April 16, 2024
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The Deeper Message of Parshat Beha’alotecha’s Haftarah

The Navi Chagai made great promises in his prophecies, urging us to build the second Beit Hamikdash. These include the nevuah that the second Mikdash will be grander than the first and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael. Unfortunately, while Chagai’s words rallied the Jewish people to build the second Beit Hamikdash; nonetheless, we experienced deep disappointment when some of his nevuot failed to materialize (at least in the short term).

The Navi Zechariah also presents magnificent nevuot, even grander than Chagai. He (2:5-9) speaks of Jerusalem’s borders expanding so far that they will not be able to be encompassed by walls (we thank Hashem for fulfilling this nevuah in our times). He (2:14) speaks of Hashem residing amongst us—in a rebuilt Beit Hamikdash—and (2:15) many nations gathering to Hashem, reminiscent of the Messianic prophecies of Yeshayahu (2:1-4). Finally, he (3:10) speaks of our living comfortably among our friends beneath vines and fig trees—yet another Messianic ideal—expressed by the Navi Michah (4:4).

He (3:8) even speaks of Zerubavel—the Jewish governor of Persian-controlled Eretz Yisrael (who was a scion of the Davidic line)—in Messianic terms. He refers to him as tzemach (plant), alluding to Yeshayahu’s description (11:1) of Mashiach as a, “Choter migeza Yishai v’neitzer misharashav yifreh—a staff will grow from the stump of Yishai (David’s father), and a shoot will sprout from its roots (in Shemoneh Esrei, we refer to Mashiach as ‘Tzemach David’).” He (4:7) promises that “even tall mountains will be flattened before Zerubavel,” meaning he will overcome all obstacles. Finally, in chapter six (pesukim 9-15), Zechariah calls for making two crowns—one for Yehoshua, the Kohen Gadol, and one for Zerubavel. He informs us that Zerubavel will reign on his throne—namely, serve as king of an independent Jewish state and not just as the governor of Persian-controlled Eretz Yisrael.

These incredibly positive nevuot—along with those of Chagai—presented to a struggling community, rallied us to rebuild the second Mikdash against all odds. Nonetheless, most of Zecharia’s nevuot remained unfulfilled in his time, as Zerubavel did not assume the throne and Yerushalayim remained severely underpopulated until Nechemiah’s aliyah into Eretz Yisrael.

Shattered Dreams

We read many of Zechariah’s prophecies (2:14-4:7) twice a year as a haftarah, on the first Shabbat of Chanukah, and for parshat Beha’alotecha. Choosing this section of Zechariah for Chanukah derives from their many parallels (as we discuss at Torah Academy of Bergen County’s www.koltorah.org). However, the only apparent connection between this section of Zechariah to Beha’alotcha is the menorah’s mention in both contexts.

However, this haftarah and parshat Beha’alotcha have a much deeper connection. In both sections, Neviim addresses times of potential for great events to happen that failed to materialize due to our spiritual deficiencies. In parshat Beha’alotcha (Bamidbar 10:29), Moshe Rabbeinu tells his father-in-law, “We are traveling to the promised land.” Moshe Rabbeinu confidently states that the great moment of redemption is upon us. Unfortunately, Moshe Rabbeinu is crushed when he realizes how lacking the Jewish people are (Bamidbar 11:11-15)—a point that escaped his earlier notice. Moshe Rabbeinu realizes that the opportunity for geulah (redemption)—400 hundred years after the birth of Yitzchak—will be squandered due to our spiritual inadequacies.

Similarly, Zechariah and Chagai informed us of the spiritual opportunity presented by the forthcoming 70th anniversary of the second Beit Hamikdash’s destruction. While we seized the moment to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash, we did not capitalize on the opportunity for Mashiach’s arrival or even the re-establishment of Jewish control over Eretz Yisrael. Chazal (Brachot 4a) blames the disappointments of the second Beit Hamikdash squarely on our spiritual shortcomings. Nonetheless, we were severely disappointed—just like Moshe Rabbeinu—at the failure of the Messianic age to materialize at that time.

Zechariah Cushions the Blow

While both Chagai and Zechariah presented grand nevuot, Zechariah (who delivered his messages more or less at the same time as Chagai) tempered his statements and warned us that we would be unworthy of these promises’ fulfillment if Hashem found our spiritual level lacking. In his first nevuah (1:3), Zechariah calls for teshuva, “Shuvu eilai veshavu aleichem—if you return to Me, I will return to you.” This call stresses that promises’ fulfillment depends on our improvement.

Zechariah—in many places—calls for teshuva. He (2:10-11) calls on the Jews who chose to remain in exile to return to Eretz Yisrael. He (3:4) calls on Yehoshua, the Kohen Gadol, to remove his dirty clothing—a call to “clean up his act.” Zechariah (3:7) conditions his promise to Yehoshua, the Kohen Gadol, upon the latter’s fulfillment of his obligations to Hashem. Finally, in a most dramatic fashion, he concludes his instructions regarding the crowns by echoing Devarim 11:13 (the second section of Shema), “Vehaya im shamoa tishme’oon bekol Hashem Elokeichem—and if you listen to Hashem’s commands … ” Zechariah warns us that great things will only happen if we earn them. Unlike Chagai—who does not temper his promises with warnings—Zechariah makes great promises, but points to the possibility of their not being fulfilled.

Conclusion

Without the encouragement of Chagai and Zechariah, we would not have built the second Beit Hamikdash against all odds. Without Zechariah’s cautionary words, we would not have recovered from the trauma of Zerubavel’s disappointment.

Responsible rabbis who follow Rav Kook’s belief that the contemporary Shivat Tzion (return to Zion) is the beginning of the geulah do so in cautionary terms. Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Rav Herzog—in his tefillah for the state of Israel (that he composed with the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Rav Uzziel)—describes it as, “Reishit tzemichat geulateinu—the beginning of the flowering of the ultimate redemption.” Rav Herzog introduces a double hedge by describing medinat Yisrael as “the beginning of the flowering.” By doing so, he cautions us that this process may not be short. In July 1984, Rav Avraham Shapira (the late rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav) told a group of young Yeshiva University students (myself included) that the current beginning of the geulah is a process that could take centuries.


Rabbi Jachter is a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. He has authored 15 books available at Amazon and Judaica House.

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