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The haftarah portion for Beha'alotcha in the FJMC Sefer Haftarah scroll, the travelling haftarah scroll that visits a different synagogue each week and contains all of the haftarot, was sponsored by Adas Israel, Washington, DC.>
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May 24, 2013
This commentary is a reprint of an original written and published in 2010 by Rabbi Charles Simon.
Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7
Names to learn:
Joshua ben Jehozadak, an heir to the high priesthood
Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel, the last ruled of the House of David.
The book of Zechariah is composed of 14 chapters and can be divided into two portions, the first portion being chapters 1-8. These chapters anticipate the rebuilding of the Temple and God's returning to Zion. In 538 B.C.E. Cyrus issued a decree allowing our ancestors, the Judeans, to return to Judah and permitted them to worship according to our customs and beliefs. This morning's haftarah is concerned with what happened eighteen years later when Darius the First renewed this permission. A version which corroborates these incidents is found in the book of Ezra Chapters 1-4 where we are informed that the priestly and royal families of Judah lead the return. One of these leaders was Joshua, the other Zerubbabel. When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem he built an alter and began to construct the foundations for the Temple. This took place in 518 B.C.E.
Ezra's arrival was a momentous event. He was joyously greeted by the descendants of the people who were not forcibly exiled. They enthusiastically offered to help in the Temple's rebuilding. Ezra refused because they had intermarried with other peoples and their blood was no longer pure.
Ezra's response was tribal. He understood the Jewish people to be a community united through blood. Many of us reading Ezra today would take issue with this response and find it repugnant even though we might hear echoes of our parents and grandparents voices within it. Ezra represented one pole of Jewish thought. Ruth, a Jew-by-choice, not blood, could represent the other.
As a result of Ezra's response the rebuilding process was stalled for two years. I suspect that the person responsible for restarting this process was Zechariah. Somehow Zechariah and the prophet Malachi who followed him were able to reconcile the two conflicting views and restart the process because the foundation of the Temple was completed on the 18th of Kislev in 520 B.C.E. I know this feels like it's almost too close to Hanukkah to be coincidental, but the Maccabean story wouldn't occur for another 355 years. Coincidentally, because of the reference in this morning's haftarah to the Menorah, it is also chanted on Hanukkah. Most likely our rabbis connected this haftarah to the Torah portion because the Torah portion mentions the candelabra (menorah) in the Tabernacle.
The connection of the menorah lessens the haftarah's potential message. Consider people of passion, like Ezra who embark upon a task, on a religious mission if you will, and are too harsh, too zealous to succeed. Their vision might be significant but their methods, and perhaps their social skills are in need of improvement. Zechariah clearly understood and believed in the mission of rebuilding the Temple; but somehow was able to re-unite the people and complete the Temple's construction. Truth is we don't know if it was with or without the assistance of those of our compatriots who had married locale; even though it was clear that regardless of their spousal choices they still identified as part of the Jewish people. Interesting isn't it. How demographic challenges remain with us. This might be worth your consideration as you listen to this morning's chant.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish Community" Jewish Lights Publishing, and "Understanding the Haftarot: Everyperson's Guide."
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