April 13, 2024
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Parshat Beha’alotcha

The haftarah that we read this Shabbat is one quite familiar to most of us. As it is read both for Chanukah and for this parsha, much has been written about it and it is the subject of many rabbinic drashot. The major focus of these nevuot of Zecharya are the vision of the seven-branched menorah and the moral we are to learn from it, that is, “Lo v’chayil v’lo vchoch ki im b’ruchi,” our ultimate victory will not come from our military strength but from Hashem’s spirit. Both the vision of the menorah, which connects us to the holiday of Chanukah as well as to the opening of our parsha, and its message, which underscores the true lesson of Chanukah, make this reading a most fitting one for both occasions.

Unfortunately, due to our focus on these two elements of the haftarah, we rarely bother to understand the words of the prophet in its proper context. The selection is taken from the end of the second perek of Sefer Zecharya, the entire third perek and the beginning of the fourth as well. But what was the navi speaking about before this nevuah—and what after? I believe that a glance into the introductory prophecies and those that follow this haftarah would provide us with a greater insight into its message and a greater appreciation of its importance.

The pesukim in the second perek that precede the haftarah include “mini” prophecies. After predicting how the Holy City would no longer require a wall because the population would increase so dramatically that they would create a “new city,” Zecharya, in the first “mini” prophecy, calls to the Jews in the Diaspora to “flee” galut and return home to Zion, something that would fulfill the first vision of an expanding Jerusalem. In the next short prophecy, Hashem promises that He will destroy the enemies who threaten Israel so that they would live securely in Tziyon.

It is at this point that our haftarah begins with the opening words “Roni v’simchi Bat Tziyon,” “Rejoice O daughter of Tziyon,” because God now guarantees that He will dwell amidst the people in the holy city. It is at this point that Zecharya describes the “satan,” the condemner of Israel, as being silenced by God from criticizing the returning Jews, for they are but an “ud mutzal me’esh,” a firebrand just saved from the conflagration. Our haftarah continues with a most glorious vision of the Messianic era that would follow, and then closes, of course, with the vision of the menorah.

But following the haftarah selection, the prophet continues to describe the future success and glory awaiting the Jewish nation when they return. He describes the construction of the Second Temple, the elevation and installation of Yehoshua as the kohen gadol and even the involvement of all the people—young and old, both in Judea and in Babylonia—in the rebuilding of the Temple. He describes Jerusalem once again filled with the elderly sitting in the plazas and children playing in the streets.

But none of these promises came true.

Because Jews never left the Diaspora to return home.

Yet, what touches me to the core is that these words proclaimed over 2,000 years ago speak directly to us today!! The Jews now are returning! And Jerusalem has expanded beyond its walls! Hashem has protected us from our enemies and children play in the streets while the aged sit in the plazas!! And, perhaps most moving, I know that God is silencing the “satan” and telling him that he not dare condemn a people who are the firebrands barely saved from the conflagration, from the death camps and the crematoria.

Words spoken so long ago speak to us today. It’s all there.

All we have to do is read them and believe them.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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