After Malachi

With the passing of the last prophets, a glorious era came to an end for the Jewish people. No longer would a human be able to proclaim, "So says G‑d." The great spiritual inspiration gained through contact with a prophet, and the absolute knowledge of one's Divinely ordained mission in life — on both personal and national levels — as communicated directly by G‑d's chosen messenger, was no more. However, there was no break in the flow of Torah transmission, for the era of prophecy blended smoothly into the era of the Tannaim, the sages of the Mishnah.Shimon HaTzadik, the first Tanna and the last member of the Anshei Knesses Hagdolah, received the Torah tradition from his teachers, the last prophets, and faithfully continued the holy task of guiding the Jewish people. Although prophecy no longer existed, G‑d compensated the Jewish people by granting the Tannaim extraordinary insight and depth of understanding in all areas of Torah, and by inspiring the Tannaim to crystallize and systematize the corpus of Torah law into the written Mishnah. Yet the Tannaim only built on the knowledge of their predecessors. This fact may be compared to Einstein's discovery of the Theory of Relativity. Although many books have been written on the subject, and new implications of the theory are still being discovered, they are all based on Einstein's original work. The same is true of the Mishnah.

Shimon Hatzadik

In 3448, the Jewish people entered a time of great turbulence, both in the spiritual and material realms. Prophecy had come to a close, and Alexander the Great was conquering the known world. Fortunately, a great leader, Shimon HaTzadik, deftly steered the people through uncharted waters. As Kohen Gadol and head of the Sanhedrin, he embodied both religious and political power. (In the absence of the monarchy, the Kohen Gadol represented the nation to the outside world. Previously, it was a purely religious office.) Indeed, he was so fair, just, and beloved that Shimon was one of very few people to receive the appellation "HaTzadik" - the Righteous - after his name.

The Talmud relates that five miracles occurred in the Bais Hamikdash during his tenure. First, the red string that was hung in the Bais Hamikdash during the Yom Kippur services turned white, symbolizing Israel's purity. Second, on Yom Kippur two sacrificial goats were designated — one to be offered in the Kodesh HaKodoshim, one to be cast off a cliff. The Kohen Gadol drew lots in each hand to determine which goat should be used for which purpose. During Shimon HaTzadik's 40 year-tenure, the lot indicating the goat to be offered in the Kodesh HaKodoshim always turned up in his right hand, a sign of Divine favor. Third, every evening a full night's supply of oil was put into each lamp of the Menorah. Miraculously, the oil put into the western lamp burned for 24 hours, demonstrating the constant presence of G‑d in the Bais Hamikdash. Fourth, although each Kohen received only a small portion of the Lechem Hapanim (the showbread), he felt satiated as if he had eaten a full meal. Fifth, the fire on the Altar burned steadily without constant addition of wood. Sadly, after Shimon HaTzadik's death miracles of such magnitude were no longer manifest in the Bais Hamikdash.

Alexander the Great

In 3448, Alexander marched through the land of Israel, bringing Persian rule to an end. Filled with trepidation, the Jews sent a delegation of Kohanim led by Shimon HaTzadik, all dressed in their priestly raiments. Upon approaching Alexander, they were astounded when the great conqueror prostrated himself before Shimon! When asked the reason for such inexplicable behavior, Alexander replied that before his battles a vision of Shimon appeared to him promising victory. After arising, Alexander promised to treat the Jews benignly. In appreciation, the Jewish people honored Alexander in two very special ways. First, all male Kohanim (according to some opinions, all male

Jews) born that year would be named Alexander. Second, a new dating system for documents would be instituted, one based on Alexander's rule. This system was known as Minyan Shtaros and lasted more than 1,000 years.

Antigonos Ish Socho

The leading disciple of Shimon HaTzadik, and the Jewish people’s new Torah leader, Antigonos taught the famous credo: "Do not serve G‑d on condition of reward." While this simply means that one's Divine service should be free of ulterior motives, two of his students, Tzadok and Beothus, misconstrued these words to mean that there is no eternal reward. They therefore denied the validity of the Oral Law and the authority of the sages to interpret the Torah, and founded the breakaway sects, the Tzadokim and Baithusim, the Sadducees. This highly contentious group constantly disparaged the Oral Torah and Torah-observant Jews, and was the source of much tragedy and strife.

Division of Jewish Powers

Shimon HaTzadik held absolute power over the Jewish people. Unfortunately, his descendants were not of sufficient stature to be similarly entrusted with the reins of government. In addition, after the death of Alexander his surviving generals jockeyed for power, and conditions became unstable in Eretz Israel. For a vast payment, Joseph ben Tuvia, a highly corrupt man, obtained the taxation franchise from the ruler. Predictably, his exorbitant taxes bled the people dry. Eventually, even the exalted position of Kohen Gadol was turned into a purely political office, one entirely devoid of spirituality, and was sold to the highest bidder. In response to these deteriorating conditions, the Sanhedrin established two leadership positions: the Nasi, or President of the Sanhedrin, who represented the Sanhedrin in political affairs; and the Av Bais Din, or Dean of the Sanhedrin, who was its leading halachic spokesman. The holders of these two offices were known as Zugos, pairs. The Mishnah in Avos lists five generations of Zugos, beginning with Jose ben Joezer and Jose ben Jochanan, and continuing through Shammai and Hillel, representing a span of some 200 years.