Haftarah Parshat Behaalotekha (Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
June 6, 2015 / 19 Sivan 5775
There is a saying that in comedy, timing is everything. Does the same principle apply to prophecy? In this week’s haftarah, there are ostensibly three separate prophecies, the latter two are clearly tied to a specific period, namely, the “Shivat Zion” – return from Babylonian exile, but does the first prophecy which is seemingly more universal in content also apply to that period? The first prophecy’s message anticipates the universal recognition of God:
“Shout for joy, Fair Zion! For lo, I come; and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. In that day many nations will attach themselves to the Lord and become His people, and He will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that I was sent to you by the Lord of Hosts. The Lord will take Judah to Himself as His portion in the Holy Land and He will choose Jerusalem once more. Be silent all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation! ” (2:14-17)
So when was this prophecy intended to take place? Rabbi Yosef Kara, a younger contemporary of Rashi, assumes that this prophecy was intended to be contemporaneous with the other two prophecies: “On the return to Jerusalem… many of the people of the land became Jewish… at the time when Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple, when they saw the wonders being done for you.” Rabbi Eliezer from Beaugency (12th century France) places these events during the period of the Hasmoneans when there was mass conversion to Judaism. Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) notes a problem with these two interpretations: “It would seem that one needs to interpret this prophecy with regard to the future, in the days of the Mashiah (the Messiah), since it speaks of “the nations attaching themselves to the Lord” and “the silence of all flesh before the Lord” and we do not see that this happened during the period of the Second Temple.”
The first two commentators, adherents to the “pshat” or plain meaning school of interpretation, interpret this passage contextually, fitting their interpretation into the period at hand. Rabbi David Kimche notes that the prophecy does not mesh with these historical circumstances but since he still presumes the truth of the prophecy, he pushes its fulfillment off into the future. His loyalty to the message of the prophet means that he must reinterpret the aim of this prophecy.
What about truth? In this case, I would have to say that the message is greater than the historical context. We yearn for the universal acceptance of the awareness of God and His message. This is the ideal that we ultimately share with Zechariah’s message!
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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