HATH SET AT
NOUGHT (SILLAH) ALL MY MIGHTY MEN. He hath made me like refuse before them. R. Abba b.
Kahana said: In Bar Gamza they call refuse sallutha. R. Levi sai d: In Arabia
they call a comb mesalselah. HE HATH CALLED A SOLEMN ASSEMBLY AGAINST ME TO
CRUSH MY YOUNG MEN. We find that the death of youths is considered as grievous as the
destruction of the Temple; for it is written, THE LORD HATH TRODDEN AS IN A WINEPRESS THE
VIRGIN DAUGHTER OF JUDAH, and in the same way, HE HATH CALLED A SOLEMN ASSEMBLY AGAINST ME
TO CRUSH MY YOUNG MEN.
15 And another angel came out of the
temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, "Thrust in Your sickle
and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth
16 So He who sat on the cloud thrust
in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.
It is possible that "the earth" in verses 15 and 16 could have been "the
land" in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, in which case this judgment is directed
directly against Israel.
Another reason to consider that the first judgment (by way of the messianic figure in
verse 15) involves Israel, and the second (by way of an angel) is that of the nations, is
the following concept:
In regards to death, outside Eretz Yisrael it is accomplished by the Angel of
Death, whereas in Israel it comes about via a holy force. 1
17 Then another angel came out of the
temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18a And another angel came out from
the altar, who had power over fire,
God's vengeance upon the nations is specifically linked to the coming of Messiah. All
the nations will bow down to the Messiah, as demonstrated in the following selection from
the Zohar. Note the similar association between the "golden crown" and "Son
of Man" in verse 14 above to that of "gold" and Messiah in the text below.
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 107b - That day will be a day of note
both above and below, as it is written, and there shall be one day, which shall be
known as the Lord's (Zechariah 14:7); that day will be the day of vengeance, the day
which the Holy One, blessed be He, has appointed for taking vengeance on the idolatrous
nations. For whilst the Holy One is taking vengeance on the idolatrous nations, He
will make a man more precious than gold, to wit, the Messiah, who will be
raised and glorified above all mankind, and to whom all mankind will pay homage and bow
down, as it is written, Before him those that dwell in the wilderness will bow down
... the Kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall render tribute (Psalm 72:9-10).
Observe that although this prophecy (in the book of Isaiah) was primarily intended for
Babylonia, yet it has a general application, since this section commences with the words,
When the Lord shall have mercy on Jacob, and it is also written, And
peoples shall take them and bring them to their place.
The angel (and judgment) depicted by John emerge "from the (heavenly) Temple. The
following Midrash connects the idea of the "bride and groom," with God seen as
"leaping forth" from the Temple in order to judge the nations:
Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs IV:18 - The Holy One, blessed be
He, said to them: When ye were exiled to Babylon, I was with you, as it says, For
your sake I have been sent to Babylon (Isaiah 43:14). When you shall return to the chosen
House in the near future, I shall be with you; for so it is written, WITH ME FROM LEBANON,
MY BRIDE. R. Levi said: The text in this case should have said, ' Come with Me to
Lebanon, O my bride and you say, From Lebanon ? What it means, however, is
that at first He leaps forth from the Sanctuary, and then He punishes the nations of the
world. R. Berekiah said: Within a space of three hours the Holy One, blessed be He, will
punish the wicked Esau and his captains. How do we know? Because it says, Now will I
arise, saith the Lord, etc. (Isaiah 33:10). R. Simeon b. Jannai said: Now will I
arise: this indicates that so long as Israel is wallonving in the dust, so is God
also, if one may say so. The same idea is expressed by Isaiah in the verse, Shake thyself
from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem (52:2). At that moment Be silent, all
flesh, before the Lord (Zechariah 2:17). Why? Because He is aroused out of His holy
habitation (ib.). R. Aha said: Like a fowl shaking its wings free from the ashes.
(See verse 19 below where the Temple is linked to the winepress of God.)
