(In the Diaspora)
June 13, 2009
21 Sivan 5769
At the end of this week\’s haftarah, Zechariah is presented with two fantastic visions. In the first vision, the angel shows him a \”single stone [marked with] seven eyes.\” (3:9) The symbolic nature of this stone remains a mystery. The angel returns, wakes him and presents him with another vision. He asks him to describe it. Zechariah responds: \”I see a menorah all of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps on it are seven in number and the lamps above it have seven pipes; and by it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on the left.\” (4:2-3)
This vision proved no less mysterious to Zechariah: \”I, in turn, asked the angel who talked with me: \’What do these things mean, my lord?\’\” (4:4) The angel responded: \”This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: \’Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, said the Lord of Hosts.\’\” (4:6) Still, how this vision reflects this particular message remains elusive. Commentators throughout the ages have attempted to fill this void. Among them, Rabbi Meir Malbim (19th century Lithuania) offers an interesting perspective. He asserts that the menorah alludes to God\’s light which brings God\’s glory to the entire world. When people perceive God\’s glory, all will follow its light. In the end, there will be no need for might to overcome the obstacles to redemption nor will there be any need for angels. The inner spirit will be inspired by God, who will guide us through His Divine providence. The menorah and the seven eyed stone represent this providence. In other words, God\’s spirit will inspire His followers to overcome all odds and continue the redemptive process begun by Zerubbabel.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (20th century United States) seems to share this perspective: \”the menorah, symbol of the Jewish collective, restored to its place in the sanctuary …[indicates that] the Jewish people\’s historical fortune will begin to rise again… But Zechariah does not understand the vision. He knows that, politically, Israel is still enslaved… They are poor and surrounded by enemies. The menorah of political destiny is far from shining… [The menorah represents] a new sort of bravery, of self-worth, a new feeling of pride and importance that will not express itself in the political-military domain, the realm of the profane, as much as in the religio-spiritual plane, the realm of the sacred. If this bravery exists, political freedom will develop as a consequence.\” (Days of Deliverance, pp. 139-140)
These words, delivered in the early years of Israeli independence, at a point where the destiny of the nation was still an uncertainty, are still relevant today. The Jewish nation cannot exist without the religious and spiritual dignity symbolized by the light of the Menorah. This dignity, guided by God\’s vision, will allow us to overcome the very serious challenges which face the Jewish people both in its homeland and in the Diaspora.
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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