1) AGADAH: THE QUALITIES REQUIRED IN ORDER TO CONQUER THE JEWS
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Hash-m enabled Nevuchadnetzar to conquer the world so that the nations would not mock the Jewish people and say that Hash-m gave His people over to a lowly nation. A similar statement appears in Gitin (56b): "Whoever oppresses Yisrael becomes the head [of a nation]."
The Gemara here seems to contradict the Gemara in Kesuvos (66b), which teaches that when Hash-m deems it necessary to punish the Jewish people, He delivers them into the hands of a lowly nation. The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai saw the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion picking barley kernels from the dung of a Yishmaelite's beast, he said, "Happy is Yisrael, that when they are doing the will of Hash-m, no nation or foreigner can overtake them, and when they are not doing the will of Hash-m, He gives them over into the hands of the lowliest of the nations...."
ANSWER: The Gemara in Kesuvos means that Hash-m makes the Jewish people subject to a nation which is morally low. The nation may be the greatest in power, but its constituents are uncivilized and all of the other nations look down upon them. Hash-m does not want the Jewish people to adapt the corrupt ways of the nation which conquers them, and therefore He makes a morally low nation conquer them. The Jewish people will be disgusted by the ways of that nation and not learn from them.
Nevuchadnetzar was the ruler of the nation of Kasdim when he conquered Yisrael. The MAHARSHA points out that the people of Kasdim were uncivilized and scorned by the other nations, as described by the verse (Yeshayah 23:13, see Rashi there) and the Gemara (Sukah 52b, which says the same of the Yishmaelim). Moreover, the Gemara (Yoma 66b) says that any people who acted in an uncouth manner were referred to as "Bavliyim."
When Hash-m deems it necessary to cause a national conquest (and not merely the humbling of individual Jews, as was the case with the daughter of Nakdimon), He does not deliver the Jewish people into the hands of a militarily weak nation, lest the other nations mock the Jewish people. Hash-m gives them over to a nation of great military might, but which is morally corrupt. (See also Insights to Moed Katan 18:1 and Kesuvos 66:1.)
2) AGADAH: THE FOUR FACES OF THE ANGELS
The Gemara discusses the four "faces" of the "chariot-bearing" angels. Originally, the angels had the faces of a man, lion, ox, and eagle (as described in Yechezkel 1). Yechezkel prayed for mercy on behalf of the Jewish people so that the face of the ox not incriminate them for the sin of the Golden Calf, and as a result it was changed to the face of a Keruv (cherub).
These four faces of the angels are represented in another context. When the Jewish people sojourned in the desert, they encamped in formation according to their tribes. Their encampment formed a great square around the Mishkan. On each of the four sides of the square were three tribes. One tribe on each side was designated as the flag-bearer of the group. It was assigned a banner under which the three tribes encamped. The four flag-bearing tribes were: Yehudah to the east, Reuven to the south, Efraim to the west, and Dan to the north.
Although the Torah does not explicitly mention the significance of this formation or what appeared on the flags, the IBN EZRA provides some fascinating information on the subject. The Ibn Ezra (Bamidbar 2:2) writes:
"There were figures depicted on each of the flags. Our sages teach (Bamidbar Rabah 2:10) that on the flag of Reuven was the figure of a person. This figure recalls the incident in which Reuven brought Duda'im -- the blossoms of which resemble the figure of a person -- from the field to his mother (Bereishis 30:14)." (The word "Duda'im" is spelled with the same Hebrew letters as "Adam," or "person." Moreover, the precious stone which represents Reuven on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate is "Odem," which is spelled exactly like "Adam" in Hebrew.)
"On the flag of Yehudah was the figure of a lion. Yehudah is compared to the lion in the blessings of Yakov Avinu (Bereishis 49:9). On the flag of Efraim was the image of an ox, based on the verse which compares Yosef, Efraim's father, to an ox (Devarim 33:17; see also Bereishis 49:6)." (The association of Yehudah with the lion, as well as the association of Efraim with the ox, appears to be the Ibn Ezra's addition to the Midrash.)
"Dan's flag pictured an eagle." (The Ibn Ezra offers no explanation for the connection between Dan and an eagle. See Rashi to Shemos 19:4, DH Al, and Rashi to Bamidbar 10:25, DH Me'asef.)
"Thus, the four flags resembled the heavenly servants of Hash-m which were seen by Yechezkel in his vision, and which featured the images of a man, lion, ox, and eagle."
The Ibn Ezra teaches that the four flags of the Jewish encampment in the desert bore the same four symbols as the celestial beings who carry the Divine Chariot. Why, though, did they share the same symbols?
The RAMBAN (ibid.) cites a Midrashic source for the words of the Ibn Ezra: "Just as Hash-m created the four points of the compass, so He surrounded His throne with the likenesses of four celestial beings, and so He commanded Moshe to organize the camp of the Jewish people into four flag formations" (Bamidbar Rabah 2:10).
Another Midrash supports the words of the Ibn Ezra: "When Hash-m appeared at Sinai, He descended with 22,000 angels, as it says (Tehilim 68:18), 'The chariot of Hash-m was tens of thousands and thousands of angels... at Sinai.' These angels were divided into camps which carried flags, as it says (Shir ha'Shirim 5:10), 'He is... beflagged with the ten thousands' -- 'Dagul me'Revavah.' When the Jewish people saw this formation, they desired such flags for themselves. They said, 'How we wish that we could be divided into flag-bearing camps also!' ... Thereupon Hash-m said to Moshe, 'Go divide them into flag-bearing formations, as they desire.'"
