Shabbat Chanukah I
December 16, 2006
Parshat Vayeshev – 1st Shabbat Hanukah (Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
Zechariah\’s vision of the golden candelabra (menorah) is what most certainly caused the sages to associate his prophetic message with the festival of Hanukah: \”The angel who talked with me came back and woke me as a man who is wakened from sleep. He said to me, \’What do you see?\’ And I answered: \’I see a lampstand (menorah) all of gold, with a bowl (v\’gula) above it.\’ (4:1-2) Zechariah\’s answer to the angel at this point is simply to give a physical description of what he has seen. His description does not include an interpretation of the significance of this vision. Later in this chapter, this vision will be interpreted as a symbol of Zechariah\’s contemporary political reality (see verse 14) but for the moment the visual nature of the prophecy is left untouched.
Later sages, however, interpreted this vision to represent the future state of the Jewish people. If the condition of the Jewish people was currently abject and tainted by sin then their future was to be reflected in the purity of the golden menorah: \”\’O mortal, the House of Israel has become dross to Me (God).\’ (Ezekiel 22:18) Said Zechariah: \’I foresee that in the future they will be totally pure gold (without dross): \’I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl (v\’gula) above it etc. and two olive trees above it.\’ [The midrash now comes to interpret the word \”gula\”.] Two Amoraim [sages from the period of the Talmud] disagreed regarding its meaning. One sage said it referred to \’exile – golah\’ while the other sage said it referred to \’its redeemer – goalah\’. The sage who said it referred to \’exile\’ meant that when they were exiled to Babylonia, God\’s immanent presence (the Shechina) was exiled along with them. The sage who thought that Zechariah was referring to \”its redeemer\” meant by this that God is Israel\’s Redeemer, as it is written: \’Our Redeemer, Lord of Hosts is His name.\” (Isaiah 47:4)\” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 4:7)
These two different interpretations might be combined for a Hanukah message. There are times when we truly have a sense of being in exile. There is no place more lonely, desperate or hopeless than being in exile. The message of this midrash is that we are not alone in exile. God is with us, sharing with us and empathizing with us. Moreover, God will ultimately redeem us and restore us. This message brought us redemption in the story of Hanukah. It will restore us and rescue us from our adversity today so that we will ultimately triumph.
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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