Chanukah

Haftarah Helper for Chanukah

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After defeating the Seleucid Greeks and returning to the Temple, the Maccabees faced a dire situation: a completely defiled Temple, devoid of God’s presence. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Zechariah faced a similarly hopeless situation.  After Persia’s conquest of Babylon, Cyrus the Great decreed[1] that Jewish exiles there could return to Judah to rebuild the Temple.  Only a small portion of the exiles did so; many intermarried.  They built an altar, but local tribes prevented the reconstruction of the rest of the ruined Temple.  Zechariah and his prophetic contemporaries sought to reignite the returnees’ passion for God’s presence, the Temple, and a prosperous commonwealth led by men sanctioned and inspired by God.

The Haftarah opens with Zechariah telling the people to rejoice, as God’s presence is returning to Judah.  Zechariah then has a vision about the High Priest, Joshua, who is described as  “firebrand plucked from the fire” – a remnant of the First Temple’s destruction. Joshua is cleansed of sin in a heavenly tribunal, then dressed as a purified High Priest; by following God’s righteous ways, he will worship, judge, and lead as a holy priest  At the same time, God will bring forth a “shoot” (3:8)[2] to govern Judah- Zerubbabel, a descendant of the penultimate Davidic king, Jechoniah.  A mysterious seven-eyed stone cleanses the Land of sin.

Zechariah next envisions an expanded version of the Temple’s Menorah.  It is surrounded by two olive branches and has seven branches, each with seven lights.  The two olive branches represent olive oil (4:12) to anoint and legitimate Judah’s religious (Joshua) and governing (Zerubbabel) leaders who will bring a prosperous, righteous peace to the Land.  The Haftarah concludes with a reassuring flourish: despite lacking military might, Zerubbabel will rebuild the Temple (where Joshua and priests will serve) by the divine Spirit and mountain-moving might God granted him.[3]

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 2:14-17: God exhorts Zion to rejoice as He “awakens” to return to dwell once again in her midst, the “holy land” of Judah.  This will inspire other nations with faith in God, and silent awe among all humanity.

Zechariah 2:15 זכריה ב:ט״ו
Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, they shall become My people.  I will dwell in your [Judah’s] midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts sent me [Zechariah] to you. וְנִלְווּ֩ גוֹיִ֨ם רַבִּ֤ים אֶל־ה’ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא וְהָ֥יוּ לִ֖י לְעָ֑ם וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֣י בְתוֹכֵ֔ךְ וְיָדַ֕עַתְּ כִּי־ה’ צְבָקוֹת שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֵלָֽיִךְ׃

Verses 3:1-5: In Zechariah’s prophetic dream, a fiery remnant of the First Temple, Joshua the High Priest, is tried in a heavenly court. An angel cleanses his sins and dresses him as a High Priest to serve and lead in a rebuilt Temple.

Zechariah 3:4 זכריה ג:ד
He [God] answered, saying to the [angels] standing before Him, “Remove the filthy garments from [Joshua].” [God] said to [Joshua], “Look, I removed your iniquity from you, dressing you in [priestly] garments.” וַיַּ֣עַן וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֶל־הָעֹמְדִ֤ים לְפָנָיו֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הָסִ֛ירוּ הַבְּגָדִ֥ים הַצֹּאִ֖ים מֵעָלָ֑יו וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֗יו רְאֵ֨ה הֶעֱבַ֤רְתִּי מֵעָלֶ֙יךָ֙ עֲוֺנֶ֔ךָ וְהַלְבֵּ֥שׁ אֹתְךָ֖ מַחֲלָצֽוֹת׃

Verses 3:6-7: In the dream, the angel reminds Joshua to walk in God’s ways, serve Him, and judge Judah.

Zechariah 3:7 זכריה ג:ז
Thus said the Lord of Hosts: “If you [Joshua] walk in My ways, and if you keep My charge, [then] you, too, shall judge My house [of Israel] and guard My courtyards, too.  I will give you paths among these [angels] standing [here in Heaven].” כֹּה־אָמַ֞ר ה’ צְבָקוֹת אִם־בִּדְרָכַ֤י תֵּלֵךְ֙ וְאִ֣ם אֶת־מִשְׁמַרְתִּ֣י תִשְׁמֹ֔ר וְגַם־אַתָּה֙ תָּדִ֣ין אֶת־בֵּיתִ֔י וְגַ֖ם תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר אֶת־חֲצֵרָ֑י וְנָתַתִּ֤י לְךָ֙ מַהְלְכִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָעֹמְדִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃

Verses 3:8-10: The angel also tells Joshua and his fellow priests that a Davidic heir, Zerubbabel, will rule and bring prosperous peace to Judah, which a mysterious seven-eyed stone will cleanse of sin.

