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Haftarah Parshat Miketz – Shabbat Hanukkah

Haftarah Parshat Miketz – Shabbat Hanukkah (Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev 5775

In Zechariah’s second prophetic vision in this special haftarah for Hanukkah, we are privy to a courtroom scene where the High Priest, Joshua, is challenged by “HaSatan”, acting as prosecuting attorney and defended by God’s angel: “And He showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord and the Accuser (HaSatan) standing at his right to accuse him.” (3:1) While Joshua was amply defended by God’s angel, the prophecy itself does not provide us with a clue regarding the charges brought against the high priest.

Targum Yonatan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophet, does not identify Joshua’s sin but does establish for us who it posits to be “the Satan”: “And sin stood at his right side to accuse him.” In other words, for the Targum, Satan is the personification of his sinful deeds. In recent years, scholars of the medieval Jewish commentators have discovered a second commentary to the Prophets composed by Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain). In this commentary, Ibn Ezra provides us with a catalogue of what the scholars of his day regarded as the sin of the high priest: “There are those who say this Satan was an angel while others interpreted that it was a man, like Solomon’s Satan (adversary), [Hadad the Edomite who sought to avenge the wrong Solomon perpetrated against the Edomites. (See 1 Kings 11:14)] Still others interpreted that [the high priest was held responsible for the sin of his son for it was found out that his son had married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (See Nehemiah 13:28)” Rabbi David Kimche sided with the second approach, asserting that Sanballat, the head of the Samaritan community stood in the way of the high priest’s attempts to rebuild the Temple. Rashi, on the other hand, adopted the third approach based on a passage from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 93a).

We can boil down these approaches to three: 1. He was being held responsible for his own sins; 2. He had enemies who were impeding his rule as high priest; 3. He was made to bear responsibility for the wrongdoings of his household.

In the prophecy, God cleanses Joshua of his sins. Still, one wonders about the motives of his “adversary” in challenging him. It is impossible to hold a position of leadership responsibility without “ruffling a few feathers” or without making difficult and problematic decisions. The only way to avoid these things is to sit on one’s hands in an armchair pontificating. One wonders what kind of critiques the high priest really faced and whether they were really legitimate. God apparently understood Joshua’s position and made peace for his continued leadership.

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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