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Beha\’alothekha 5771

Haftarah B\’haalotekha
(Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7)
June 11, 2011
9 Sivan 5771

The image of a golden lamp plays a prominent role in the final prophecy of this week’s haftarah: “The angel who talked with me came back and woke me as a man who is wakened from sleep. He said to me: ‘What do you see?’ And I answered, ‘I see a lampstand, all of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps of it are seven in number and the lamps above it have seven pipes and by it are two olive trees, on the right of it and one on the left. I, in turn, asked the angel who talked to me, ‘What do these things mean?’ ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ asked the angel who talked with me; and I said, ‘No, my lord.’” (4:1-5)

The angel offers the prophet a solution to this riddle, although even this is not totally clear to us: “Those seven are the eyes of the Lord, ranging over the whole earth” (4:10) The message seems to be that God’s providence extend over the entire world. (See Proverbs 15:3)

The significance of the seven branches of the lamp is left without a definitive interpretation in the biblical account. The midrashic work, known as Pesikta Rabati, takes up this question and offers a number of symbolic interpretations, one of which we will share here: “’I see a lampstand all of gold’ – This refers to the kind of lamp God showed to Moses when He said: ‘And you shall make a lampstand of pure gold’ – meaning the congregation of Israel; ‘of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its calyxes and its petals.’ (Exodus 25:31) ‘Lampstand of pure gold’ – this refers to the congregation of Israel; ‘its base’ – this refers to the patriarch of Israel (the nasi); ‘the shaft’ – the president of its court; ‘the cups’ – its sages; ‘the calyxes’ – the disciples; ‘the petals’ – the young students who study in the beit midrash, all of these being ‘of one piece’ (Ibid). ‘The lamps of it are seven’ (Zechariah 4:2) – This refers to Shabbat which keeps watch over Israel since they observe it one day in seven.” (adapted from Pesikta Rabbati 8:3)

This midrash understands the lamp to symbolize the Jewish people; each of the parts of the lamp representing a different segment of the people, from its leadership down to its children. The lamp lit provides light, necessary for navigation through life. What will provide that light? Here the number seven becomes important. Since Shabbat is observed one day in seven, the seven branched lamp represents the Jewish people’s observance of Shabbat. It is this observance which brings Israel light.

This midrash rings true. Shabbat observance is integral to Jewish life, to Jewish cohesiveness and meaning. This truth rang true for the author of this midrash and it is equally true today.

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.

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.
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