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Beha\’alothekha 5770

Parshat B\’ha\’alotekha
(Zechariah 2:14- 4:7)
May 29, 2010
16 Sivan 5770

Joshua, the high priest mentioned in the haftarah, is brought before a divine tribunal where he is challenged by the Adversary (HaSatan), the heavenly prosecuting attorney. God challenges Satan\’s accusations, offering these words in defense of Joshua: \”halo zeh ud mutzal m\’eish – is he not an ember drawn from the fire\”. (3:2)

Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) explains this metaphor: \”He is like an ember plucked from the fire, no longer capable of burning. And so he is an ember pulled from the exile to come to Jerusalem and to build the House (the Temple) and to serve as priest in it.\”

This image gave birth to an interesting midrashic story, born to explain the significance of this description of Joshua. To accomplish this, the Talmud combines this story about Joshua with a story about two relatively unknown false prophets from the period of the prophet Jeremiah. These two gentlemen: Ahab the son of Koaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah went around practicing debauchery along with their lies and were consequently punished by being \”roasted in the fire\” by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. (See Jeremiah 29:21-23) The association between \”roasting\” and \”ember plucked from the fire\” lent themselves to being combined into a single story.

Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, regarding Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who prophesy falsely to you in My name etc. And it is written: And the whole community of Judah shall use a curse derived from their fate, saying, May God make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the King of Babylon roasted in the fire. Not \’whom he burnt\’, but \’whom he roasted,\’ is written. R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: This teaches that he made them like parched sheaves of corn.

Because they have committed villainy in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbors\’ wives etc. What did they do? They went to Nebuchadnezzar\’s daughter: Ahab said to her, \’Thus said God, \”Give yourself over to Zedekiah;\”\’ while Zedekiah said to her, \’Thus said God, \”Surrender yourself to Ahab.\”\’ So she went and told her father, who said to her, \’The God of these hates depraved behavior: when they [again] approach you, send them to me.\’ So when they came to her, she referred them to him. \’Who told this to you?\’ asked he of them. \’The Holy One, blessed be He,\’ replied they. But I have enquired of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel\’s noble friends), who informed me that such behavior is forbidden.\’ They answered: \’We, too, are prophets, like Daniel: to him He did not say it, but to us he did.\’ \’Then I desire that you be tested, just as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were,\’ he retorted. \’But they are three, while we are only two,\’ they protested. \’Then choose whomever you wish to accompany you,\’ said the king. \’Joshua the High Priest,\’ they answered, thinking, \’Let Joshua be brought, for his merit is great, that he may protect us.\’ So he was brought, and they were all thrown [into the furnace]. They were burned, but as to Joshua the High Priest, only his garments were singed, for it is said, And he showed me Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of the Lord (Zechariah 3:1); and it is written, And the Lord said unto Satan, the Lord rebuke thee, O Satan etc. [The king] said to Joshua, \’I know that you are righteous, but why should the fire have affected you even slightly; Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were not affected at all.\’ \’They were three,\’ said he, \’but I am only one.\’ \’But,\’ the king replied, \’Abraham [too] was only one.\’ [Joshua responded:] \’No wicked were with him, so the fire was not empowered [to do any harm]; but here, I had wicked men with me, so the fire was allowed [to do its work]\’. (Sanhedrin 93a)

The sages combined these two disparate stories to teach us a valuable lesson. It was the assumption of the two wicked false prophets that they would be protected by keeping company with a righteous person. The lesson here seems to be the opposite. Even the righteous get \”singed\” by hanging around with the wicked. Keeping bad company has an impact even on the most righteous person. It may not always be enough for \”Satan\” to prosecute, but…

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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