Shabbat Chanukah I - 5760
"Roni V'Simchi Bat Tziyon"
Since this feature may become more-or-less "permanent" on the OU Website, I think it's a good idea to repeat some of the introductory material that was included two weeks ago when I wrote about the "Haftarah" of Vayetze, as the selection for the Parshah itself.
What are the "Haftarot?"
The "Haftarot" are selections from the Prophets that are read on special occasions (Shabbat, the Holidays, Fast Days) after the public reading of the Torah. The origin of this practice is traced, according to the opinion of the "Levush," cited by Rabbi Moshe Weissman in his work "The Midrash says - on the Weekly Haftaros" to a time that the Jews in Eretz Yisrael were forbidden to read from the Torah. Rabbi Weissman cites Tosfos Yom Tov on Megilla 3:4 as explaining that "the ban was made by the Emperor Antiochus in the period of the Chashmonaim," the Priestly Family whose holiday, Chanukah, we begin to celebrate this Friday night. A portion from the Prophets related in one or more ways to the Section of Torah that "would have been read" was selected by the Rabbis and substituted in its place.
After the decree against reading the Torah was lifted, the Rabbis allowed the practice to remain in effect. Possibly the most important reason they did this was that by preserving the practice, whereby the Rabbis had selected a portion of the Prophets that they thought was linked to the Parshah, this would shed light on how the Rabbis understood the meaning of the Parshah.
An interesting aspect of the "Haftarot" is that over the centuries, differing traditions have developed among the various Jewish communities as to what portions of the Prophets should be read on a given occasion. Among these communities are the Ashkenazim (Northern and Western Europe) and the Sephardim (Spain, Portugal, Southern Italy, North Africa, and the Arabian Countries). Sometimes the Italian Jewish Community had its own tradition which differed from the others. Sometimes the differences are substantial, and there is no overlap; other times it is simply where the "Haftarah" begins and/or ends.
Rav Yissachar Yaakovson, in his work "Chazon HaMikra," cites a thought of Dr. Yoseph Carlebach on the subject of the difference between a work of the "Neviim," the Prophets, as compared to the Five Books of Moses. The latter is typified by the multiple occurrence of the expression, "And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, to say " This expression implies that here Moshe, who was indeed the "Master of the Prophets," was acting purely as a conduit, or pipeline, for the literal "words of Hashem." This is unlike the works of the other Prophets, who are presented by Hashem with certain content to deliver, generally (Yonah is an exception) to the Jewish People, and this content is filtered and refracted through the lens of the personality and "style" of the individual Prophet. Hence, Yechezkel does not sound like Malachi, and Malachi does not sound like his contemporary, Zechariah..
Who was Zechariah?
Zechariah, the originator of the message which is read this Shabbat as the Haftarah, "belonged" to a group of "Minor Prophets," called that only by virtue of the quantity, not the quality of their prophetic legacy. This group was called the "Trei Asar," which means in Aramaic the number twelve. And, strangely enough, there were a dozen prophets included in this group. As a group, they rebuked the Jewish People about their continuous idol-worship and, possibly worse, for their worship of Hashem with the proper outward trappings, but with none of the required inwardness, reducing their great religion to a mockery and a meaningless shell of ritual. They also harshly criticized the People for their lack of social justice, whereby they trampled upon the rights of the underprivileged. And yet another great theme was their reliance on foreign nations for their salvation, rather than upon Hashem, Who had stood by them always and saved them from Egypt, the Seven Nations, Amalek and on and on.
Chaggai, Zechariah and Malachi (approx. 526 BCE - 490 BCE)
The Talmud groups these three prophets together as the "last of the prophets," even though Chaggai and Zechariah lived and prophesied somewhat earlier than Malachi. One of the major themes of the Prophecy of Chaggai and Zechariah was the encouragement of the People of Yehudah to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
Zechariah addresses his Prophecy in this week's Haftarah to Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak, the High Priest of the Jewish People and to Zerubavel, the Jewish Governor, appointed by the Persians (Persia was the "World Empire".at that time). There was a lot of opposition to the rebuilding of the Temple, mainly external (from "friendly" neighbors) not interested in seeing the Jewish People rise again to prominence.
