Zechariah ben Berechiah ben Iddo – the eleventh in the traditional listing by CHAZAL of the group of Prophets known as the “Trei-Asar,” the “Twelve.”
As was true of his colleague, Chaggai, one of the major themes of the Prophecy of Zechariah was to encourage the People of Yehudah to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians ca. 586 B.C.E. This rebuilding effort had already been authorized earlier by “Coresh,” or Cyrus I, but progress had been stopped when the “Shomronim,” the (not-so-good) Samaritans, who were not particularly interested in seeing the Jews rise again to prominence, protested.
The Book of Zechariah is the longest (actually, tied with Hoshea) among the twelve included in the Trei-Asar. Many of the prophecies in it are quite obscure, full of symbols, and often enigmatic. RASHI comments that many of his prophecies are dream-like, but we have no way of knowing the correct interpretation until the arrival of the “Moreh Tzedek,” the “Teacher of Righteousness,” presumably the Mashiach or Eliyahu HaNavi.
Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra remarks similarly that while the “styles,” of Prophecy vary with each Prophet; nevertheless, while the Divine Presence was with the Jewish People before the Exile, the various prophecies were fairly explicit, but approaching the time of the Exile, Prophecy became a matter of “visions” that, again, required interpretation. If, for example, an angel had not been available to explain the visions of Daniel to him, Daniel himself would not have understood them, much less we of the later generations.
As a sample of the Prophecy of Zechariah, please examine the following selection that is used as the Haftarah, the “additional” Scriptural Reading incorporated into the Services on Shabbatot and other Special Occasions, on the First Shabbat Chanukah:
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, leader of the “Shomronim,” 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 pages 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 and son 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)
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.
Zechariah pictures the dawning of the Messianic Age by an image that has found its place in the imagination of Israel for all the generations: “Be exceedingly happy O daughter of Zion, Shout for joy, daughter of Yerushalayim, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, he is just and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey,…’ ” (Zechariah 9:9).
And, after “Milchemet Gog U’Magog,” the final confrontation preceding the time of the Mashiach, in which the enemies of Israel make one last effort to destroy her, and HaShem comes to her rescue, Zechariah contributes another image that has found its way into every prayer said by the Jewish people in which it expresses its yearning for the time of the Mashiach, the “Alenu.” That prayer ends with the verse from Zechariah 14:9,
“And the L-rd shall become the King over all the earth;
On that day shall HaShem be One, and His Name be One.”
According to the RAMBAM, the Prophet Zechariah was a link in the Chain of “Mesorah.”