Rosh Hodesh Tevet
December 31 2005
In the special haftarah for Hanukkah, the prophet Zechariah calls upon Israel to sing out and rejoice over the prospect of God\’s coming to dwell in the midst of the rebuilt Temple. Commentators debate whether Zechariah\’s message was intended to be understood as an imminent prophecy pertaining to the Second Temple period or as an idyllic prophecy meant for messianic times.
The debate focuses on two verses in this prophecy. The first verse: \”And many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be My people, and I will dwell in your midst.\” (Zechariah 3:15) Some commentators have argued that since these conditions were not met during the Second Temple period, obviously they must refer to future times. This conclusion is hard to argue with if one accepts that the primary task of the prophet was to foreshadow future events. (See Rabbi David Kimche)
The discussion of the second verse focuses on the definition of a particular word: \”And the Lord shall inherit (v\’nahal) Judah as His portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.\”(verse 16) If we accept this translation, then this verse offers no definitive evidence for telling us whether this verse was intended for its immediate audience or for some future time. Most modern commentators assume that this verse was meant to encourage those exiled to Babylonia to return to Judah and Jerusalem since God would be with them. (M. Zair Kavod, Daat Mikra, Zechariah p. 10 based on Rashi and Rabbi David Kimche)
Rabbi Yitzhak Abrabanel (15th century Spain) explained the word \”v\’nahal\” differently. He asserts that it should be understood as being causative (which would normally require the hiphil form of the verb) \”cause to inherit\”. Consequently, he interprets this verse to mean: \”In Second Temple times, the tribe of Judah held all of the territory including Jerusalem, meaning that the land was not distributed amongst the tribes since the tribes had not yet returned to the land… In the future, however, God will distribute to Judah its proper portion amongst the tribes.\” (Adopted and abridged)
For Abrabanel, Zechariah\’s prophecy foreshadows a return to the ideal condition when everyone will be properly provided for by God. No one will have an unfair share of the land and no one will be left without. This was not the case in Second Temple times nor is it true today. We can only hope that one day Abrabanel\’s understanding of Zechariah will come to fruition.
*This year Shabbat Hanukkah coincides with Rosh Hodesh Tevet and the day before Rosh Hodesh (Mahar Hodesh) since Rosh Hodesh is two days. While there is ample debate over this question among the medieval authorities, Ashkenazim read the haftarah for Hanukkah because the principle of pirsumei nisa (proclaiming the miracle) takes precedence over the principle of \”tadir v\’she-aino tadir, tadir kodem (frequently occurring rituals take precedence over infrequent rituals). (See Mishneh Brurah Orach Hayyim 684 s.q. 11; see Rabbi David Yosef, Torat Hamoadim note 11:12 for an extensive discussion of the question.) Some congregations, particularly among the Sefardim do take note of Rosh Hodesh by reading the first line and the second from the last line of the special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (Isaiah 66:1;23) as well as the first and last line from the haftarah for Mahar Hodesh (1 Samuel 20:18;42). (See Rabbi Moshe Harari, Mikra\’ei Kodesh – Hanukkah 13:13)
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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