About 2500 years ago, a great king reigned over Judah in the land of Israel. He was a great scholar, very wise and pious. He reigned with justice, and taught his subjects the Torah and wisdom of G‑d. There was not a child from Dan to Beer Sheba, and from Gebeth to Antipatris, that could not read or write.

His name was Hezekiah king of Judah. For thirteen years Hezekiah reigned over Judah in peace and happiness, and then G‑d put him to his greatest test.

Not far from Judah, just across the Jordan River, reigned a mighty king, Sennacherib king of Assyria. All the kings and princes in the neighboring lands feared him, and even Hezekiah paid tribute to him, so that all his treasury became empty. But Sennacherib was not satisfied, and gathered his entire army for an invasion of Judah. Never before had such a mighty army been mobilized. Forty-five thousand princes riding in golden and silver chariots led the way, followed by eighty thousand knights in armor and sixty thousand swordsmen. More than two and a half million fine cavalrymen made up the rest of the army.

Sennacherib divided his legions into three divisions. The first division crossed the Jordan swimming. But the horses drank so much that the next division could wade across the Jordan with their necks above the water. These horses too drank their fill, and when it was the turn of the third army to cross the river, they found the riverbed dry and dusty, and there was not a drop left for the horses to drink.

With this mighty army Sennacherib easily captured all the fortified cities of Judah, until he came to Jerusalem. The walls of the city were high. Sennacherib ordered his men to pile up their pillows as high as the walls of the city. Then he climbed on top of the pile and looked into the city. He was disappointed. “Why did I have to bring my entire army to take this poor little village,” he cried with scorn. “Only a few of my legions could raze it to the ground!”

Sennacherib’s men were eager to fight, but the king said: “No hurry; we shall spend the night by the walls of this city and refresh ourselves after the weary journey, and in the morning let every warrior bring me but one brick from the walls of the city.”

Up stood Rab-shakeh, the leading general of Sennacherib, and called to the defenders of the city: “Let not Hezekiah deceive you that your G‑d will save you. Has any god of other nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Has Hezekiah put his faith in that broken rod, the king of Egypt, to save your land? Or might it be that Hezekiah relies upon his warriors to defend his capital? Now, then, let him make a wager with my master, the king of Assyria, and I will give him two thousand horses, if he is able to set riders on them.”

On and on Rab-shakeh continued his propaganda and war of nerves, and finally demanded that the defenders of Jerusalem revolt against Hezekiah and surrender the city.

When the news reached Hezekiah, he rent his clothes in grief and despair, and went to the Beth Hamikdosh to pray to G‑d. He also ordered all his people to observe a day of prayer, for there was no victory except by the hand of G‑d.

All but one of the king’s ministers remained loyal to the king. The only traitor was Shebna the scribe, leader of a strong party. He was an appeaser, and was all for making peace with the enemy at all costs. So Shebna wrote a letter to Sennacherib agreeing to surrender with all his followers. He tied the letter to an arrow and shot it across the walls of the city into the enemy’s camp. In the dead of night, Shebna led his men to the gates of the city and forced his way out. But suddenly the gates closed behind him, and he found himself alone. There was no going back now. He was brought before Sennacherib, but the king was infuriated. “Have you come to mock me? Where are all your numerous followers? I’ll teach you, you deceitful traitor.” Then Sennacherib ordered him to be tied by his feet to a horse, and Shebna was thus dragged along at a terrific speed until he died.

It was the night of Passover in the besieged city of Jerusalem, but gone was the festive and jubilant spirit. King Hezekiah and all the Jews were full of sorrow and grief, and prayed to G‑d for deliverance. Soon after the prayers were over, the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz appeared before the king, and brought him G‑d’s message. It was a message of comfort and hope, of victory and triumph: “The G‑d of Israel has heard your prayers. The king of Assyria shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there. By the way he came, by the same way he shall return. For G‑d Himself will defend this city and save it.”

When midnight came, the angel of death went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand captains and men of valor. When Sennacherib rose up early in the morning to storm the city of Jerusalem, he found dead corpses in the place of his mighty army.

So Sennacherib, king of Assyria, departed and returned home, his army gone, his might broken, feared no longer. He went to worship to his god Nisroch, and promised him that if he brought him good fortune again and restored him to his former might and glory, he would offer his two sons, Adramelech and Sharetzer, as a burnt offering to his god Nisroch. But his sons got to know about the “pious” intentions of their father, and one day, as Sennacherib was worshipping in the house of his god Nisroch, they attacked him and slew him with the sword, and fled.

That festival of Passover was thus an occasion for double rejoicing for the people of Jerusalem and their king Hezekiah. It was as if the miracles of G‑d that had saved and delivered the Jews from Egypt many years before were repeated once again.