This pair of angels, in verses 17 and 18, working together to bring judgment to the
nations, would appear to be Michael and Gabriel. The specific reference to an angel
"having power of fire" clearly indicates Gabriel:
Midrash Rabbah, Exodus XVIII:5 - For the very ministering angels,
who are mighty in strength, that fulfil His word (Psalm 103:20) were made by God the
custodians of Israel. Who are they? Michael and Gabriel; as it says: I have set watchmen
upon thy walls, O Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6). When Sennacherib came, Michael came out and
smote them, and Gabriel, at God's behest, delivered Hananiah and his companions. Why was
this? Because God had made a condition with them thus. When? When He desired to descend in
order to deliver Abraham from the fiery furnace, Michael and Gabriel said: Let us go
down and deliver him. But He said to them: Had he descended into the fiery
furnace for the sakes of one of you, then you would have delivered him. But since he went
down for My sake, I Myself will descend and save him, as it says: I am the Lord that
brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 15:7). ' But I will appoint for you
another time when to descend, because ye were anxious to save him for the glory of My
name. Thou, Michael, shalt descend upon the camp of the Assyrians, and thou, Gabriel, on
the camp of the Chaldeans. When Gabriel came down to deliver Hananiah, Mishael, and
Azariah, he ordered the fire to scorch all those who had thrown them in, as it says: The
flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Daniel
3:22). Some say that four classes of governors died there; for at first it says: Then the
satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the
sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces (ib. 3), while at this point four are
lacking, as it says: And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's
ministers (ib. 27). Hananiah then said: O praise the Lord, all ye nations
(Psalm 117:1); Mishael said: Laud Him, all ye peoples (ib.), while Azariah
said: For His mercy is great toward us ' (ib. 2), and the angel replied: And
the truth of the Lord endureth for ever (ib.), for it is true what He told me when I went
down to save Abraham. Michael also did what he had been promised, for it says:
And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went forth, etc.
(II Kings 19:35). We have learnt: All the generals and officers were drinking wine and
left their vessels scattered about. God then said to Sennacherib: ' Thou hast done thy
part, as it says: By thy messengers thou hast taunted the Lord (ib. 23); so
will I too send My messenger. What did He do to him?-And under his glory there shall
be kindled a burning like the burning of fire (Isaiah 10:16). What is the meaning of
and under his glory? He burned their bodies within, leaving their clothes
without untouched,-the glory of man being his garments. Why did He leave their garments?
Because they were the descendants of Shem, as it says: The sons of Shem: Elam, and Asshur
(Genesis 10:22), and God said: I owe it to them for their father's sake, because he
and Japheth took their garments and covered the nakedness of their father, as it
says: And Shem and Japheth took a garment (IX, 23). For this reason did God say to
Michael: ' Leave their garments untouched, but burn their souls. What is written
there? And when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses (II
Kings 19:35), hence does it say: Morning by morning will I destroy all the wicked of the
land (Psalm 101:8). Israel and Hezekiah sat that night and recited the Hallel, for it was
Passover, yet were in terror lest at any moment Jerusalem might fall at his
[Sennacherib's] hand. When they arose early in the morning to recite the shema and
pray, they found their enemies dead corpses; for this reason did God say to Isaiah: Call
his name Maher-shalalhash-baz (Isaiah 8:3), and he did indeed hasten to plunder their
spoil. Another called him Immanuel , that is, ' I will be with him, as
it says: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God (II Chronicles
32:8). Just as God did in this world through the hand of Michael and Gabriel, so will He
perform in the future also through them, for it says: And saviours shall come up on Mount
Zion to judge the Mount of Esau (Obadiah 1:21) - this refers to Michael and Gabriel.
There is an interesting gammatria regarding the angel Michael and God's judgment coming
from the Temple:
... Isaiah said, "For lo! The Lord shall come forth from His place,"
hinneh yhwh yose' mi-meqomo (Isaiah 26:21). The word yose' (comes forth) has the numerical
value of Michael (i.e., both expressions equal 101). 2
18b and he cried with a loud
cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather
the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe."
It is not clear as to the exact identification of this "vine of the earth."
The reference to the grapes being "fully ripe" would be an allusion to reaching
the "full measure" of sinfulness.
