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04.12.2018 16:39    Comments: 0    Categories: Holidays      Tags: torah  shabbat  hanukkah  haftara  

“I see a lampstand all of gold”

The haftarah portion for the Sabbath of Hanukkah, according to Tractate Megillah 31a, is taken from Zechariah’s vision of the lampstand, 2:14-4:7.[1] This prophecy consists of verses about redemption, a vision about the High Priest Joshua, and a vision about the lampstand in the Temple.

The connection between the haftarah and Hanukkah is explained by Rashi in his commentary on Tractate Megillah (loc. cit.):  “Because of the verse, ‘I saw a lampstand all of gold.’”  This explanation, that the vision of the menorah is the primary connection, requires us to investigate whether this is merely an associative connection, a reference to the menorah as against the miracle of the menorah in the Maccabee’s war against the Greeks, or whether there is a deeper underlying idea here.

The vision of the menorah begins with an angel speaking to the prophet Zechariah:  “He said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I answered, ‘I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl above it.  The lamps on it are seven in number, and the lamps above it have seven pipes; and by it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on its left.’  I, in turn, asked the angel who talked with me, ‘What do those things mean, my lord?’” (4:2-4).

In his vision Zechariah saw a lampstand which appeared to be the lampstand of the Temple, with a bowl above it, from which oil flowed to the seven branches of the menorah by way of “pipes.”[2] Above the bowl were two olive branches (see verse 12)[3] which provided a constant source of oil into the bowl, from which the oil flowed to the lamps.

After Zechariah beheld the menorah, a conversation developed between him and the angel:  “I in turn, asked the angel who talked with me, ‘What do those things mean, my lord?’  ‘Do you not know what those things mean?’ asked the angel who talked with me; and I said, ‘No, my lord.’  Then he explained to me as follows:  ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:  Not by might, nor by power, but (Heb. ki im) by My spirit—said the Lord of Hosts’” (4:4-6).  Closely examining what is said here, the prophet’s inquiry, ‘What do those things mean, my lord?’ raises a serious question.  After all, the prophet clearly saw that this was a menorah.  Nor did he ask, “What does this mean?”  Rather, he said, “What do those things mean?”  About what was he enquiring?

The angel’s response to Zechariah is also far from clear, for it does not deal with beholding the menorah than with a divine message:  “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:  Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the Lord of Hosts.”  Ostensibly, this does not explain the vision that was beheld.  So what is the nature of this discussion?

Zechariah surely understood that he was beholding the Temple’s lampstand, lit since the twenty-fifth of Kislev of that year (see Haggai 2:18).[4] The question that troubled the prophet was the significance of the apparatus appended to the lampstand.  What was signified by the bowl and the two olive trees that supplied a constant flow of oil to the menorah, a sort of perpetual source of energy; that is why he asked, “What do those things mean?”  He was asking:  Whence does this lampstand derive its constant source of energy?  Surely Zechariah understood that the lampstand symbolized the process of the return to Zion,[5] and therefore his question meant:  what is the source of energy that sets the wheels of this process in motion?

Hence the angel responds:  “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit!”  The foundation and source of energy motivating the return to Zion lies in its spiritual aspect.[6] One might think that there is no significance to the human part in the process, and that the spiritual aspect cancels the element of “awakening from below”; that human efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple are in vain.  Is this indeed the message conveyed by the angel to Zechariah?

To answer this question, we must clarify how the expression ki im (rendered here as “but”) is used in Scripture.  It is generally understood as an exclusive “but,” totally ruling out the former possibility.  For example, “Now Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons, only (ki im) daughters” (Num. 26:33).  This verse means not the former (sons), but only the latter (daughters), absolutely eliminating the former saying.  According to the Talmud, Tractate Berakhot(12b), however, this expression has another meaning:

It has been taught:  Ben Zoma said to the Sages:  Will the Exodus from Egypt be mentioned in the days of the Messiah?  Was it not long ago said, “Assuredly, a time is coming—declares the Lord—when it shall no more be said, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt,’ but rather (ki im), ‘As the Lord lives, who brought out and led the offspring of the House of Israel from the northland and from all the lands to which I have banished them’” (Jer. 23:7‑8).

They replied:  This does not mean that the mention of the exodus from Egypt shall be obliterated, but that the [deliverance from] subjection to the other kingdoms shall take the first place and the exodus from Egypt shall become secondary.  Similarly you read:  “You shall be called Jacob no more, but (ki im) Israel shall be your name” (Gen. 35:10).  This does not mean that the name Jacob shall be obliterated, but that Israel shall be the principal name and Jacob a secondary one.

According to the gemara we see that the expression ki im has another sense in Scripture, as illustrated by the Sages in the verse dealing with Jacob’s change of name.  Ki im is taken to mean:  not only (Jacob), but also (Israel), where the new name is the principal one.[7]

So the main question to ask regarding this prophecy is how Zechariah intended the phrase to be read:  according to the first sense or the second?  Does the spirit of the Lord rule out human power and might, or is the spirit of the Lord the principal component, while power and might are still significant although secondary to spirit?

The answer to this question actually had a decisive impact on the history of the Jewish people and how we understand it.  Is the course of history determined solely by the spiritual-miraculous-divine, with no place for human involvement, or is there a combination of forces, human and divine, underlying historical developments?  Until the concluding words of the haftarah, “it shall be greeted with shouts of ‘Beautiful! Beautiful!’” (Zech. 4:7), no clear argument can be made for either one of the possible interpretations.

But, according to verses 8-9, “And the word of the Lord came to me:  ‘Zerubbabel’s hands have founded this House and Zerubbabel’s hands shall complete it.  Then you shall know that it was the Lord of Hosts who sent me to you,’” Zechariah resolves the question.  His reading of ki im is a joint endeavor by Zerubbabel, whose hands carry out the word, and the spirit of the Lord, providing the energy behind the entire process.  The emphasis, however, is on the spirit of the Lord, and the leadership must deeply understand this point.  The result of this understanding will be that even the “great mountain” will become “level ground,” meaning that even great difficulties and complications will quickly be set straight.[8]

With this understanding we can find a deep connection between the haftarahand the actions of the Maccabees in their revolt against the Greeks.  To illustrate this, we quote from the First Book of Maccabees (3:13-23):

When Seron, who commanded the army in Syria, heard….Seron was reinforced by a strong contingent of renegade Jews, who marched up to help him take vengeance on Israel.  When he reached the pass of Beth-horon, Judas advanced to meet him with a handful of men.  When his followers saw the host coming against them, they said to Judas, “How can so few of us fight against so many?  Besides, we have had nothing to eat all day, and we are exhausted.”

Judas replied:  “Many can easily be overpowered by a few; it makes no difference to Heaven to save by many or by few.  Victory does not depend on numbers; strength comes from Heaven alone.  Our enemies come filled with insolence and lawlessness to plunder and to kill us and our wives and children.  But we are fighting for our lives and our religion.  Heaven will crush them before our eyes.  You need not be afraid of them.”

When he had finished speaking, he launched a sudden attack, and Seron and his army broke before him.[9]

Judah and his brothers believed that the spirit of the Lord was leading them, but they actually went out to battle and fought the Greeks.  Through this combination of forces, drawing on the prophecy of Zechariah, we achieved miraculous victory over the Greeks.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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