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B'haalot'cha, 5761

Haftarah, Zechariah 2:14-4:7

for Parashat B'haalot'cha, Numbers 8:1-12:16
The Torah: A Modern Commentary pp. 1,075-1,100

Zechariah was one of three prophets (along with Haggai and Malachi) who accompanied the Jewish exiles
from Babylonia back to Jerusalem. He encouraged the people to rebuild the Temple. In the book of
Zechariah we read, "And Adonai shall inherit Judah as God's portion in the holy land, and shall choose
Jerusalem again (Zechariah 2:16). The phrase "holy land" makes its first and only appearance in this book
of the Bible. As we know this has become a familiar name for the land of Israel.


Both the Torah and haftarah portions speak about the seven branched menorah that was to be made and
placed in the Temple.

"Then he explained to me, saying: This is the word of the Eternal to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power,
but by My spirit says the God of heaven's hosts." (Zechariah 4:6)

As Rabbi Gunther Plaut states, "The exiles who returned home from Babylon in 538 B.C.E. began plans for
rebuilding the Temple, but adverse economic and political conditions delayed the project. (The Haftarah
Commentary p. xliv) This explanation provides the background for the situation faced by the prophet

While in exile, the prophet Isaiah had hoped that a Messiah would come and restore Israel. Isaiah
prophesied, "And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig shall grow out of his
roots (Isaiah 11:1)." The prophet Jeremiah also spoke of "the righteous shoot: of the House of David
(Jeremiah 23:5). The prophet Zechariah, using similar language, prophesied "…for behold, I will bring forth
My servant the Shoot (Zechariah 3:8); "…Behold, a man whose name is the Shoot, and who shall shoot up
out of his place, and [shall] build the temple of Adonai (Zechariah 6:12); and "The hands of Zerubbabel have
laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it (Zechariah 4:9)." (see The Story of Prophecy
p. 228)

It was Zerubbabel, a descendant of the House of David and the Jewish governor of the province, who
Zechariah identified as the person who would lead the rebuilding of the Temple.

As Plaut notes in his commentary, the name Zerubbabel is a contraction of zera meaning seed and bavel
referring to Babylon. So it seems that this seed of Babylon was to "shoot up out of his place" and restore the

This week's focus verse tempers Zerubbabel's role in the rebuilding of the temple. Zechariah delivers God's
message to Zerubbabel informing him that it would not be through Zerubbabels' physical power or strength
that the Temple would be rebuilt but rather through God's will alone.

There is an interesting connection between the rebuilder of the temple and the seven branched menorah.
Rashi cites the two verses which precede this week's focus verse, "I have seen, and behold a candlestick all
of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon…and two olive-trees by it, one upon the
right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side…(Zechariah 4:2-3)." The two olive trees produce oil
without human labor, and provide an inexhaustible supply of oil to the lamp. Rashi explains that just as the
menorah was provided with oil without either man’s hand or human effort, so the Temple will be restored not
by the strength of your (Zerubbabel’s) hands but by the spirit of God (The Twelve Prophets, The Soncino
Books of the Bible p. 284)

This haftarah is also the haftarah portion for the first Shabbat of Chanukah. The sages of the Talmud posed
the question "Ma Chanukah…what is Chanukah?" The sages answered: When the Greeks entered the
Temple, they defiled all the oil in the Temple save one small cruse. A miracle occurred there and the oil
which should have lasted only one day lasted for eight days, until more oil could be prepared. The Talmud
focuses on the miracle of the oil and does not mention the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek
forces. However, we find the story of the Maccabees commemorated in the prayer "Al Hanissim" which is
added to the Amidah during Chanukah (page 45 in The Gates of Prayer). The prayer makes no mention of
the miracle of the cruse of oil. It stresses that the miracle was the victory over the Greeks and the cleansing
of the Temple, which was commemorated by the lighting of the candles. To resolve the tension between
human action and Divine intervention the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Levay ben Bezalel [1525-1609],
taught that the main reason for the celebration of Chanukah was to celebrate the victory over the Syrian-
Greeks. But, the Maccabee victory was due not only to might and heroism, but also to Divine Providence.


1. Imagine yourself as one of the returning exiles from Babylonia participating in the rebuilding of the
Temple. Remember that they faced very difficult circumstances (see COMMENTARY). What effect
do you think an individual like Zechariah along with his prophecy would have on the people? Do you
know any modern day Zechariah's?
2. When faced with a difficult task what physical and spiritual qualities do you think are necessary for
successful completion of the task? Ask each Table Talk participant to suggest several of these
characteristics. Consider creating a wall poster which lists these attributes and use them as
inspiration when you face a difficult task.
3. Why do you think it was so important to stress the role of the Divine in the reconstruction of the
Temple? In the Maccabean victory?
4. What role do you think physical and spiritual strength play in everyday life?
5. Zechariah saw the rebuilding of the Temple as a symbol of the messianic age. Liberal Jews are not
awaiting the rebuilding of the Temple but rather (ideally) working daily to bring about a Messianic
age. What would symbolize the messianic age to you? Discuss.

TAKING A STAND...on finding an ish chayil or eshet chayil in your life. The word for strength used in
the haftarah is chayil. The Hebrew dictionary definition of an ish chayil is "a hero or a smart man." From the
book of Proverbs, an eshet chayil is a woman of valor. The Stone edition of the Tanach states that when
Scripture uses the word chayil it means more than just valor; it includes the possession of whatever
attributes are needed to carryout the task at hand. In either case it denotes a person of accomplishment.
Who is an ish or eishet chayil in your life?

This week's Family Shabbat Table Talk was written by Barbara Binder Kadden, who recognizes the role
both physical and spiritual strength played in the recent graduations of her son from middle school and her
daughter from high school.