Last week we began our discussion of Chagai, Zechariah and Malachi, the Nevi’im (prophets) studied in last summer’s Tanach Kollel conducted by the Torah Academy of Bergen County (this year we will be learning Sefer Iyov from June 15 through June 19). We noted how Chagai lifted the spirits of the Jews who returned to Eretz Yisrael and inspired them to build the Beit HaMikdash. This week we shall focus on the message of Zechariah who prophesied during the same time period as Chagai (in fact, Sefer Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 records that the two Nevi’im worked in tandem).
Last week we noted that Chagai made great promises in his prophecies urging the Jewish people to build the Beit HaMikdash. These include the Nevu’ah (prophecy) that the second Mikdash will be grander than the first and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael. While Chagai’s words rallied the Jewish People to build the second Beit HaMikdash, nonetheless deep disappointment was experienced due to the failure of some of his Nevu’ot to materialize (at least in the short term).
Zechariah, on the one hand, also presents magnificent promises that are even grander than that of Chagai. He (2:5-9) speaks of Jerusalem’s borders expanding so far that it cannot be contained within walls (we thank Hashem for fulfilling this Nevu’ah in our times). He (2:14) speaks of Hashem coming to reside 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). He (3:10) speaks of our living comfortably among our friends beneath vines and fig trees, yet another Messianic ideal as expressed by the Navi Michah (4:4).
He (3:8) even speaks of Zerubavel, the Jewish governor of Persian controlled Eretz Yisrael (who we mentioned last week was part of the Davidic line), in Messianic terms referring to him as Tzemach (plant), referring 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 Tefillah we refer to Mashiach as “Tzemach David”). He (4:7) promises that even tall mountains will be flattened before Zerubavel, meaning that he will overcome all obstacles. Finally, in chapter six (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 Nevu’ot, along with those of Chagai, presented to a struggling community, rallied the Jewish People to the successful rebuilding of the second Mikdash against all odds, as we discussed last week. Nonetheless most of Zecharia’s Nevu’ot remained unfulfilled in his time as Zerubavel did not assume the throne and Yerushalayim remained severely under populated until the time of Nechemiah.
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 Parashat Beha’alotcha. The choice of this section of Zechariah as relevant for Chanukah is apparent from the many parallels between this segment of Zechariah and Chanukah (as we discuss in an essay available at www.koltorah.org). However, the only apparent connection of this section of Zechariah to Beha’alotcha is the mention of the Menorah in both contexts.
It seems, however, that there is a much deeper connection between this Haftarah and Parashat Beha’alotcha. In both sections Nevi’im address times of potential for great events to happen for the Jewish People that failed due to Am Yisrael’s spiritual deficiencies. In Parashat Beha’alotcha (Bemidbar 10:29) Moshe Rabbeinu tells his father-in-law that “we are traveling to the promised land”. Moshe Rabbeinu states with confidence that the great moment of redemption is upon us. Unfortunately, Moshe Rabbeinu is crushed when he realizes how lacking the Jewish People are (Bemidbar 11:11-15), a point that had escaped his earlier notice. Moshe Rabbeinu realizes that the opportunity for Ge’ulah (redemption), four hundred years after the birth of Yitzchak, will be squandered, due to the spiritual inadequacies of the Jewish People.
Similarly, Zechariah and Chagai informed them of the spiritual opportunity presented by the forthcoming seventy year anniversary of the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash. While we seized the opportunity to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash, we did not capitalize on the opportunity for the arrival of Mashiach or even of the reestablishment of Jewish control of Eretz Yisrael. Chazal (Brachot 4a) squarely place the blame of the disappointments of the second Beit HaMikdash on the spiritual shortcomings of our people. Nonetheless, the Jewish People are severely disappointed, just like Moshe Rabbeinu, at the failure of the Messianic age to materialize.
Zechariah Cushions the Blow
While both Chagai and Zechariah presented grand Nevu’ot, Zechariah (who delivered his messages more or less at the same time as Chagai), tempered his messages and warns us that we will be deemed unworthy of the fulfillment of these promises if Hashem finds our spiritual level to be lacking. In fact, in his first Nevu’ah (1:3) Zechariah calls for Teshuvah – “Shuvu Eilai Veashuvu Aleichem” if you return to Me, I will return to you. This call stresses that fulfillment of the promises are contingent upon our improvement.
Zechariah in many places calls for Teshuvah. 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) “V’haya Im Shamo’a Tishme’oon B’kol Hashem Elokeichem” and if you listen to Hashem’s commands. Zechariah clearly warned us that great things will happen only if we earn and deserve them. Unlike Chagai who does not temper his promises with warnings, Zechariah makes great promises but clearly points to the possibility of their not being fulfilled.
