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Haftarah Behaalotekha

Haftarah Parshat Behaalotekha (Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
June 7, 2014 / 9 Sivan 5774
The final prophecy in this week’s haftarah deals with the challenges faced by one of the leaders of the return to Zion from Babylonian after the destruction of the Second Temple. This leader, Zerrubabel, was faced with insurmountable problems in trying to rebuild his nation and the Temple. He was confronted by enemies both within and without who only wanted him to fail. Zechariah’s prophecy was intended to provide him with the confidence to face his adversaries successfully: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might nor by power; but by My spirit, said the Lord of Hosts. Who are you great mountain in the path of Zerubbabel, turn into level ground!” (4:6-7)

In this prophecy, Zerubbabel’s enemies are likened to aseemingly overwhelming obstacle which God will level. The prophet does not identify who this mountain represents but commentators to the text choose from among Zerubbabel’s potential enemies to fill in the gap. Rashi identifies the “enemy” as the “princes from across the river”, namely, Persian royalty who did not to see the Jews reorganize after their return from exile. (See Ezra 5:3) Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) on the other hand, chose Sanballat, one of the leaders of the Samaritans, who attempted to turn the Persians against the returning community. Rabbi Eliezer from Beaugency (12th century France) puts the blame on the king of Persia himself. Each of these adversaries had the ability to derail the projects of the returning community and the truth of the matter is that from a geopolitical standpoint each of these opinions probably contains a grain of truth.

Zechariah urged Zerubbabel to persevere, noting that that God’s spirit would give him the courage and strength necessary to stand up to the challenges before him. God’s spirit could put even a mountain in its place!

Hassidic thought is known for reading biblical stories and prophecies through a psychological lens, assigning symbolic meaning to stories which seemingly talk of events in their plain sense. Rabbi Zadok Hakohen from Lublin (19th-20th century Poland) understands the mountain in this prophecy to allegorically represent the “yetzer hara” or “evil inclination” which vexes each and every one of us, trying to turn us astray. (See Pri HaZadik, Miketz 9) When it challenges us, it seems like an overwhelming obstacle that will overcome us and swallow us up. Here, too, Zechariah’s advice is worth heeding. God can and will help us persevere if we let Him. With His “spirit” even a mountain can become a level place. His “spirit” makes our challenges manageable so that in the end we might triumph.

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. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Roth and Rabbi Pesach Schindler.

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