Haftarah Parshat Mikkets
The special haftarah for Hanukkah was taken from the prophet Zechariah, who lived during the period of Shivat Zion (the return from Babylonian exile). His was a period when the homeland was being rebuilt and life was filled with insecurity. Was the leadership of the new community up to the responsibility? Did the newly reclaimed homeland have international recognition? Did it have God’s imprimatur? The people, after suffering the Babylonian conquest and seventy years of exile, were troubled by these questions and more. Zechariah, in his various prophecies, attempted to answer his people’s anxieties. The prophecy chosen for Hanukkah opens with a bit of cheerleading to rally the people: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, says the Lord.” (2:14) The prophet clearly wanted his people to know they were not alone and that God would inspire in them the strength to fulfill their destiny.
The following rabbinic parable was inspired by this verse: “A parable about a royal woman whose husband the king, her sons and her sons-in-law all went for a journey abroad. One-day, messengers came and said to queen: ‘You sons are returning’. She replied: ‘What does this matter to me? Let my daughters-in-law rejoice.’ When her sons-in-law returned, they said: ‘Your sons-in-law have returned.’ She responded: ‘What does this matter to me. Let my daughters rejoice.’ They then said: ‘The king, your husband, has returned.’ She rejoiced and said: ‘What an incredibly joyous occasion.’ So, sometime in the future, the prophets will come and say to Jerusalem: ‘Your children shall be brought from afar’ (Isaiah 60:4) and she will reply to them: ‘Why should that matter to me?’ ‘And your daughters like babes on shoulders’ (Ibid.) And she (Jerusalem) will say to them: ‘This does not matter to me.’ When they say to her: ‘Lo, your King (God) is coming to you’ (Zechariah 9:9) Jerusalem will reply: ‘I am elated. My joy is total,’ as it says: ‘Rejoice greatly, Fair Zion.’ (Ibid.) and it is written: ‘Shout for joy, fair Zion.’ (2:14)” (adapted from Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:30)
In this parable, Jerusalem is portrayed as a royal woman whose husband, the king, has presumably gone off to war. She is filled with anxiety at being alone, bereft of her closest companion. Only his safe return would provide her with solace and joy. With his return came a restored sense of security. So, too, it is God’s restored relationship with his city, Jerusalem, that will return a sense of security and joy to the city.
In problematic times, people seek affirmation, support and security when they must meet great challenges and need to move forward. It is hard to face constructive goals without them. Nations are no different. May the light of Hanukkah signal the support, both divine and human, that we need to meet the challenges that face us.
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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