Erachin 5 - 11
A Letter to Assaf
"A letter to Assaf, the guardian of the kings forests" (Nechemiah 2:8) is cited by Rabbi Yosef as a challenge to a distinction made by Rabbi Yochanan regarding when contributions from heathens were accepted for the maintenance of the Beit Hamikdash. What was that letter all about and who was the author of that statement?
Nechemiah was the highly respected servant of the Persian king who was then the occupier of Eretz Yisrael. He received a very distressing report from some Jews who came from Yerushalayim to the Persian capital about the sorry condition of the Jewish community which had earlier been established there with the license of the Persian King Koresh. The heathen enemies had breached the walls of the city and burned its gates.
After weeping, mourning, fasting and praying for Heavenly help, Nechemiah took the initiative of appealing to the king for permission to travel to Yerushalayim to restore the citys walls. When the king consented to give him leave from his duties for a stipulated period, Nechemiah realized that his prayers had been answered and that he could go even further in gaining the kings aid. He then asked for letters of introduction to the officials along the way to assure him safe passage, and for a letter to the guardian of the kings forests. The latter letter was for the purpose of receiving the lumber he needed to restore the city walls and gates. The "house" he mentioned in that request as one of the beneficiaries of that lumber is understood by Rabbi Yosef as a reference to the Beit Hamikdash, and serves as a proof that even if the Jews building the Beit Hamikdash refused to accept aid from their heathen neighbors they did accept such aid from the king.
- Erachin 6a
Song and the Sea
"They shall raise their voices in song regarding the might of G-d; they shall exult from the sea." (Yeshayahu 24:14)
This prophecy about the joy of Israel when G-d will destroy all the enemies who threaten Yerushalayim serves as a source for the singing of praise to G-d which the Levites did in the Beit Hamikdash during the offering of communal sacrifices and their accompanying libations.
Rashi explains the prophets words as a promise that when the Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt the Levites will once again sing the praises of G-d in it and their song will surpass that which their ancestors sang when they were saved from the Egyptians at the sea (Yam Suf).
Maharsha, however, points out that two occasions of song sung by the Levites in the Beit Hamikdash are mentioned in this passage. Throughout the year they did their singing with musical accompaniment as the wine libations were poured on the altar. During the Festival of Succot there was special music and singing connected with the water libation poured on the altar the Simchat Beit Hashaeiva. According to this approach the entire passage is a prophecy regarding the restoration of Levite song. "They shall raise their voices in song" is a reference to the song accompanying wine libations, while "they shall exult from the sea" relates to the water used in the Succot libation of water.
Both approaches agree that this source for the Levite singing in the Beit Hamikdash in the past is unique among the other sources mentioned in the fact that it is based on the singing which will be done in the future.
- Erachin 11a