Zechariah Renews the Promise of Mashiach
The last six P’rakim of Sefer Zechariah are a great mystery in terms of its context and relation to the previous eight chapters (see the introduction of the Da’at Mikra commentary to Zechariah). These Nevu’ot which address the Messianic era and include such celebrated descriptions of the Mashiach arriving as a “poor man riding on a donkey” (9:9) and “Hashem will be the King over the entire land and on that day Hashem and His name (reputation) will be one” (14:9). The difficulty of these chapters is that these Nevu’ot, unlike the previous eight P’rakim, are undated and make no mention of Zerubavel and Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol. It almost seems as if a different Navi emerges in these Perakim with no connection to the earlier prophecies.
A solution to this difficulty is that in Perakim 9-14, Zechariah is speaking after his and Chagai’s Nevu’ot concerning Zerubavel did not materialize. Zecheriah discusses Mashiach without mentioning Zerubavel because he is telling us that the promise of Mashiach lives on despite the disappointment regarding Zerubavel. These Nevu’ot concerning Mashiach are not dated because they do not address a specific time and individual as they did in the first eight Perakim of Sefer Zechariah.
Sanhedrin 99a and Makkot 24b
Sanhedrin 99a fits beautifully with this approach. The Gemara begins by citing the radical and rejected view of Rabi Hillel (not to be confused with the more famous Hillel Hazakein, Hillel the elder) that there will be a Messianic age brought about only by Hashem but there will not be a human Messiah. Rabi Hillel asserts that since Chizkiyahu Hamelech (King Hezekiah) was supposed to be the Mashiach and failed (see Sanhedrin 94a), there is no other human candidate to fill the role.
Rav Yosef, however, emphatically rejects Rabi Hillel’s view even going so far as to say that the latter requires forgiveness for articulating such a view. Rav Yosef proves there will be a human Mashiach by noting that Chizkiyahu reigned during the First Temple and Zechariah prophesied during the Second Temple period and despite the disappointment of Chizkiyahu, Zechariah clearly describes Mashiach as a human figure. A “poor man riding on a donkey” certainly does not serve as a metaphor of Hashem.
How appropriate it is for Rav Yosef to cite Zechariah in this context! Zechariah’s message in the last six P’rakim of his Sefer is that the promise of Mashiach does not end when someone with the potential for Mashiach does not actualize this ability.
Moreover, Rabi Akiva (Makkot 24b) invokes Zechariah’s vision of the Messianic age when he passes the Har Habayit (Temple Mount) with some of his colleagues and sees a fox scurrying amidst the ruins of the Beit HaMikdash. While the other Rabbanim (rabbis) cry, Rabi Akiva laughs out of joy that if the prophecy of Churban (destruction) has been fulfilled then the prophecy of rebuilding will certainly be fulfilled.
It is most appropriate for Rabi Akiva to cite Zechariah in light of his endorsement of Bar Kochba as the potential Mashiach. We suggest that the Har Habayit incident occurred after the failure of Bar Kochba to fulfill his messianic promise. While some may have given up hope of redemption after witnessing the failure of Bar Kochba, Rabi Akiva reminds us of Zechariah’s lesson that the promise of Mashiach remains even after a candidate does not fulfill his Messianic promise.
Without the encouragement of Chagai and Zechariah we would not have succeeded in building the second Beit HaMikdash against all odds. In addition, without Zechariah’s cautionary words we would not have recovered from the trauma of the Zerubavel disappointment.
Interestingly, responsible Rabbis who subscribe to Rav Kook’s belief that the contemporary Shivat Tzion (return to Zion) represents the beginning of the Ge’ulah do so in cautionary terms. Rav Yitzchak Herzog in his Tefillah (prayer) for the State of Israel (that he composed together with the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Rav Uzziel and famed writer Shai Agnon) describes it as “Reishit Tzemichat Ge’ulateinu”, the beginning of the flowering of the ultimate redemption. Rav Herzog introduced a double hedge by describing it as the beginning of the flowering. By doing so, he cautions us against believing that this process will be a short one. Indeed, I heard Rav Avraham Shapira (the late Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav) tell a group of young students that this is a long process that could take hundreds of years.
Next week iy”h and b”n we shall see how Zechariah helped the Jewish People cope with the looming termination of Nevu’ah.
Correction: In respect to R’ Jachter’s article last week, an error was noted by an expert in the Bayit Sheini (Second Temple) period regarding the genealogy of Persian royalty. Da0rius was not Cyrus’ grandson; rather, he ascended to the throne through a conspiracy against Cyrus’ son, Cambyses.