As the fifth of the Seven Seals is broken in the book of Revelation, we are given what at first seems an odd description. Under the altar, the souls of the martyrs cry out to HaShem for their blood to be avenged. We know that those who have been martyred for the sake of Kiddush HaShem – for the sake of their faith – have a special place in heaven. But where else can this be found?
Similar descriptions of the heavenly altar and throne are found within rabbinic texts:
“The Holy One, Blessed be He, took the soul of Moses and stored it under the Throne of Glory … Not only the soul of Moses is stored under the Throne of Glory, but the souls of the righteous are also stored there … Rabbi Akiva used to say … ‘Whoever is buried under the altar is as though he were buried beneath the Throne of Glory.’” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 12:4, 26:2)
Furthermore, the Talmud states that Rabbi Abba Arikha, known as Rav, taught that the archangel Michael offers a sacrifice on the heavenly altar in the heavenly temple (b. Menachot 110a). The Tosafot (medieval commentators on the Talmud) specifically comment that this sacrifice consists of the souls of the righteous.
The book of Revelation and rabbinic literature both describe the area below the heavenly altar as being reserved for the most righteous of souls. These faithful martyrs are included alongside such great figures as Moses, and we can presume the other patriarchs and matriarchs as well.
G-d is quick to respond to the cries of His people. As the cries of the martyrs reach the throne of heaven, so do the cries of the Jewish people throughout history. In every generation a Haman or a Hitler has attempted to destroy G-d’s faithful remnant. However, the cries of the faithful continue to reach the Heavenly Throne, joining together with the cries of the martyrs, waiting to be avenged. And as Revelation goes on to describe the final victory before the great consummation at the end of the age, so too vengeance will be enacted on behalf of G-d’s people, and we will all be finally redeemed.
Therefore, let us recall HaShem’s constant faithfulness to respond to our cries. And let us celebrate the fact that we have not only been preserved until this very day, but that a greater redemption is still at hand. May our voices be enmeshed with the cries of the martyrs and the righteous to hasten the return of our Messiah and usher in a day that will be an eternal celebration.