Today is September 24, 2017 -

Beha\’alothekha 5763

Parshat Behalotecha
(Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
In Israel: June 14, 2003
In the Diaspora: June 21, 2003

The opening verses of this week’s haftarah form the end of several prophetic visions found in the second chapter of Zechariah. These visions deal with the exile of the Jewish people from its homeland during the first Temple period and the upcoming restoration during the period of the Second Temple. It promises that God will restore the Jewish people, contend with those who imposed the exile upon them, and restore Jerusalem so that it will be able to contain the mass of returning exiles. These events would be sufficient reason for Zion’s accolades at the opening of this week’s haftarah. The haftarah, however, adds another reason to rejoice: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold, I [God] come, and I will dwell in your midst, said the Lord.” (Zechariah 2:14)

What is the context of this prophetic vision? Is Zechariah’s message meant for his own generation? The context of this prophecy would seem to indicate that Zechariah hoped for this prophecy to be fulfilled in the immediate future. The prophecy’s content, however, led Rabbi David Kimche (Provance,13th century) to conclude that its messianic vision was aimed at the distant future since it contained the following vision: “And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be My people, and I will dwell in your midst.” (verse 15)

Judah Halevi, the 12th century Spanish philosopher and poet, seems to have drawn the same conclusion as Kimche. Zechariah’s prophetic vision in these verses served as one of the sources for a pseudopigraphic debate between the king of the Khazars and the Jewish sage in Halevi’s philosophical work, The Kuzari. The king asks the Jewish sage pointedly: “Isn’t it a transgression against the Torah when a Jew does not go up to the land of Israel and make it his place of life and death…especially since you believe that God’s Presence will return to dwell there… and all people direct their prayer towards it? Aren’t your bows and prayers in its direction without real intention?…” This harsh critique stuns the Jewish sage who is forced to answer the king: “You have found a point of embarrassment, O king of the Khazars! It is for this very reason that the prophetic purpose of the Second Temple was not fulfilled: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold, I [God] come, and I will dwell in your midst, said the Lord.” The Divine destiny was meant to be restored like in the time of the First Temple if only everyone would have answered the call and returned to the land of Israel with a willing heart. But only a few people answered the call, and the most important among the Babylonian exiles remained in exile and servitude so as not to be separated from their property and businesses… This is why the divine promises have only been partially fulfilled, for God’s promises are only fulfilled in a proportional way depending on human preparation – if a little then a little, if a lot them a lot. Everything is dependent on human intention… (adapted from The Kuzari 2:23-24)

Judah Halevi, ever the “religious Zionist romantic”, explains, in this fictional discussion, the reason for the deferred fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. The fault falls squarely on the shoulders of those who do not participate in the redemption. Halevi’s claim is harsh but not radical. He views the relationship between God and the world as a dynamic dialogue between people and God. God does not simply foist His will on the world. The divine-human interaction determines the world’s fate not only in Israel but also in the world as a whole.

About This Commentary

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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