The "chariot" of 22,000 angels which the Jewish people saw at Sinai may be identified with the Divine Chariot which Yechezkel saw in his vision. The formation of the angels into "camps" may be a reference to the four "faces" of the Chariot. When Hash-m saw that the Jewish people desired a similar formation for their own camp, He instituted a system which corresponded exactly to the Chariot's arrangement, using the same images of a man, lion, ox, and eagle.
3) AGADAH: THE ANGELS' WINGS THAT WERE TAKEN AWAY
The Gemara relates that when the Beis ha'Mikdash was destroyed, the number of wings on the angels of the Divine Chariot ("Merkavah") decreased. Before the Churban of the Beis ha'Mikdash, the angels had six wings. After the Churban, they had only four. According to one opinion, the wings they lost were the ones with which they sang Shirah (the middle set of wings). According to another opinion, the wings they lost were the ones which covered their legs (the lower set).
(a) The VILNA GA'ON (end of SHENOS ELIYAHU to Zera'im, and DIVREI ELIYAHU, end of section on Tefilah) explains that this Gemara is the basis for the prayer recited in the festival Musaf Shemoneh Esreh, "Galeh Kevod Malchuscha Aleinu" -- "reveal the glory of Your kingship upon us."
When the people in the Beis ha'Mikdash would hear a blessing recited with the Holy Name, instead of "Amen" they would respond, "Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuso l'Olam va'Ed" -- "Blessed is the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever" (Ta'anis 16b). These six words correspond to the six wings of the angels. When the Beis ha'Mikdash was destroyed and two of the wings were taken away, the corresponding words of the phrase "Baruch Shem" (which was no longer recited after every blessing) were also taken away.
The Gemara explains that the middle wings, which correspond to the words "Kevod Malchuso" (the middle words of the phrase "Baruch Shem"), were taken away at the time of the Churban. "Galeh Kevod Malchuscha Aleinu" is a prayer for the restoration of the Beis ha'Mikdash and the return of the wings to the angels. In this prayer, one asks Hash-m to "reveal the wings upon which the words 'Kevod Malchuso' are inscribed."
(According to the opinion that the lower wings were lost, perhaps the words "Kevod Malchuso" were inscribed on the lower wings and not the middle ones. The words of the verse "Baruch Shem" may have been inscribed on the wings in the order in which the wings are listed in the verse: "Baruch Shem" on the upper two, "Kevod Malchuso" on the bottom two, and "l'Olam va'Ed" on the middle two. Hence, the two wings which were lost represent the Kevod Malchuso which was lost.)
The BEN YEHOYADA, who cites the words of the Vilna Ga'on, adds that an allusion to this explanation may be found in the verse. "Kevod Malchusecha Yomeru, u'Gevurasecha Yedaberu" (Tehilim 145:13) -- "The people of the world will speak [once again] of the 'Kevod Malchus' of Hash-m when they tell of His might" (i.e. when He displays His might by rebuilding the Beis ha'Mikdash).
(b) The SIFSEI CHACHAMIM (Berachos 3a) develops this idea further in his explanation of a dispute between TOSFOS (Berachos 3a, DH v'Onin) and the MACHZOR VITRI (cited by Tosfos, ibid.). The Machzor Vitri explains that the declaration in Kadish, "Yehei Shemei Raba Mevorach l'Olam...," actually includes two prayers: "May His Name become great and complete" ("Yehei Shemei Raba" -- "May the Holy Name comprised of 'Yud' and 'Heh' be completed by being joined with the letters 'Vav' and 'Heh'"), and, "May His Name be blessed forever ("Mevorach l'Olam..."). Tosfos argues and says that it is one prayer: "May His great Name ("Yehei Shemei Raba") be blessed forever." (This dispute has Halachic ramifications; see REMA OC 56:1.)
The Sifsei Chachamim suggests that according to the opinion that the middle wings of the angels (the ones with which they sing praise) were taken away, the words "Kevod Malchuso" -- the middle words in the phrase "Baruch Shem" -- were taken away, symbolizing that the glory of His kingship was taken away when the Jews were exiled (as implied in Bereishis 46:4, see Ramban and Targum there). According to the opinion that the lower set of wings were taken away, the words "l'Olam va'Ed" -- the last two words of the phrase "Baruch Shem" -- were taken away. This symbolizes that the glory of Hash-m's kingship still exists in the world (see Yoma 69b), but the ultimate, eternal honor of Hash-m's kingship (that is, the "l'Olam va'Ed" element) is lacking as long as the Beis ha'Mikdash is not rebuilt. (During the exile, His glory is revealed by His preservation of His nation in exile, and not by His grandeur in the Beis ha'Mikdash.)
This is the basis for the dispute between Tosfos and the Machzor Vitri. The Machzor Vitri maintains that the middle wings were taken away along with the "Kevod Malchuso," and thus we pray that the glory of Hash-m's kingship (the "Kevod Malchuso") be restored. The Machzor Vitri interprets "Yehei Shemei Raba Mevorach..." to be a prayer that the Name of the glory of His kingdom ("Kevod Malchuso") be restored to its complete glory.
Tosfos, on the other hand, maintains that the third set of wings were taken away, and that the glory of His kingship still exists in the world. Thus, we pray only that "His great Name be blessed forever and ever," and that the Beis ha'Mikdash be rebuilt so that the element of "l'Olam va'Ed" be restored.