Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

This Shabbat we continue our tour of the twelve “minor prophets,” the Trei Assar. Our haftara is read after Parshat Beha’alotcha and also on Shabbat Chanukah, and it concerns the lighting of the menorah.

Zerubabel, the subject of this nevuah (prophecy), was the political leader of the first returnees to Israel after the Babylonian exile. He was a descendent of David and Shlomo, and some who lived in the time of the Second Beit HaMikdash considered him the heir to the throne and the Melech HaMoshiach, the anointed Messiah. This was in spite of the fact that Yirmiyahu had decreed that no descendent of Yechoniya would ever rule Israel, and Zerubabel is descended from Yechoniya. (Interestingly, before the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, a small group of fanatic followers of a certain Jew from Nazareth declared that he was the rightful king. Several hundred years later, when his disciples’ disciples compiled his lineage, they nonetheless traced it through Zerubabel.)

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The menorah described by Zecharia in our haftara is noteworthy because of the apparatus it has for fueling the candles. The malach (angel) asks the navi: What do you see? And Zecharia answers: “A menorah all of gold, with a large tank above it.” (Zecharia 4:2). Later he describes two “olives,” meaning olive trees, flanking the menorah. Further in the chapter we learn of pipes connecting the olive trees with the tank. According to Ibn Ezra and others, the juice is extracted from the olives and fed by means of the pipes into the tank from which the candles of the menorah are filled.

These additions – the tubes and the tank – are the essence of Zecharia’s prophecy to Zerubabel. Zerubabel is founding a new Jewish state on the ruins of the old. But soon the line of the prophets will end. So how will this be accomplished? “Not by heroics and not by power, but by My spirit.” (Ibid. 6).

There’s a temptation for earthly leaders to believe that events unfold as a result of their decisions, the exercise of their power. They win victories over enemies and they believe it is because their military is superior, or conversely, they grow fearful because they perceive their military is not equal to the threat. But nobody has to pour oil into the menorah of Zecharia. There is no labor associated with cleaning or lighting it. The menorah lights itself; it keeps itself fueled.

Zecharia is being taught, according to the Radak, that in this same way will the House of Hashem be built – His earthly dwelling place in Yerushalayim, and the state of the people of Israel. It is not by the hand of man but by the spirit of Hashem that all is completed. The Malbim connects the fate of Zerubabel to the anticipated anointed one, the Melech HaMashiach to emerge at the final redemption. The Malbim says that just as Zerubabel had to come from Bavel and return to Israel, so the future king will be born outside of Israel and return with the exiles.

When the leaders of Israel trust fully in Hashem. there is no outside assistance, no standing armies or bureaucracies. Hashem does not rely upon natural or supernatural agents because it is His will that guides events. Zerubabel must trust in Hashem to act on behalf of Israel, and so must all future leaders of Israel.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He has written on Israeli art, music, and spirituality and is working to reawaken interest in medieval Jewish mysticism. He can be reached at avraham@thegeula.com.