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Babylon's Fallen Tyrant

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Saddam Hussein saw himself as the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar. And he suffered the same ignoble fate.

Evil tyrants are nothing new to the region of Babylon, present-day Iraq. One of the most vicious in history was Nebuchadnezzar (sixth century BCE), the Babylonian king who built the most powerful nation in the world by ruthlessly attacking and annexing neighboring countries.

The Tenth of Tevet commemorates the day when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. The Babylonians eventually destroyed the First Temple, slaughtered 100,000 Jews, rounded up the rest and sent them into exile.

Whenever Nebuchadnezzar made a conquest, he used the stolen wealth to build monuments to his own glory. It was in his capital city that Nebuchadnezzar built the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In testimony to his grandeur, each brick was inscribed with Nebuchadnezzar's name.


And so it is in our time. Saddam Hussein pronounced himself as the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar, and dreamed of restoring the Babylonian empire to its former size and glory.

North of the ancient city of Ur, on the Euphrates River, lies the biblical city of Babylon. Years ago, Saddam commissioned archaeologists to restore the city and its Hanging Gardens. Like Nebuchadnezzar 2,500 years earlier, each new brick was inscribed -- this time with Saddam's name.

During the course of the dig, archaeologists uncovered a plaque on the ancient city gate proclaiming Nebuchadnezzar's greatness. Saddam ordered stonemasons to place another plaque on the opposite side of the gate -- glorifying the greatness of Saddam Hussein.

With his megalomaniacal vision in place, Saddam embarked on a campaign of terror and conquest, first in Iran, then in Kuwait. Ultimately, he dreamed of recapturing Jerusalem.

In 1981, threatened by Saddam's burgeoning nuclear capability, the State of Israel sent a squadron of seven jets to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. Saddam had named the reactor "Tammuz." As is well known, Tammuz was the calamitous Jewish month when the daily offerings in the Holy Temple were suspended during Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, 2,500 years earlier.


Alas, we know the end of the story. The biblical book of Daniel (4:30) describes the downfall of Nebuchadnezzar:

He was driven from mankind; he ate grass like oxen, and his body was washed by the dew of heaven, until his hair grew like eagles' feathers and his nails were like birds' claws.

And so it was with Saddam. Driven into a hole, grimy and disheveled. Reduced, like his ancient hero, to the dustbin of history. From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Saddam was left hanging with a noose around his neck..

On the Tenth of Tevet, we resolve to fight evil… in whatever millennium it may appear.

In the Bible (Genesis ch. 14), we read of a war between Middle East kingdoms. Abraham's nephew Lot was taken captive in this war, and Abraham -- although hopelessly outnumbered -- fought all these kings and won. It was an unlikely victory, but one that would portend well for Abraham's descendents.

One of the kingdoms mentioned in this Torah section is Shinar, identified as modern-day Baghdad. Incredibly, a skip-sequence code in this same section details Saddam's 1991 scud missile attack against Israel.

On the Tenth of Tevet, the Jewish people -- alive and well in their biblical homeland -- mark the deeds of Nebuchadnezzar and other tyrants, with determination and resolve to fight the evil oppressors… in whatever millennium they may appear.

(Hanging Gardens info from "Missiles, Masks and Miracles" by Charles Samuel)

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