Malachi prophesied after the Temple had already been constructed. By that time, the attitude of the Jews towards the Temple, and spiritual matters in general, had become apathetic. Furthermore, they had adopted many practices alien to the Spirit of the Torah. Malachi challenges the People to return to G-d "before the coming of the great and terrible day of the L-rd!" (Malachi 3:23)
After Malachi, the Talmud records that the gift of Prophecy was given to (holy) fools and madmen!
The Haftarah consists of the following three parts:
"Shout and rejoice, O Daughter of Zion, for I am coming - And I will dwell within you, says Hashem." (Zechariah 2:14) The Prophet announces a coming occasion of great joy, for Hashem is returning openly to the Jewish People after a period of withdrawal. Though there is definitely a reference here to the historical period in which Zechariah lived, towards the end of "Galut Bavel," the Babylonian Exile, which had lasted seventy years, according to the Prophecy of Yirmiyahu, there is also an undertone that the Prophet is also addressing a Diaspora two and a half Millenia later, and that the Temple referred to is also the Third Temple, to be built by the Mashiach.
"And many nations will attach themselves to the L-rd " (Zechariah 2:15). This verse also has strong Messianic connotations, and is reminiscent of the future time which we pray for on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, "for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all nations!"
"And He showed me Yehoshua the High Priest standing before the Angel of the L-rd, and the Satan (the Accusing Angel) was standing on his right side, to accuse him. And G-d said to the Satan, 'May the L-rd rebuke you. O Satan, and may the L-rd Who chooses Jerusalem rebuke you; is this not a firebrand plucked from the fire?" (Zechariah 3:1-2)
Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak, the "Kohen Gadol," High Priest, seems to be on trial in a Heavenly courtroom though, as we shall see, it is possible that there is no trial here at all!
In the courtroom scenario, Yehoshua is charged with not preventing his sons from marrying gentile women and for allowing them to remain married to them despite their conversions which were less than adequate. That sin warrants, according to the Prosecuting attorney, who is none other than the "Satan," the proverbial Accusing Angel, Yehoshua's removal from office. It is that sin which is responsible for the "filthy garments" that Yehoshua is described as wearing.
The High Priest is defended by Hashem Who says, "Yehoshua is certainly a righteous person, for 'is he not a firebrand plucked from the fire?' He is certainly righteous because he survived being thrown into a fiery furnace by Nevuchadnetzar. Thus he deserves to remain in place as Kohen Gadol, and to have his beautiful Priestly Garments returned."
There is an Alternate Scenario, in which no trial is taking place. The "Satan" refers to the enemies of the Jewish people, Sanbalat and his allies, who have thrown formidable obstacles into the path of the Jewish rebuilding effort. G-d, in the Prophecy, addresses these enemies of the Jewish People , "How could you hope to prevent them from constructing their Temple? What could you do to them worse than the "fiery Exile" from which they have just escaped?"
According to the Ibn Ezra, one of the classical commentators on the Bible, the "filthy garments" refer to the impoverished spiritual state of the People, who have no Temple, no Curtain separating the Holy from the Holy of Holies, no golden covering of the Ark, and no golden Altar. The clothes are merely a metaphor for their absence of honor and beauty.
According to both Scenarios mentioned above, Hashem says, "Hear now, Yehoshua, High Priest, behold I am bringing my servant, Zemach." (Zechaiah 4:8)
There are two possible references of the name "Zemach." One is Zerubavel, whom Hashem will help "grow" ("Zemach" is related to growth) into his new responsibilities as political leader of the Jewish people. And Hashem is telling Yehoshua that he will be sharing leadership of the Jewish people with Zerubavel.
Another possibility for the meaning of "Tzemach" is the Mashiach. Here the aspect of "Zemach" that is emphasized is that it often remains underground, out of sight, for long periods of time, before rising to the surface, as has Mashiach remained hidden until he will come to the fore. RADAK and Ibn Ezra note that the "gematria," the Hebrew letter sum of numerical equivalents (as in "Scrabble") of the word "Tzemach" is the same as that of "Menachem," a name of the Mashiach. The Targum says outright that the meaning of the term is the "Mashiach."
