G-d Puts His Ring Back OnBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
G-d spoke again to Haggai, telling him to speak with Zerubbabel, the grandson of the governor of Judah, to Joshua the son of Yehotzadak, the High Priest, and to the people. The first Temple had been destroyed only 70 years earlier and G-d said that there were many people still alive who remembered it. In many ways, the second Temple could not compare to the first. G-d tells Zerubbabel, Joshua and the people to be strong because He is with them. They should be careful to keep the Torah, which He gave the people when they left Egypt. So long as they do so, G-d’s spirit of prophecy will continue to dwell among them. (Shortly thereafter, prophecy did depart, as described by Rashi in Talmud Yoma 21b.)
G-d says that another nation – namely Greece – will rise up and He will shake things up a bit. (Rashi says that this refers to the Hasmoneans, also known as the Maccabees.) G-d will shake up all the nations (referring to Alexander the Great) and they will march on Jerusalem in an attempt to conquer the second Temple. (The reason for his failure to do so is described in Talmud Yoma 69a.)
G-d says that silver and gold are His and it is up to Him to whom to give them. Even though the second Temple will not compare with the first, in some ways it will exceed the first (namely that it would stand longer and its dimensions would be larger). Though there will be wars, for the most part the second Temple era would have long periods of peace.
G-d spoke again to Haggai regarding the Kohanim (priests). Haggai asked them if a person carried impure flesh in the hem of his garment, which then touched various types of foodstuffs, whether they would be contaminated. The Kohanim replied no. (There is a discussion in the Talmud, Pesachim 17a, as to whether or not their answer was correct; it all depends on how you understand the question). Haggai then asked whether a dead body would contaminate these foodstuffs and they replied yes. Haggai replied that the Kohanim erred in many halachos (Jewish laws) and they must dedicate themselves to improving their learning. From the time they started rebuilding the Temple, they did not have blessing in their handiwork so that there would be less grain and produce than anticipated. Now the seeds have not yet been planted and the trees have not yet borne fruit; from this time going forward G-d will bless them.
G-d spoke to Haggai one more time telling him to speak to Zerubbabel. G-d would shake up the world, overthrowing kingdoms (referring to the Greek conquest of the Persians). When this happens, G-d will raise Zerubbabel up, making him like the signet of a ring. (This is in contrast to Zerubbabel’s ancestor Yehoyachin, king of Judah, about whom it says in Jeremiah chapter 22 that G-d would remove him like a man removes a signet ring from his hand.)