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King Agrippas

Herod had a number of sons among them Aristobulus whom he had executed. This son, Aristobulus, left five sons, among them Agrippas. When this grandson was six years old, he was sent to Rome to study. While there he enjoyed the companionship of the gifted Drusus, son of the Emperor Tiberius. In Agrippas s youth he grew accustomed to the splendor and luxury of the emperor's court. A number of years later, his friend Drusus died and Agrippas grew despondent until he acquired the friendship of the emperor's other son, Caligula.

A Prophetic Owl

One day while walking with Caligula, Agrippas, who thought they were alone, expressed his longing for the day when his good friend Caligula would ascend the throne of Rome. Some of the courtiers, who were envious of the high esteem in which Agrippas was held at the court, slandered Agrippas before the King.

"O Sire," they said. "We have heard that Agrippas is conspiring against you and he has expressed the desire that you die and your son Caligula ascend the throne."

Tiberius became very angry and ordered Agrippas to be put in chains and thrown into jail. He suffered for six months with the constant fear of death. At the end of that time, an owl perched itself on one of the trees in the court of the prison and hooted. In the same prison with Agrippas was a wizard who understood the language of animals and birds. When he heard the hooting of the owl he turned to Agrippas and said, "You have reason to rejoice, O Prince, for you shall soon be set free."

"Why do you say that?" asked Agrippas in amazement.

"I understand the language of birds and heard the owl say that the king who put you in prison will soon die and another king who loves you will free you," said the wizard. "This new king will not only free you, but he will also make you king in Jerusalem to reign over Judea."

While he was speaking the owl again hooted. "Tell me," said the young Prince. "Why did the owl hoot so mournfully this time?"

"He is telling you that three days before your death, he will again appear to you," explained the wizard.

King Of Judea

The following day, Agrippas was informed that Tiberius had died and that his friend, young Caligula, had become Emperor of Rome. The first thing the young emperor did was to rush over to the prison of his good friend, Agrippas and personally free him. He placed a golden chain with an emblem around his neck and said, "Let this chain be a symbol of my friendship and protection. I do hereby appoint you as King of Judea." Caligula sent word to Jerusalem commanding the people and the rulers to place King Agrippas upon the throne.

Agrippas was humble and meek and he was kind to everybody, the exact opposite of his grandfather Herod. He followed the laws and commandments of the Torah and the people loved and respected him. On Shavuot every Israelite brought up to Jerusalem the first ripe fruit. The fruit was brought in person, it basket carried on the shoulder. Agrippas followed example, and he too carried the first fruit to the Temple on his shoulders as a commoner.

The Bride And Groom

One day Agrippas was strolling through the streets of Jerusalem preceded by many heralds who shouted: "Make way for the King is coming!" Just at that moment a procession of a bride and groom accompanied by a band of musicians as well as family and friends, came from the opposite direction. The soldiers were about to order the wedding procession to stop and make way for the king, when Agrippas said: "Do not disturb their joy. Let us make room for them to pass."

The people were proud of the king's actions. "There is no more humble person than our king," they said. "May his name be blessed forever."

The Sacrifice

Agrippas wished to bring 1,000 korbanot and asked the Kohen Gadol to be sure not to offer any other sacrifices that day.

The Kohen Gadol agreed. However, a poor man entered the sanctuary and said, "I am a poor man and I managed to secure two turtle-doves, which I wish to offer to G-d. I pray that you will be kind enough to sacrifice them for me."

"I regret that I cannot do it for you, because the king ordered me to sacrifice no other offerings on this day but his," said the Kohen Gadol.

The poor man was very much grieved and he said: "Every day I catch four turtle-doves, two of them I sacrifice to G-d and with the other two I support my family. If I fail to bring the sacrifice to G-d, He will no longer bless me with a good catch of four doves every day. Then I will have no way of supporting myself and my poor family."

Moved by the implicit faith of the poor man, the Kohen Gadol took the two pigeons and offered them as a korbon.

That night G-d appeared to Agrippas in a dream and said to him: "Know that the poor man's korbon took precedence over yours."

The king was very much disturbed and in the morning summoned the Kohen Gadol to inquire as to what had happened.

"O Sire," replied the Kohen Gadol, "If you had seen the pitiful expression on the poor man's face when I refused to accept his korbon, you would have agreed that it was impossible to refuse him."

The king replied, "You have done well. Let all the priests learn from you how to be kind to the poor."

Our Brother, O King

Once during a Sabbatical year Agrippas entered the Temple to read the portion of the Torah pertaining to the duties of a king. They gave him the scroll of the Sefer Torah and they placed before him a golden chair to sit on. But the king remained standing saying, "I wouldn't think of sitting before this holy Sefer Torah." He refused to listen to their entreaties and he remained standing, reading the portion of the Torah pertaining to the coronation of a king. When he came to the sentence: "Thou shalt not appoint a king over thee who is a stranger and not they brother," he began to cry.

The sages realized that he was crying because he was a descendant of Herod, the Edomite. They approached him and tried to console him. "Fear not Agrippas," they said. You are our brother. We consider you as one of us."

The Downfall of Agrippas

Agrippas ruled Israel with kindness and compassion. The evil consequences of a ruler's unbridled passions and tyranny had been sufficiently evident to him when he lived in Rome and they had taught him moderation and strict self-control. His people regarded him with love and devotion because he healed with tender hand the deep wounds inflicted upon the national sensibilities by brutal Roman governors. He sought to lighten taxation, remitting the imposition on houses in Jerusalem. On the coins minted by him he carefully avoided placing any symbols that could offend the people's religious sentiment. Thus, prosperity and comfort seemed to be dawning for the Jews.

The more humble Agrippas was, the more he endeared himself to all the Jews. But, alas, his great popularity began to turn his head. He soon began to believe what people were saying about him - that he was as great as G-d. He sent a great sum of money to Rome to order a very beautiful garment, the likes of which had never been seen before.

Garment Makes People Gasp

When the garment arrived the people gasped in wonder when they beheld it. It was so studded with diamonds and embroidery that it appeared to the eyes like miniature skies, and when Agrippas walked through the streets of Jerusalem clothed in this wonderful garment, the ignorant masses would say: "This is not a mortal king - he is really our G-d."

Agrippas' pride grew daily. He refrained from telling the ignorant people not to pass such remarks and he remained silent as though he gave consent to them. Every day the king would go out dressed in his beautiful clothes and he took delight and enjoyment in hearing himself proclaimed G-d.

The Owl Appears Again

One day as Agrippas was walking through the streets of Jerusalem he saw the owl which had appeared to him when he was in prison. The owl hooted and said: "He shall die within three days and his end will be nothing but dust and worms!"

As the owl finished hooting these words, it disappeared. Agrippas remembered the words of the wizard who had been with him in prison and he understood the meaning of the owl's hooting.

In the meantime the Romans became jealous of Israel's rising prosperity and sometimes covertly and sometimes openly, laid all manner of obstacles in Agrippas' way. When Agrippas began to repair the fortifications of the capital, he was abruptly bidden to cease. His attempts to fraternize with neighboring people, vassals of Rome, were construed as portending rebellion.

One day, at the age of 44, while watching the games in Caesarea, he was suddenly stricken. No one knew what caused his death and some attributed it to Roman politics. His death, while in the full vigor of his years, was deeply lamented by his people, notwithstanding the fact that he had made many concessions to heathen manners and customs.


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