Consider the following citations from Talmud and Midrash:
Talmud - Chullin 92a - R. Jeremiah b. Abba said: The
vine is Israel, for so it is written: Thou didst pluck up a vine out of Egypt.
The three branches are the three Festivals on which Israel go up [to the
Temple] every year. And as it was budding: the time Is come for Israel to be
fruitful and to multiply, for so it is written: And the children of Israel were fruitful,
and increased abundantly. Its blossoms shot forth: the time is come for Israel
to be redeemed. for so it is written: And their lifeblood is dashed against My garments,
and I have stained all My raiment. And the clusters thereof brought forth ripe
grapes: the time is come for Egypt to drink the cup of staggering. And this is in
accordance with what Raba had said: Why are three cups mentioned in connection with Egypt?
One [refers to the cup] which she drank in the days of Moses; the other to that which she
drank in the days of Pharaoh-Necho; and the third to that which she is destined to drink
together with all the nations. R. Abba said to R. Jeremiah b. Abba: When Rab expounded
[this verse] in an Aggadic lecture he expounded it as you have done. R. Simeon b. Lakish
said: This people [Israel] is like unto a vine: its branches are the aristocracy, its
clusters the scholars, its leaves the common people, its twigs those in Israel that are
void of learning. This is what was meant when word was sent from there [Palestine].
Let the clusters pray for the leaves, for were it not for the leaves the clusters
could not exist.
Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XXX:1 - NOW THESE ARE THE ORDINANCES (XXI,
1). Thus it is written, The strength also of the king who loveth justice (PS. XCIX, 4).
When is strength assigned to God? When He executes judgment on the heathen. Thus you will
find that because the wicked Nebuchadnezzar was haughty and said, Is not this great
Babylon (Dan. IV, 27), God said to him: ' O wicked mortal that thou art! Thou hast become
haughty and sayest: By the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty (ib.).
Knowest thou not that all greatness and power are Mine? Glory is Mine and majesty is
Mine. Thus too says David: Thine... is the greatness, and the power, and the glory
(I Chron. XXIX, 11), and also, O Lord my God, Thou art very great (Ps. CIV, 1). The Holy
One, blessed be He, said to Nebuchadnezzar: The little royalty that has been given
thee all comes from Me. And thus said Daniel to him: Thou... unto whom the God of
heaven hath given the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the glory (Dan. II, 37);
and yet thou sayest: By the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?
This is the meaning of The strength also is of the king who loveth justice.1
Strength belongs to the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, and He loveth
justice and gave it to Israel His beloved. When it says, Thou hast established equity (Ps.
XCIX, 4), it means: Thou hast established equity for those who love Thee; for through the
ordinances Thou hast given them, when they become involved in strife with one another,
they submit their quarrel to judgment and make peace. Israel said to God: ' Lord of the
Universe! How long wilt Thou delay in judging the heathen?- The reply was:
Until the time of vintage comes; as it says, In that day sing ye of her: A
vineyard of foaming wine (Isa. XXVII, 2). Does then one glean his vineyard before the
grapes ripen? No, only after they are ripe does he pluck them, place them in the vat, and
tread them, while his fellow-labourers sing with him. Thus said God to Israel: ' Wait
until the time of Edom comes and then will I tread upon her, as it says, Upon Edom
do I cast my shoe (Ps. LX, 10); I will begin [the song of redemption] for you, and
you will respond after Me; therefore does it say, In that day sing ye of her:
A vineyard of foaming wine. I the Lord do guard it, I water it every moment (Isa.
XXVII, 3).-I am biding My time with her to make her drink many cups, as it says, I
water it every moment. I have only to glance at them to destroy them completely from
this world, but Fury is not in Me, as it is in them against My children. What will I do to
them? I would with one step burn it altogether (ib.).1 R. Levi said: God said to the
heathen: ' Israel is Mine, as it says, For unto Me the children of Israel are servants
(Lev. XXV, 55), and fury is Mine, as it says, The Lord avengeth and is full of wrath
(Nahum I, 2), yet you are filled with what is Mine [wrath] against Mine [Israel]?
