June 18, 2005
Joshua, the High Priest in the days of Zechariah, is arraigned before the Divine court and challenged by Satan, the prosecuting angel. He is acquitted and reinstated as the High Priest of the Temple. Afterwards, God defines for him the duties of his office and his resultant reward: \”Thus said the Lord of Hosts: \’If you walk in My paths and keep My charge you in turn will rule My house and guard My courts [the Temple courtyards] and I will permit you to move about among these attendants.\’\” (Zechariah 3:7 – NJPS translation)
This translation is literal and does not explain the content of God\’s promised reward. What does \”v\’natati mahalachim bein haomdim haaleh – And I will permit you to move about among the attendants\” mean? Who are \”these attendants\” and what is the nature of this reward? Targum Yonathon, the 7th century Aramaic translation of the Prophetic books, steps into this breech, offering an explanation: \”and I (God) will resurrect you from the dead and I will give you legs to walk among the angels.\” The interpretation sees the reward not as an immediate one but rather one postponed until the final redemption. Rashi also sets the reward in the future. He asserts that Joshua, himself, will not experience the reward. Instead his children will be among those who will walk with the angels. Similarly, Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provance) also interrepts this verse to be a future reward. He, however, unlike the Targum, does not see this experience to be bodily: \”this refers to the soul which will be separated from the body and then will exist with the angels who are eternal.\” (adapted translation)
M. Zair-Kavod, in a traditional modern commentary, sees the reward as immediate. He asserts that in the later prophetic books like Malachi and Zechariah, the idea developed that the High Priest took on the status of an angel. (See also Malachi 2:7) (M. Zar-Kavod, Zechariah, Daat Mikra, pp. 12-3, note 23)
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (the Sefat Emet), the 2nd Gerer Rebbe, offered a spiritual message from this later interpretation. He claims that one of the greatest religious problems is that people fear having a relationship with God and consequently distance themselves from Him. Instead, people should adopt the blessing given to Joshua. Just as angels serve God without fear despite their lower status in comparison to God, so, too, human being should take their model (walk amongst them) and not be afraid of developing a relationship with God and serving Him. This represents a wholeness that we as human beings are capable of only if we think of ourselves as walking amongst angels. (Sefat Emet Parshat B\’haalotcha 5636)
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.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: