July 21, 2024
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Parshat Behaalotecha

This week’s haftarah—a selection taken from sefer Zecharya—is the most consistently read of all the haftarot. Although those selections read on the Shabbatot of Rosh Chodesh or of erev Rosh Chodesh may be read multiple times each year, they often are replaced by readings of the special Shabbatot, such as those of Shekalim, HaChodesh, Chanukah and the Three Weeks (before Tisha B’Av). The result, therefore. is that, although they might be read three times a year (7% of the time) they are generally read (93%) only once or twice annually. Our haftarah, however, is always read on Shabbat Chanukah and on parshat Behaalotcha—always twice each and every year.

And yet—despite its regular reading—it is a reading difficult to fully understand. In fact, Rashi opens his commentary to the sefer with the words: “(This book) is very unclear (“stuma”) as it contains dream-like visions that are difficult to interpret … ” Well, if it is difficult for Rashi—how much more so for us. The first six of the 14 perakim of sefer Zecharya contain eight visions, two of them included in our haftarah (from chapters 3 and 4). We will focus on the last vision—the one on the menorah, as it is the connection to the opening topic of our parsha and to the holiday of Chanukah.

Our parsha begins with the mitzvah of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, to kindle the golden Menorah in the Mishkan/Mikdash. Rashi quotes the Midrash that this mitzvah was meant as a comfort to Aharon, who was not included in the inaugural korbanot of the tribal leaders. Hashem reassured Aharon that his task of lighting the Menorah twice a day was a greater meritorious act than the korbanot offered by the nesiim. The Ramban clarifies the midrashic approach suggesting that it referred to the future lighting of the Menorah by Aharon’s descendants, the Chashmonaim, during their Chanukat Habayit in the Second Temple era.

HaRav Baruch Gigi of Yeshivat Har Etzion—troubled by the Ramban’s comment that “the lights will always illuminate the Menorah”—suggests that this does not refer to the Menorah of the Beit Hamikdash (which, ultimately, would be destroyed), but, rather, the menorah lit by all Jews on Chanukah—the chanukiah/menorah kindled in all homes—marking the miracle Hashem brought for the Kohanim/Chashmonaim. And Rav Gigi continues, saying that just as the Menorah’s light was not meant to illuminate the inner sanctuary, but to brighten all who were outside of it (see Shabbat 22b); so too, this chanukiah lights up the home and, by doing that, makes every home into a “mikdash me’at”—a miniature sanctuary.

When applying this approach to Zecharya’s vision, we may better understand the revelation he received from Hashem. Zecharya lived in the beginning of the second temple era. Although it was a time of great anticipation for a rebuilt Beit Hamikdash—for the renewal of the sacrificial rite and the restoration of the Davidic dynasty—it was also an era of challenge, of fear and of doubt.

It was at this particular time, therefore, that Hashem relayed to His prophet an essential message: that the light of the future will not be emanating from the Menorah in the Temple, but through the small chanukiah around which all the family members would gather. The glow of religious fervor must first be kindled at home, before it could hope to spread into the Temple. The hope for a shining future must find its source within the home, the family unit and the community …

It is a message applying for us all—even when it is not Chanukah …


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

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