Hence it says, Would that I were as the briars and thorns in flame (Isa. loc. cit.). Our
Sages said that God replied to Israel: ' If I were to alter My course of judgment, I would
destroy them in a single flash, as it says, If I alter [My judgment], then with the flash
of My sword [would I act] (Deut. XXXII, 41). But what do I do? My hand takes hold in
judgment ' (ib.). Isaiah also says, Or else let him take hold of My strength (XXVII, 5),
and My strength means judgment, as it says, The strength also of the
king who loveth justice. God said to Israel: Just as I could overstep the
bounds of judgment on the heathen, yet do not overstep them but adhere to judgment, so
must you not pass without the bounds of judgment,1 as it says, NOW THESE ARE THE
Talmud - Mas. Sanhedrin 97a - It has been taught: R. Nehorai said:
in the generation when Messiah comes, young men will insult the old, and old men will
stand before the young [to give them honour]; daughters will rise up against their
mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. The people shall be dog-faced,
and a son will not be abashed in his father's presence. It has been taught, R. Nehemiah
said: in the generation of Messiah's coming impudence will increase, esteem be perverted,
the vine yield its fruit, yet shall wine be dear, and the Kingdom will be converted to
heresy with none to rebuke them. This supports R. Isaac, who said: The son of David will
not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics. Raba said: What
verse [proves this]? it is all turned white: he is clean. Our Rabbis taught: For the Lord
shall judge his people, and repent himself of his servants, when he seeth that their power
is gone, and there is none shut up, or left: the son of David will not come until
denunciators are in abundance. Another interpretation [of their power is gone]: until
scholars are few. Another interpretation: until the [last] perutah has gone from the
purse. Yet another interpretation: until the redemption is despaired of, for it is
written, there is none shut up or left, as were it possible [to say so]
Israel had neither Supporter nor Helper.
The idea of "the vine" being presented in a negative context is seen in this
Zohar passage which shows Israel attaching itself to "the vine of Sodom" (i.e.,
Revelation 11:8) when they sin:
Here the idea of "the strange vine" takes on a broader context:
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 238b - The clusters thereof brought
forth ripe grapes, in which to keep the precious wine. All this was seen by that sinner.
Further, he saw the cup of Pharaoh in his hands; this is the cup of confusion which sucks
in from the court of judgement and which issued from the grapes that were given to
Pharaoh; and he drank it as it was, on account of Israel. When Joseph heard this he
rejoiced, remarking the truth which the dream contained, and therefore he gave it a good
interpretation. Thus the words binding his foal unto the vine indicate that
all the forces of the Gentiles are to be subdued beneath that vine, as we have said, their
power being bound up and subdued. R. Simeon said: There are two kinds of vine.
There is the holy celestial vine, and there is the vine which is called the vine of
Sodom, the strange vine; and therefore Israel is called this vine. And
when Israel sinned and abandoned this vine, then it was said of them:
For from the vine of Sodom is their vine (Deut. XXXIII, 32).
19 So the angel thrust his sickle into
the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the
wrath of God.
The following Midrash associates the wine press and judgment with God's
"house," i.e., Temple. Again the process of unification (i.e., coming of
Messiah) is both "good news" and "bad news" as judgment comes (via the
Temple, i.e., Binah):
Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations Prologue XXXII - R. Hanina opened
his discourse with the text, Though I would take comfort (mabligithi) against sorrow, my
heart is faint within me (Jeremiah 8:18). What means mabligithi? Because there
are none (mibli) who meditate (hogim) in the Torah to perform Divine precepts and
meritorious acts, I have made My house into My wine-press (gitti).
The reference to the "great winepress" is indicative of judgment against the
nations, specifically Edom/Esau, (i.e., the nations who have historically persecuted
Isaiah 63:1-6 - Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned
garments from Bozrah? This one who is glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness
of his strength? I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Why is your apparel red,
and your garments like his who tramples in the wine press? I have trampled the winepress
alone; and of the people there was none with me; for I have trampled them in my anger, and
trampled them in my fury; and their blood was sprinkled upon my garments, and I have
stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance is in my heart, and the year of my
redeemed has come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I was appalled that there
was none to uphold; therefore my own arm brought salvation to me; and my fury upheld me.
