Haftarah Parshat Bahalotcha (Zechariah 2:14-4:7) outside of Israel
June 25, 2016 / 19 Sivan 5776
Note: in Israel we read Parshat Shelach Lecha
Zechariah was a prophet of the Shivat Zion – the return of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael after the Babylonian exile. These were uncertain times when there was both an air of optimism and great insecurity. The return inspired great expectations but the reality of life after the return and the threats which challenged the returnees meant the spirits of the people needed to be shored up. Zechariah meant to inspire the people with the idea that their return to the land meant that God was with them and that the universal recognition of God was near: “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord! For He is roused (ne’or) from His holy habitation.” (2:17)
What would prompt God’s recognition in the world? Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets he translated the end of the above verse as: He is revealed from His holy habitation”, namely, God’s appearance would lead to recognition. Rashi follows the same path but hones to a more literal translation of the word “ne’or as “awaken”. Rabbi David Kimche (13th century Provence) accepts this translation as well but does not want us to take it too literally: “This is meant as a parable – ‘like a man who awakens from his sleep.’” He wants us to understand that the anthropomorphism used here is figurative. He also points out here that the root of the word is ayin, vav, reish which means “to awaken”.
The following midrash, however, playfully treats this verb as if its root was nun, ayin, reish which has the meaning to “shake off”: “Rabbi Shimon ben Yonah said: ‘Now will I rise’ )Psalms 17:13) – as long as Jerusalem wallows in the dust, I, too, am oppressed, as it were. But when that day comes, with regard to which it is written: ‘Shake yourselves off from that dust; arise and sit down, O Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 52:2); in that hour, ‘Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord’ (Zechariah 2:17). Why? ‘For He is aroused out (ne’or) of His holy habitation.’ (Ibid.) Rabbi Aha said: Like a fowl that shakes itself free of dust.” (Bereishit Rabbah 75:1)
In this midrash, God identifies with His oppressed people. He sits with them in the dust. Their hard times are His hard times and their redemption will occur when “He shakes off the dust” as He rises up out of His holy habitation. It is God’s empathy which provides His people with strength and a vision for a better future. God’s cognizance of His people’s plight should also inspire similar feelings in us as well, so that we, too, might aid in the redemptive process.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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