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Q & A: ‘The Scepter Shall Not Depart From Judah’ (Part III)

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Question: As Shavuot is fast approaching – a holiday on which we dwell on the story of Ruth and the origins of the royal house of David – I was wondering if you could help me resolve something. Some people say that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the redactor of the six orders of the Mishnah and a scion of King David, purposely kept any mention of Chanukah and the Hasmonean kings out of the Mishnah because the Hasmoneans improperly crowned themselves and ignored the rule that all Jewish kings are supposed to come from the tribe of Yehudah. Is this true?

(Via E-Mail)

Answer: We mentioned that Jacob prophetically blessed each of his 12 sons. Since Judah possessed the necessary qualities to lead his brothers, Jacob blessed him with the words (49:8-10), “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants until Shiloh arrives, and his will be an assemblage of nations.”

Rashi explains that King David’s rule will continue until the arrival of Mashiach. Rashbam derives from the words “until Shiloh arrives” that the kingdom will be divided and writes that Jacob’s prediction only referred to the time of David until Rehaboam. However, Targum Yonatan b. Uziel states that the divine right of rule over Israel belongs exclusively to the House of David. We asked: If so, how could the first king of Israel, Saul, have come from the tribe of Benjamin?

Last week, we noted that according to many commentators Jacob intended that the last monarch of the Jewish people come from Dan, not Judah; he thought that Samson would be the ultimate redeemer, the Melech HaMoshiach. We also noted that Moses – who was from the tribe of Levi – would have led the Jews into Eretz Yisrael and become their leader there had he not sinned by hitting the rock and had the spies not sinned by giving a negative report of the land.

But how could Samson have been Moshiach or Moses the Jewish people’s leader in Eretz Yisrael if they weren’t from the tribe of Judah?

* * * * *

It seems that Da’at Zekeinim MiBa’alei Tosafot (Genesis 49:10) also grappled with this question since they offer the following novel interpretation of Jacob’s blessing, citing a Midrash:

Lo yasur shevet mi’Yehudah u’mechokek mibein raglav, ad ki yavo Shiloh ve’lo yikhat amim – The scepter shall not depart from Judah [nor a scholar from among his descendants until Shiloh arrives and his will be an assemblage of nations.” “Lo yasur” means “lo yifrach – shall not bloom forth” like in the words in the verse (Jeremiah 2:21) “surei ha’gefen nachriah – an alien vine.” “Ad ki yavo Shiloh” – “until Shiloh arrives” means “until the destruction of the Tabernacle in Shiloh.” Da’at Zekeinim base this explanation on the word “yavo – to set,” as in the verse (Jeremiah 60:20), “Lo yavo od shimsheich vi’reicheichlo ye’asef ki Hashem yihyeh loch le’ohr olam ve’shalmu ye’mei evleich – Never again will your sun set, and your moon will not be withdrawn; for G-d will be unto you an eternal light, and the days of your mourning will be ended.” Thus, Jacob’s blessing to Judah should be translated as follows means “A king in Judah will not bloom forth nor will his kingship set until [G-d] casts off the Tabernacle in Shiloh.”

Da’at Zekeinim cite further support from two verses in Psalms, both in the same chapter (Psalms 78). The first verse (78:60) states: “Vayitosh Mishkan Shiloh ohel shikein ba’adam – [G-d] abandoned the Tabernacle in Shiloh, the tent where He dwelled among men.” The second verse (78:70) states: “Vayivchar b’David avdo vayikachehu mi’michl’ot tzon – And He chose David, His servant, and took him from the sheep corrals.”

Da’at Zekeinim offer an alternative interpretation: The kingship will not depart the house of David and given to another – as it was taken from Saul and given to David – until the Messiah arrives at Shiloh. And surely it won’t be transferred when the Messiah comes since the Messiah descends from David and is called Moshiach ben David. Thus, the kingship will never depart from Judah, i.e., his rule will be forever.

They offer yet another interpretation: The scepter shall not depart from the tribe of Judah until he [the Messiah] arrives at Shiloh – which actually refers to Shechem (which is next to Shiloh) where the kingdom was divided.

Addendum: A reader, Yisrael Levi, sent us the following e-mail:

“There is an erroneous claim in the current question, ‘Some people say that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the redactor of the six orders of the Mishnah and a scion of King David, purposely kept any mention of Chanukah and the Hasmonean kings out of the Mishnah….’ The word ‘Chanukah’ appears seven times in the Mishnah (once in Bava Kamma, which discusses the ramifications of a fire started by a Chanukah candle). Also, there is an implicit eighth reference in that we say the complete Hallel on Rosh Chodesh Tevet (i.e., a day that is always on Chanukah).

“The real question is: Why is there no Mesechet Chanukah in the Mishnah, similar to Mesechet Megillah, and why is the miracle of the oil not mentioned in the Mishnah?”

Answer: You are a most keen observer! Indeed, there are numerous references to Chanukah, in regards to such matters as the seder hatefillah, publicizing the new moon to the masses, proclaiming a fast on Chanukah, etc. These references are found in mishnayot throughout our Talmud: Rosh Hashana 18a, Ta’anit 15b, Megillah 29a and 30b, Moed Kattan 28b, and Bava Kamma 62b.

Yet, your point is on target. Why doesn’t the story of the miracle of the oil as well as the mitzvah to light the Chanukah menorah – in other words, those elements that comprise the essence of Chanukah – appear in the Mishnah. In addition, why doesn’t Chanukah have its own tractate like the other festivals? These omissions seem to indicate that R. Yehudah haNassi perhaps frowned upon the Hasmoneans for having improperly crowned themselves as kings. We will amend the question appearing at the top of this column in light of your comments in the next installment.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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