Parshat Miketz/Shabbat Hanukkah
(Zechariah 2: 14-4:7)
December 8, 2007
Rabbi Yitzhak Abrabanel (14th century Spain) raised an interesting contextual question about the structure of the third prophecy in this special haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah. In this prophecy, an angel comes to Zechariah and presents him with the fantastic image of a golden menorah constructed in an unusual way (4:1-3). The prophet inquires about the significance of this vision (4) The angel, in turn, confronts the prophet and asks him to explain the meaning of this vision (5). The prophet cannot but answer that he does not understand the significance of this vision (5). At the moment when one would expect the angel to explain its significance, the angel launches instead into a message from God to Zerrubbabel, the leader of the community who was thought to be the divinely intended leader: \”This is the word of the Lord to Zerrubbabel: \’Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit\’ – said the Lord of Hosts\” (6).
Abrabanel asks in all candor: \”How can this message to Zerrubbabel be considered an answer to Zechariah\’s question [since it says nothing about the vision that he has just seen]?\” In addition, Abrabanel asks about the relevance of the vision of the menorah, a ritual object associated with the priests and the Temple to Zerrubbabel, the temporal leader of the people who is not even a priest.
Abrabanel\’s questions were anticipated by Rashi\’s comments on these issues three centuries earlier. Rashi sees the angel\’s remarks to Zechariah for Zerrubbabel as an answer to his question to the angel. What is the meaning of the vision of the menorah? According to Rashi, since the menorah in the vision was self-sufficient solely through God\’s will, so, too, will Zerrubbabel\’s political leadership and Joshua the High Priest\’s religious leadership be self-sufficient under God\’s guidance. As a result the Temple will be rebuilt.
Abrabanel reject Rashi\’s answer on three counts: 1. no similar explanations were offered for any of Zechariah\’s other prophecies; 2. the Second Temple\’s reconstruction had already commenced before this prophecy was given; 3. the construction was carried out through the \”might\” and \”power\” of human builders. Instead he offers an alternative explanation. This message was intended as a reminder to Zerrubbabel that even though \”real\” temporal power rested in the hands of the Persian ruler, Darius, still, it would be Zerrubbabel who would found the new Temple and it was he who God desired to carry out this task. According to Abrabanel, this message was intended to strengthen him and give him the spirit to live up to the task.
Hanukkah is the season when each of us is put in the shoes of Zerrubbabel. Though we may not feel up to the tasks at hand, whether it be strengthening our relationship with God, preserving the integrity of our Jewish identities, building the future or restoring our Jewish present, God\’s spirit is with us and through it we will move from strength to strength.
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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