Haftarah Parshat Behalotecha
May 25, 2002 in Israel
June 1, 2002 in the Diasp
At the end of the haftarah, Zechariah offers an elaborately detailed vision of a golden menorah which says, in part: “He said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I answered, ‘I see a menorah all of gold, with a bowl (gulah) above it… (Zechariah 4:2) The intended message of this image is itself enigmatic. In the following midrash, the rabbis focus on a particular detail of this description. It is not the visual image that interests them. Rather, it is a word used in that image. Moreover, it is not the word itself which piques their interest. Instead, their entire message is based on homophones (like sounding words) of this particular word.
“It is written: ‘Son of man, the House of Israel has become dross to Me [God]’ (Ezekiel 22:18) . The prophet Zechariah responded to this harsh prophecy with the vision of the menorah, saying: ‘I see pure gold’ as it is written: ‘I see a menorah all of gold, with a bowl (gulah) above.” Two Amoraim [sages from the period of the Talmud] debated the significance of this vision. One explained that the word ‘gulah’ should be understood as ‘golah’ – ‘exile’, while the other asserted that the word ‘gulah’ should be understood as ‘Goalah’ – ‘Her redeemer’. [Both of these sages saw something positive in their interpretations.] The one who said; ‘golah’ – ‘exile’ meant that when the children of Israel were exiled to Babylonia, God exiled the Divine Presence (the Shechina) along with them. The sage who said ‘Goalah’ – ‘He redeemed her’ meant that God will ultimately redeem the children of Israel, as it is written: ‘Our Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts is His name’ (Isaiah 47:4) (Song of Songs Rabbah 4:7)
These sages took what was a seemingly innocuous word in Zechariah’s description of his vision and transformed it into two significant responses to Ezekiel’s harsh prophecy. Ezekiel’s message to the people was that their undesirable behavior had caused God to reject them, as a craftsman rejects impure metal. In response, the sages in this midrash assert that God never rejects His people. According to one sage, God is with them when they are in disfavor, never leaving them without His Presence (the Shechina). The other sage maintains that God will ultimately be with Israel to redeem it in troubled times. In either case, both sages affirm that Israel will never stand permanently abandoned by God.
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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