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Hanukkah (1st Shabbat) 5770

Parshat Vayeshev
Shabbat Hanukkah I
(Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
December 12, 2009
25 Kislev 5770

The special haftarah for Hanukkah consists of three different visions. The vision most obviously connected with Hanukkah is the last vision, the vision of the golden menorah. Still, the other visions in this haftarah also have connections with Hanukkah, some real and some forged by the later tradition through interpretation. The haftarah\’s second vision presents the High Priest, Joshua, accused before a Heavenly court of certain transgressions of which God ultimately acquits him. God then commands Joshua and his associates to be loyal to God and His commandments so that they may be charged with the leadership of the people: \”Hearken well, O High Priest, you and your fellows [priests] sitting before you! For these men are a sign (anshe mofet)…\” (3:8)

Who are these men? At first glance, the plain meaning of the verse would seem to identify them with the priests who served under the High Priest. However, since they are not definitively identified in the verse, the rabbinic tradition went about trying to specify exactly who they might be. Since these men are described as \”anshei mofet – men of signs\”, one tradition identifies them as prophets. (Tosefta Horiyot 2:9 Zuckermandel ed. p. 476) This description leads other sages to identify these men with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, the three friends of Daniel, who miraculously survived being thrown into a fiery furnace. (Sanhedrin 93a)

What is the significance of this designation? The book of Daniel is a heroic tale about a Jewish youth named Daniel, who along with his above mentioned friends was taken captive to serve in the civil service of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. These youth were exemplary in their loyalty to God and the ways of Torah even through all of their trials and tribulations. They ate, prayed and lived as loyal Jews and as a consequence were miraculously saved in a number of famous episodes. (This book is a biblical \”must read\” this Hanukkah!) Their heroic loyalty to the Jewish tradition made this foursome quite popular among the Hasmoneans who saw them as ideal figures worthy of emulation. This same loyalty to the tradition made them worthy to be associated with the High Priest as the leaders of the Jewish people during his tenure.

All of these associations are obviously ahistorical but what was important to the authors of these various associations was the message. They were purveying strength of conviction and Daniel\’s friends were perfect examples of this quality. This value was crucial in the days of High Priest in Zechariah\’s prophecy, it was critical in the days of the story of Hanukkah and it is no less precious today.

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.
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