(Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7)
December 11, 2004
Zechariah’s prophecy was written during the period of Shivat Zion – the return from the Babylonian exile. Its intention was to enjoin those in exile to return to their homeland in Eretz Yisrael. (See verses 10-13 which precede this special haftarah.) This return would be accompanied by the fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell in their presence: “Shout for joy, Fair Zion! For lo, I [God] come; and I will dwell in your midst – declares the Lord. (Zechariah 2:14)
The substance and timing of this promise are a point of contention among the commentators. The timing of this promise seems to have been immediate, however, since the prophecy does not seem to have been fulfilled during the Shivat Zion, some commentators, Rabbi David Kimche (Provance 12th century) among them, felt compelled to understand this prophecy as a vision of messianic times: “It is probable that this prophecy refers to the future messianic times since the condition mentioned in the continuation of the prophecy, namely, that ‘on that day the nations will attach themselves to the Lord’ (verse 15) has yet to be fulfilled.” (Adapted translation) Rabbi Yitchak Abrabenel (Spain 14-15th century) reiterates Kimche’s position but adds the notion that this verse asserts that the future redemption, unlike Shivat Zion which was dependent on the Persian King Darius, will be totally God’s doing.
In contrast to these positions, the opening verse of this haftarah plays a different role in Rabbi Yehudah Halevi’s (Spain 11th-12th century) famous philosophical treatise, the Kuzari. In this work, Halevi created a fictional discussion between a Jewish sage and the king of the Khazars. During their discussion, the king asked the sage about the Jewish connection to the land of Israel: “[Since the Jewish religion is so invested in the land and all of the religions based on Judaism have inherited this attachment], don’t you [Jews] fall short of your religious duty, by not endeavoring to going up the land and making it your home both in life and death? Since you say [in the blessing after reading the haftarah]: ‘Have mercy on Zion for it is the house of our life’ and you believe that God’s indwelling presence, the Shechina, will return there…it only makes sense that your souls should yearn to go up there in order to purify themselves…” (Kuzari 2:23)
The sage replied: “Your reproach is justified, King of the Khazars. This is the reason that the Divine promise in the time of the Second Temple was left unfulfilled: ‘Shout for joy, Fair zion! For lo, I come, and I will dwell in your midst.’ For the Divine power was ready to prevail in Zion as it had in the first place, if the people had willingly returned. But only a small part of the people was willing to return, and the majority and the people of rank remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, because they were unwilling to leave their homes and easy circumstances…” (Ibid. 2:24)
Halevi views the fact that the redemption has not occurred as a result of the human failure to respond to the values that they purportedly believe in. Redemption will occur, according to Halevi, only when human beings live up to their obligations to God. Hanukkah, the festival of ‘dedication’ is just the time to begin this effort.
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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