And I trampled down the people in my anger, and made them drunk in my fury, and I poured
out their lifeblood to the earth.
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XVI:4 - AND THE FOURTH RIVER IS PERATH
(EUPHRATES): that is Edom, PERATH denoting that it upset (hefirah) and harassed His world;
PERATH denoting that it was fruitful (parath) and increased through the blessing of that
old man [sc. Isaac]; PERATH also denoting that I [God] will ultimately consign it to
oblivion (hafer); [finally, it is called] PERATH on account of its ultimate destiny, as it
is written, I have trodden the winepress (purah) alone... (Isaiah 43:3).
These Zohar passages connect Messiah to this judgment:
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 238a - HE HATH WASHED HIS GARMENT
IN WINE . With this may be compared the verse: Who is this that cometh from Edom,
with dyed garments from Bozrah? (Isaiah 63:1); and also: I have trodden the
winepress alone, etc. (Ibid. 3). Wine here alludes to the side of
Geburah, of stern justice which will be visited on the idolatrous nations. AND HIS VESTURE
IN THE BLOOD OF GRAPE . This is the lower-world tree, the judgement court which is called
grapes, in which the wine is kept. Thus the Messiah will be
clothed in both to crush beneath him all the idolatrous peoples and kings.
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 239b-240a - He hath washed his
garments in wine, even from the time of the Creation the reference being to the
coming of the Messiah on earth. Wine indicates the left side, and the
blood of grapes the left side below. The Messiah is destined to rule above over all
the forces of the idolatrous nations and to break their power above and below. We may also
explain that as wine brings joyfulness and yet typifies judgement, so the Messiah will
bring gladness to Israel, but judgement to the Gentiles.
20a And the winepress was trampled
outside the city,
20b and blood came out of the
winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.
Although the texts generally depict the nations falling into "the winepress,"
Israel is not immune to this type of judgment. The following midrashim speak of huge
amounts of Jewish blood being spilled, in both cases due to the failure of Israel's
Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations Prologue XXIII - R. Judan asked R.
Aha, 'Where did Israel slay Zechariah, in the Court of Women or in the Court of Israel? '
He replied, In neither of these, but it was in the Court of the Priests. Nor did
they treat his blood as was done with the blood of the hind or ram of which it is written,
"He shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust." But in this
instance, they set it upon the bare rock (ib. 7). And for what purpose was all this?
" That it might cause fury to come up, that vengeance might be taken, I have set her
blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered.Seven
transgressions were committed by Israel on that day: they killed a priest, a prophet, and
a judge, they shed innocent blood, they profaned the Divine Name, they defiled the Temple
Court, and all this was done on the Sabbath which was also the Day of Atonement. When
Nebuzaradan came up against Israel, the blood began to seethe; so he asked them,
What kind of blood is this? They replied, The blood of bulls, rams, and
lambs which we slay. He immediately sent and had some blood of sacrificial animals
brought to him, but it did not behave similarly. He said to them, ' If you tell me, well
and good; otherwise I will comb your flesh with iron combs. They replied, What
shall we say to you? He was a prophet who reproved us, so we rose against him and killed
him, and for several years now his blood has not stopped seething. He answered,
I will appease it. They brought before him the men of the Great Sanhedrin and
Minor Sanhedrin and slew them until their blood mingled with the blood of Zechariah, to
fulfil that which was said, They break all bounds, and blood toucheth blood (Hosea 4:2).
The blood, however, continued to seethe; so they brought youths and maidens and he slew
them by it, and still it did not stop. They brought school-children and slew them by it,
and still it did not stop. Then they brought eighty thousand priestly novitiates and he
slew them until their blood mingled with that of Zechariah, and still it continued to
seethe. He exclaimed, Zechariah, Zechariah! All the choicest of them have I
destroyed. Is it your pleasure that I exterminate them all? As soon as he spoke
thus, it stopped. Thereupon he debated with himself whether to repent, saying, ' If such
vengeance is exacted for one life, how much more will happen to me for having taken so
many lives! He fled, sent a parting gift to his household, and became a convert to
Finally, this Midrash speaks of the supernatural power of the second-century false
messiah, Bar Koziba (aka "Bar Kochba") and how his downfall came when he killed
the religious leader of the city he was defending. We include this passage specifically
for the reference to the blood (of the city's Jews) going up to the nostrils of the horses
for a distance of four miles in the ensuing massacre.
Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations II:4 - R. Johanan said: Rabbi used
to expound There shall step forth a star (kokab) out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17), thus: read
not kokab but kozab (lie). When R. Akiba beheld Bar Koziba he exclaimed, This
is the king Messiah! R. Johanan b. Tortha retorted: Akiba, grass will grow in
your cheeks and he will still not have come! R. Johanan said: The voice is the voice
of Jacob (Gen. 27:22)--the voice [of distress caused by] the Emperor Hadrian, who slew
eighty thousand myriads of human beings at Bethar. Eighty thousand trumpeters besieged
Bethar where Bar Koziba was located who had with him two hundred thousand men with an
amputated finger. The Sages sent him the message, ' How long will you continue to make the
men of Israel blemished? ' He asked them, ' How else shall they be tested? They
answered, Let anyone who cannot uproot a cedar from Lebanon be refused enrolment in
your army. He thereupon had two hundred thousand men of each class; and when they
went forth to battle they cried, ' [O God,] neither help us nor discourage us! That
is what is written, Hast not Thou, O God, cast us off? And go not forth, O God, with our
hosts (Psalm 60:12). And what used Bar Koziba to do? He would catch the missiles from the
enemy's catapaults on one of his knees and hurl them back, killing many of the foe. On
that account R. Akiba made his remark. For three and a half years the Emperor Hadrian
surrounded Bethar. In the city was R. Eleazar of Modim who continually wore sackcloth and
fasted, and he used to pray daily, Lord of the Universe, sit not in judgment
to-day! so that [Hadrian] thought of returning home. A Cuthean went and found him
and said, My lord, so long as that old cock wallows in ashes you will not conquer
the city. But wait for me, because I will do something which will enable you to subdue it
to-day. He immediately entered the gate of the city, where he found R. Eleazar
standing and praying. He pretended to whisper in the ear of R. Eleazar of Modim. People
went and informed Bar Koziba, ' Your friend, R. Eleazar, wishes to surrender the city to
Hadrian. He sent and had the Cuthean brought to him and asked, What did you
say to him? He replied, ' If I tell you, the king will kill me; and if I do not tell
you, you will kill me. It is better that I should kill myself and the secrets of the
government be not divulged. Bar Koziba was convinced that R. Eleazar wanted to
surrender the city, so when the latter finished his praying he had him brought into his
presence and asked him, What did the Cuthean tell you? ' He answered, ' I do not
know what he whispered in my ear, nor did I hear anything, because I was standing in
prayer and am unaware what he said. Bar Koziba flew into a rage, kicked him with his
foot and killed him. A Bath Kol issued forth and proclaimed, Woe to the worthless
shepherd that leaveth the flock! The sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right
eye (Zechariah 11:17). It intimated to him, Thou hast paralysed the arm of
Israel and blinded their right eye; therefore shall thy arm wither and thy right eye grow
dim! ' Forthwith the sins [of the people] caused Bethar to be captured. Bar Koziba was
slain and his head taken to Hadrian. ' Who killed him? ' asked Hadrian. A Goth said to
him, I killed him. Bring his body to me, he ordered. He went and
found a snake encircling its neck; so [Hadrian when told of this] exclaimed, If his
God had not slain him who could have overcome him? And there was applied to him the
verse, Except their Rock had given them over (Deuteronomy 32:30). They slew the
inhabitants until the horses waded in blood up to the nostrils, and the blood rolled along
stones of the size of forty se'ah and flowed into the sea [staining it for] a distance of
2. Along the Path, Studies in Kabbalistic Myth, Symbolism,
and Hermeneutics, Elliot R. Wolfson, State University of New York Press, 1995, p.