June 9, 2001
At the end of the Haftarah the prophet Zechariah is startled out of his sleep by an angel and shown a fantastic vision of an intricate gold menorah. Rashi describes the vision this way. Two olive trees flank the menorah and through two spouts seemingly pour oil into a bowl, from which it is distributed to the menorah by seven pipes. Zechariah does not understand the significance of the vision so the angel begins his explanation with the following words: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit – said the Lord of Hosts”. (Zechariah 4:6)
The connection between these words and the vision completely unclear. The Radak, a 12th – 13th century Provencal Bible commentator, explains: “Just as you saw that the needs of the menorah were taken care of by themselves without anyone arranging the lights or pouring the oil, so too, the Temple will be rebuilt without human interaction solely through the spirit of God”.
The passive human role expressed in Zechariah’s prophecy contrasts with Aaron’s active role in the maintenance and lighting of the menorah found at the beginning of the Parashah (Numbers 8:1-4). Why does Aaron have an active role in attending to the menorah while the redemption is left to God?
A possible answer may be found in the following midrash quoted by Rashi (Numbers 8:1): “Why does the section treating the menorah follow the section dealing with the offerings of the princes? Because when Aaron saw the dedication offerings of the princes, he became upset that neither he nor his tribe were given a role in the dedication offerings. The Holy One Blessed be He said to him, ‘By your life! Your part is of greater importance than theirs, for you will light and tend the menorah’”. (see Bemidbar Rabba 15:6)
God was not absent from the actions of Aaron in the sanctuary. He created the position in which Aaron would serve with dignity. Similarly, God does not relegate human beings to a passive role in redemption. Zechariah’s message was meant to encourage those in his own generation who thought that redemption would never come. He wanted them to understand that God provides us with the strength, courage and vision to be His partners in all our actions. God’s spirit inspired Aaron’s generation as it did the generation of Zechariah. That spirit is also available to inspire each of us.
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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