Haftarah Parshat Miketz – Shabbat Hanukkah (Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
December 12, 2015 / 30 Kislev 5776
Zechariah lived during a period of Jewish history which was both precarious and promising. It was promising because the Jews who had been exiled to Babylonia had been permitted to return to their homeland in Judea; precarious because their homeland had yet to be totally rebuilt and Judea was still dominated by a foreign power. In consequence, the people of Judea were forced to live in incredible insecurity, with many unknowns.
God often communicated with Zechariah in visions, many of which were inscrutable. Among these visions was the famous vision of the gold Menorah: “The angel who talked with me came back and woke me as a man wakened from sleep. He said to me: ‘What do you see?’ And I answered: ‘I see a menorah all of gold, with a bowl above it…’ I, in turn, asked the angel who talked with me: ‘What do those things mean, my lord?’ ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ asked the angel who talked with me. And I said: ‘No, my lord.’” (4:1-5)
How are we to understand Zechariah’s inability to understand this fantastic vision – a vision which from the Jewish point of view could only indicate good things? Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (US, 20th century) attributes his inability to comprehend this vision to the precarious situation in which he and his fellow Jews lived. The redemption was on their doorstep but they could not see it because of the upheaval which accompanied it. It stared them in the face but they could not see it.
This is what made the angel’s response so poignant: “Then he explained to me the following: This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, said the Lord of Hosts.” (4:6) The intent of the angel was to raise the morale of those who were in doubt. He reminded them that the Menorah symbolized their redemption and its light meant that God was with them in their endeavor. This vision, then, was intended to give them strength in their adversity.(See Days of Deliverance, pp. 139-40)
It is easy to sink into despair when the going gets difficult; when the project does not seem to measure up to expectations. The faithless way is to scorn the project and be a naysayer. God asks us to be inspired by His spirit; not to lose courage or strength and continue to struggle for the redemption to occur. These words are no less true today than they were in the time of Zechariah and in the days of the Maccabees.
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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