Battle Elephants by Beit Shemesh
When you've been blessed with a religious upbringing, it can be difficult to get excited about things that you've known all your life. But sometimes all it takes is a small new insight to make you realize the profundity or power of something.
Two thousand years ago, Judah Maccabee crushed the numerically superior Greeks and restored the Temple in Jerusalem. The Seleucid Greeks decided to counter with an army that included thirty war elephants. The war elephants were terrifying, bearing towers filled with archers and lance-throwers. But Judah’s younger brother Eleazar decided to show his fellow men that the elephants were vulnerable. He charged towards a large elephant wearing the royal seal, cast himself under it and thrust his sword into its soft belly. The elephant died — but in collapsing, it crushed Eleazar, killing him.
That's the story I knew since childhood. But the new aspect that I learned this year was where exactly this happened.
The Maccabees went out to battle the Greeks at Beth-Zechariah. That's in the Elah Valley, right next to Beit Shemesh, where I am currently typing these words. In fact, from my office window, I can see the Elah valley. If I had the technology to be able to see the view from my window two thousand years ago, I'd see war elephants charging past, and a brave Jew running out to spear one of them.
How many people in the world can look out of their window and see a place where their ancestors, two thousand years ago, were involved in extraordinary events, making history and changing the world?
I find this an overwhelmingly powerful thought.
(Next year, I'd like to dress up our elephant at the Biblical Museum of Natural History in battle armor!)
(P.S. If you're flying from NY/NJ to Israel and can bring something for the museum, please contact me. We are happy to pay for an extra bag.)