Zechariah 4:10 זכריה ד:י
“On that day,” declares the Lord of Hosts, “each of you shall invite his neighbor [to come] under [your] grapevine and under [your] fig tree.” בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא נְאֻם֙ ה’ צְבָקוֹת תִּקְרְא֖וּ אִ֣ישׁ לְרֵעֵ֑הוּ אֶל־תַּ֥חַת גֶּ֖פֶן וְאֶל־תַּ֥חַת תְּאֵנָֽה׃

Verses 4:1-3: The angel shows Zechariah a vision of a golden Menorah with seven, seven-wicked lamps.  It is draped with two olive branches.

Zechariah 4:3 זכריה ד:ג
There are two olive branches on it, one on the bowl’s right, and one on its left. וּשְׁנַ֥יִם זֵיתִ֖ים עָלֶ֑יהָ אֶחָד֙ מִימִ֣ין הַגֻּלָּ֔ה וְאֶחָ֖ד עַל־שְׂמֹאלָֽהּ׃

Verses 4:4-7: The angel is astonished that Zechariah does not understand the vision’s meaning but then explains it: Zerubbabel will act through God’s spirit and might, not with an army.

Zechariah 4:6 זכריה ד:ו
And he [the angel] replied and spoke to me [Zechariah], saying, “This is the Lord’s word to Zerubbabel, saying, ‘ “Not by [military] force and not by [physical] strength, but by My spirit,” says the Lord of Hosts.’ ” וַיַּ֜עַן וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלַי֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר זֶ֚ה דְּבַר־ה’ אֶל־זְרֻבָּבֶ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר ה’ צְבָקוֹת׃

 Holiday Connection

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the Haftarah as follows: “The spiritual light of the divine law is self-sufficient.  It is victorious by means of its innate strength.  It achieves victory without outside support, without state support, without military might. It carries sufficient energy to supply the lamp as well as the tree on which the fruits of its supply ripen.  Although the difficulties facing Zerubbabel mounted steadily, they were all destined to be solved.  The spirit was the cornerstone to which the abundance of mercy would flow… This was the Third Chanukah, the third dedication of a Temple.  It took place at winter’s end, on the third of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of the Persian king Darius.  It was attended by those who had returned from exile under Zerubbabel and Joshua, inspired by the spirit of the prophets Haggai, and Zechariah, by the decree of the God of Israel… It was the dedication of the Galuth-Temple.”[4]

Connections

Maimonides considers Zechariah’s prophetic dreams to be representative of many prophetic experiences:

Guide for the Perplexed, Part 2:43 מורה נבוכים, חלק ב:מ״ג
…similar to a man having a dream, imagining in that dream that he is awake, relating his dream to another person who explains its meaning to him – and it’s all a dream.  Some [other] dreams, one understands their matter [only] after awakening.  Prophetic allegories are similar.  Some are interpreted within the prophetic vision itself, as occurred with Zechariah.  After [his] allegorical visions, Scripture states, “The angel speaking with me [Zechariah] returned and awakened me as a man awakened from his sleep. He said to me, ‘What do you see?’…”  (Zech. 4:1-2)  [The angel] then explained the allegory to him (4:6-7). כמו שיראה האדם חלום וידמה בחלומו ההוא שהוא נעור וסיפר החלום לזולתו ופרש לו ענינו – והכל חלום… ומן החלומות גם כן מה שיודע ענינם אחר ההערה. כן משלי הנבואה – יש מהם יפורשו עניניהם ‘במראה הנבואה’. כמו שהתבאר בזכריה באמרו אחר אשר הקדים המשלים ההם “וישב המלאך הדובר בי ויעירני כאיש אשר יעור משנתו ויאמר אלי מה אתה רואה? וגו'” – ואחר כן פרש לו המשל.

The emblem of the State of Israel is based upon the Haftarah.  The Jewish Virtual Library describes its history, concluding that:

“…the emblem of the State that has become familiar to us borrowed Zechariah’s vision [4:1-3, 11-14] to represent the Zionist idea of the newly established State of Israel.  From this perspective, the establishment of the State corresponds to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Return to Zion.  The two olive trees evidently played an extremely important part in the perception of the new State, in which “religion” and “state” (the “two anointed dignitaries” – the high priest and the governor) stand together to realize the Zionist dream.”[5]

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org.  To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email haftarahhelper@gmail.com.

[1] Ezra 1:1-4 and 2 Chronichles 36:22-23 state that Cyrus attributed his conquests to God, who also directed him to rebuild the  Temple in Jerusalem.  He therefore permitted the Jews to return there to do so, aiding them financially, too.

[2] Generations earlier, Isaiah (11:1) described a messianic Davidic king as a shoot; see Haftarah Helper for Last Day of Passover.

[3] Radak and Ibn Ezra (4:7) state that this power was granted to overcome the tribes who opposed the Temple’s reconstruction.

[4] From “The Collected Writings of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch Vol. II”, pg. 225.

[5] The Israeli State Emblem