Monthly Archives: November 2013

Shabbat Chanukah

The Haftarah of Shabbat Chanukah is the vision of the Menorah in Zechariah. (It is also read for the Parsha of Beha’alotcha.)

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah for Shabbat Chanukah

What does it have to do with Chanukah? A Light in the Darkness

There are other connections – between Levi and Greece, Nature and Miracles, Yosef and Chanukah – that will have to wait for other years.

An interesting fact: The symbol of the State of Israel, the Menorah surrounded by two olive branches, was not actually inspired by the Haftarah of Chanukah:
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This article (in Hebrew), “an interview with the designers of the symbol” from 1949, makes it clear that they had never read Zechariah.

Perhaps we no longer have prophecy, but the Children of Israel are descendants of prophets.

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Shabbat Chanukah – A Light in the Darkness

The Haftarah describes the visions of the prophet Zechariah, encouraging the Jewish People who had returned to Jerusalem and began to rebuild the Temple. One of those visions was that of a Menorah surrounded by two olive trees. The Haftarah tells us that Zechariah did not understand the significance of this symbol:

(ד) וָאַעַן וָאֹמַר אֶל הַמַּלְאָךְ הַדֹּבֵר בִּי לֵאמֹר מָה אֵלֶּה אֲדֹנִי:
(ה) וַיַּעַן הַמַּלְאָךְ הַדֹּבֵר בִּי וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי הֲלוֹא יָדַעְתָּ מָה הֵמָּה אֵלֶּה וָאֹמַר לֹא אֲדֹנִי:
4) I spoke up and said to the angel that spoke with me, saying,
“What are these, my lord?”
5) The angel who spoke with me answered, and said to me,
“Don’t you know what these are?”
I said, “No, my lord.” (Zechariah 4)

The angel is surprised that Zechariah is unfamiliar with the Menorah’s message. Indeed, this is puzzling. How could Zecharia not know that the Menorah is the symbol of the Jewish People, of our perseverance and courage, of the light that we project to the world?

Zechariah was not aware of the Menorah’s symbolism because until that point in our history, the Jewish People did not use it as a symbol. During the times of the Judges, our symbol was the Altar with its unique shape; in the time of King David, our symbol was the Ark of the Covenant, with its distinctive Cherubim. The Menorah had no more nor less significance than any of the other holy objects in the Temple, such as the Table or the Copper Sink.

Zechariah lived during the rebuilding of the Second Temple. They did not have the original holy objects that Moshe had made. The famous Ark, the symbol of G-d’s direct prophetic connection with the Jewish People, was gone. Zechariah was one of the last prophets – the era of prophecy was drawing to a close and a new era was about to begin. In the Haftarah, Zechariah was told that the symbol of this new era will be the Menorah.

The Midrash describes the time period of the Second Temple in terms of the oppressors of the Jewish People.

ר”ש בן לקיש פתר קריא בגליות, והארץ היתה תהו זה גלות בבל …, ובהו זה גלות מדי …, וחושך זה גלות יון שהחשיכה עיניהם של ישראל בגזירותיהן שהיתה אומרת להם, כתבו על קרן השור שאין לכם חלק באלהי ישראל…
R’ Shimon ben Lakish explained the verse according to the four exiles: “The earth was null”, is the Babylonian Exile.. “void” is the Persian…, “darkness” is the Greek Exile, for it darkened the eyes of Israel with their decrees, and said to them: write on the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the G-d of Israel… (Midrash Breishit Rabba 2)

It parses the verse in Breishit 1:2, “The earth was null, and void, and darkness was over the abyss,” as referring to the Four Exiles: Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Midrash associates Greece, the third in the list, with the third noun in the verse: darkness.

To Western Civilization, Ancient Greece represents the light of the intellect and the light of beauty. Indeed, the Talmud expresses appreciation for the beauty that Greece brought to the world, and even suggests that the Torah can benefit from contact with it. Why then, does the Midrash call Greece “darkness”?

Greek culture introduced a new mindset where people were aware of only their own individual consciousness and experience, of physical, visible beauty, of intellectual, personal accomplishment. They were neither interested, nor aware of, anything outside the five tangible senses.

This mindset destroyed the ability of human beings to experience an awareness of their Creator, which was a prerequisite for prophecy.

Many centuries have passed since prophecy disappeared, and now even the idea of prophecy is alien to us. There had been another sense that people could access, and that sense disappeared and cannot even be described. We are told that during the age of prophecy there had been a general awareness of G-d’s Presence of which we now feel only an echo. A full-strength connection like those experienced by our greater prophets was described as “sweeter than honey”. After the ascendance of Greek materialism, that connection was severed, forever. As the Midrash states, Greece, “darkened our eyes.”

Moreover, the Greeks resented the very suggestion of the existence of any other reality, any other sense. They denied any connection of the Jewish People to the G-d of Israel. They forbade all visible signs of that connection – Shabbat, Brit Mila, Jewish Holidays, and learning Torah. It was then that the Jewish People, led by the sons of Matityahu, rose up against them. And when that battle was won, they celebrated by lighting the Menorah, the symbol of the eternal connection of the Jewish People to G-d, the Torah.

We no longer know what it feels like to receive prophecy, but we still have the recorded prophetic experience of our people – the Tanach. We still have the Torah she’be’al Peh, the Oral Tradition, which gives us, among other things, the methodology for extracting unlimited levels of meaning from the Torah. The little bit of pure “oil” of the Torah has been giving off light for millennia.

We cannot compete with the might of the Greek Empire, or the strength of Western Civilization. But even without prophecy, the Menorah continues to be the symbol of the Jewish People, of our perseverance and courage, of the light of the Torah and of our unbreakable connection to its Giver.

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Filed under Connections, Shabbat Chanukah, Special Shabbatot