Hashem now displays a corner-stone and says, "Behold this corner-stone which I have placed before Yehoshua; on this stone there are seven eyes "(Zechariah 3:9)
What do the "seven eyes" refer to?
Most commentators say that they refer to the intensive observation and monitoring that Hashem will provide for the Jews in their rebuilding effort, and this would match the meaning of the same expression later, after the Haftarah, in Zechariah (4:10), where the stone, now a finishing stone, is also pictured with seven eyes, but there there is a specific reference to the "eyes of Hashem, taking in the whole earth."
Nevertheless, the RADAK, Rav David Kimchi, also one of the great commentators, quotes an interpretation in the name of his father that the seven eyes refer to the eyes of the seven leaders who will be charged with responsibility for building the Second Temple; namely, Yehoshua, Ezra, Zerubavel, Nechemya and the three Prophets Chagai, Zechariah and Malachi.
This part contains the clearest link to Chanukah in the Haftarah. Zechariah is shown a vision of a "Golden Menorah, with a receptacle on top, and with seven lamps on it, and each lamp had seven pipes attached to the bowl on top. Two olive trees were next to the Menorah, one on the right, and one on the left." (Zechariah 4:2-3)
There are many important aspects to this vision. One is that there were two olive trees, one representing the priesthood and the other representing the kingship (both were anointed with olive oil). This again told Yehoshua that he would be sharing leadership with Zerubavel. Another possible aspect of the trees is as a warning to the Chashmonaim who would make the tragic error of combining in themselves both positions, spiritual and political leadership, priest and king. For this sin the Chashmonaim, even though they had literally saved the Jewish People and the Torah, disappeared from the face of history.
Another aspect of the Menorah is that it is fully operational by itself; this may be to indicate that unlike Chanukah in the future, when the Jews would have to fight the Greeks and the Assimilated Jews in order to rededicate the Temple, now this would not be necessary. For permission had already been granted by Daryavesh, the Persian King, a descendant of Esther, and not only permission, but all the material requirements necessary for the construction.
The Prophet then delivers an important message to Zerubavel, which also follows from the effortless operation of the Menorah, "This is the word of G-d to Zerubavel, 'not by physical might or power, but by my spirit, says the L-d of Hosts." (Zechariah 4:6)
In the realm of Spirit, wrote Rav Shimshon Rephoel Hirsch in an essay on the Spirit of Yavan and the Spirit of Israel, the following is true, "the spirit of Enlightenment, in its pure form, was never a danger to the holy things of Israel, because Israel views it as contributing to its own destiny; namely, the Enlightenment of Man and his Improvement; thus it was always appropriate to bring in to his tents the Truth and the humanism which was contained in this spirit "
When Yeravam ben Nevat, the great sinner of Israel, who was denied the World-to-Come for sinning and leading the Ten Tribes to follow him into oblivion, was offered by G-d the chance to repent. G-d said "Repent, and you and I and ben-Yishai will stroll together in Gan Eden." Yeravam, in his arrogance, asked G-d, "Which of us, David or myself will go first?" When Hashem told him "Ben Yishai Barosh," David will go first, Yeravam spurned the offer.
Similarly, Yavan insisted in its arrogance on imposing its culture on that of Israel.
And, Hirsch writes, "Thus it was not Yehudah HaMaccabee, the great and valiant hero, who defeated Antiochus, but rather the Lamp of Judaism, that is what defeated the external shine of Greek arrogance."
The Haftarah concludes with a promise to Zerubavel, " that Hashem will flatten all obstacles, though they appear as mountains, in the attempt to rebuild the Temple, "Who are you, O great mountain; before Zerubavel, you will become a valley." (Zechariah 4:7)
And the People will cheer "Chen, Chen lah," "Beauty, beauty belongs to it." (Zechariah 4:7) What is spoken of is the Jewish concept of beauty, which emphasizes spiritual beauty. This would contradict the philosophy expressed in "Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty; That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," (John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn"), which sees in Physical beauty the equivalent of Truth, and the highest value.
One of the concluding blessings which has particular relevance to our times, and to the opening lines of this Haftarah, is the following, "Have mercy on Zion (Yerushalayim), for it is the central dwelling place of our lives, ,Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gives joy o Zion and to her children."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU