Tag Archives: Zechariah

Shabbat Parah – Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

(A translation of the Dvar Torah that I gave in Kinor David on 23 Adar 5775 (3.14.15). It was written as a speech, not an essay)

Today is the yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l. This Dvar Torah is in his memory.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah describes the transition between Exile and Redemption. One of the stages is:

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will place in you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (Yechezkel 36:26)

The prophet does not explain what the “heart of stone” of Exile is, nor what the “heart of flesh” of Redemption might be, nor how this transition is supposed to take place.

Many years ago, my father and I were discussing making Aliya, and he told me that he is afraid to live in Israel. Not because of the security situation, not because of the economic situation. He said like this: if someone betrays you and harms you, if that person is not Jewish, it is upsetting and disappointing. But if another Jew does this to you, it is intolerable. And he was not interested in putting himself into a situation where everyone around you is Jewish and the person who will harm you is a fellow Jew.

To fear that you will be betrayed is to live with a heart of stone. A heart that is defensive, closed, that is always anxious and distrustful. A heart of Exile.

But my father did make Aliyah. And those of you who knew him, can testify to the fact that he did not walk around with “a heart of stone.”

Pirkei Avot says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות
“You should greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” (Avot 1: 15)

That is, even if you are worried, if you are sad, or in pain, that is not a reason to pass that forward, so that everyone who sees your angry face will also become upset. Chazal tell us that even if you are living with a heart of stone, you must make an effort that when you meet another person, you at least don’t ruin his day with your expression. This is a minimum, “sever panim yafot”, a pleasant countenance.

But there is another Mishna in Pirkei Avot, and it says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בשמחה
“You should greet every person with joy.” (Avot 3:12)

And this is a completely different experience. This is, when someone runs into you on the street, you see true joy, not just on the face, but from the heart. “How wonderful to see you! How great it is that you are here, and I am here, and we are here together!” That is a “heart of flesh”, a heart that has nothing to fear, a heart that knows to rejoice. That is Redemption.

But how do we reach this? How do we build a society that supports these kinds of hearts, and doesn’t trample upon them?
The prophet of the Haftarah, Yechezkel, says that it will be G-d who will remove the heart of stone from us, and replace it with a heart of flesh. But what about our role? Can it be that we don’t need to do anything, and G-d will do it all?

There is a general rule that “words of Torah that are limited in one place, are expanded upon in a different place” – it doesn’t say what we must do in Yechezkel, but it does say it in Zechariah. Zechariah chapter 8 also talks about the transition between Exile and Redemption, and here, G-d tells us precisely what we are supposed to do:

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּ – דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם: וְאִישׁ אֶת רָעַת רֵעֵהוּ אַל תַּחְשְׁבוּ בִּלְבַבְכֶם
“This is what you must do: speak truth to each other. Judge with truth and justice in your courts. Do not plan evil to each other in your hearts.” (Zechariah 8:16)

This is exactly what my father said: if a Jew undermines another Jew, if he “plans evil in his heart”, to harm him and betray him, it is intolerable. If society accepts it as a norm, then it is not Redemption.

But the truth is, our society here in Israel – which perhaps is not as refined as it ought to be, and still has much to improve – this is not part of our culture here. Even now, with the upcoming elections, the advertisements are all about how this party does not do enough for this segment of the population and that party should do more for that segment. Because we actually do want everyone to do well.

And this is why my father truly enjoyed his ten years here in Israel, years of Redemption, the opportunity to greet every person with joy.

Now that we are entering the month of Nissan, which is the season of Redemption and national joy, and also our family is entering the joyful time of the Bat Mitzvah of the first granddaughter born to Dedushka in Israel, I wish all of us that we will succeed to continue and build a society of joy, a community of joy, and continue to share many joyful times together.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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The Haftarah of Beha’alotcha is the same as the one read on Chanukah, the vision of the Menorah in Zechariah.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Beha’alotcha

The connection to the Parsha is of course, through the Menorah, as the commandment to light the Menorah is at the beginning of the Parsha. But there is more to it, as always. The Light in Our Midst

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Beha’alotcha – The Light in our Midst

Parshat Beha’alotcha begins with the commandment to light the Menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Haftarah of Beha’alotcha also talks about the Menorah, relating Zechariah’s vision of the Menorah with two olive trees around it. The Haftarah does not begin directly with the Menorah, but rather with the following verses:

רָנִּי וְשִׂמְחִי בַּת צִיּוֹן כִּי הִנְנִי בָא וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְתוֹכֵךְ נְאֻם ה’. וְנִלְווּ גוֹיִם רַבִּים אֶל ה’ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וְהָיוּ לִי לְעָם וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְתוֹכֵךְ
Sing and rejoice, Daughter of Tzion! For I am coming, and I will dwell in your midst, says Hashem. Many nations will attach to Hashem on that day, and become My people; and I will dwell in your midst … (Zechariah 2:14-15)

“I will dwell in your midst” was the purpose that G-d gave for building the Mishkan, when it was first introduced back in Terumah. Behaalotcha describes the last stages of its dedication, and the commandment to light the Menorah is the last step of that dedication. Chazal explain that the order of events were as follows: as soon as Moshe finished putting up the Mishkan, it was covered by the cloud of G-d’s Presence, signifying the fulfilment of “I will dwell in your midst.” Hashem called Moshe and told him to enter the Mishkan, within the cloud, in order to receive more commandments. The first of those was the commandment to light the Menorah:

דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת
Speak to Aharon and tell him: as you raise the candles toward the face of the Menorah, seven candles will give light. (Bamidbar 8:2)

Once the Mishkan was functional, and “I will dwell in your midst” came to pass, the next step is lighting the Menorah. Similarly, in the Haftarah, the prophet is told, “I will dwell in your midst,” and then he is shown a vision of the Menorah. Once G-d dwells in our midst, the Jewish People must respond by lighting the Menorah. For whom do we light these candles?

The Midrash on Beha’alotcha asks the following question: the candles that Aharon lights face inwards “towards the face of the Menorah”, not outwards, as if they are lit for G-d Himself. But, asks the Midrash, what need does G-d have of our light? He is the source of all light, it was the very first thing He created, why does He want us to light candles for Him each day?

אמרו ישראל לפני הקב”ה רבש”ע לנו אתה אומר שנאיר לפניך אתה הוא אורו של עולם …
ואתה אומר אל מול פני המנורה הוי כי אתה תאיר נרי אמר להם הקב”ה לא שאני צריך לכם אלא שתאירו לי כדרך שהארתי לכם
Israel said to G-d, “Master of the Universe! You’re telling us to light before You, when You are the Light of the Universe!”.. And You say, “raise the candles toward the face of the Menorah!”. …G-d said to them, “It’s not that I need you, but rather that you should light for Me like I lit for you.”

The Midrash asserts that our light is meant to reciprocate the light that G-d lit for us on the way in the desert. The Parsha describes the signal used for the camp to travel:

אוֹ יֹמַיִם אוֹ חֹדֶשׁ אוֹ יָמִים בְּהַאֲרִיךְ הֶעָנָן עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן לִשְׁכֹּן עָלָיו יַחֲנוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא יִסָּעוּ וּבְהֵעָלֹתוֹ יִסָּעוּ Or two days or a month or a year, if the cloud would be dwelling a long time on the Mishkan, B’nei Yisrael would camp and not travel, and as it would rise, they would travel (Bamidbar 9:22)

The cloud that represented the Presence of G-d would rise above the Mishkan, and direct the way for the Jewish People in the desert. At night, this cloud appeared as a pillar of fire (Shemot 40:38), and lit their way. When G-d requested that we light the Menorah, it was to reciprocate Him lighting our way in the desert. The Midrash brings a parable to explain this:

משל למה הדבר דומה לפיקח וסומא שהיו מהלכין בדרך אמר לו פיקח לסומא כשנכנס לתוך הבית צא והדלק לי את הנר הזה והאיר לי אמר לו הסומא בטובתך כשהייתי בדרך אתה היית מסמכני עד שנכנסנו לתוך הבית אתה היית מלוה אותי ועכשיו אתה אומר הדלק לי את הנר הזה והאיר לי אמר לו הפקח שלא תהא מחזיק לי טובה שהייתי מלווך בדרך לכך אמרתי לך האיר לי
What is the analogy? A sighted person and a blind person who were traveling together. When they got to the house, the sighted one said to the blind one, “Go light a candle for me”. The blind one said, “All the time we were on the road, you led me and supported me, now you ask me to light you a candle?!” He said, “So that you shouldn’t be indebted to me that I accompanied you on the road.”

The relationship between G-d and the Jewish People must not be entirely one-sided. There is a component that comes from G-d giving to us, and there is a component that comes from our actions, giving, as it were, to Him. Lighting the Menorah is the action that parallels G-d’s pillar of light.

The cloud of G-d’s Presence is a remarkable thing, a visible manifestation of a spiritual phenomenon. It was necessary for its time, both on a practical and on a spiritual level, but there was no way that such a situation could exist in perpetuity. Once the Jewish People entered the Land of Israel, the cloud was no longer needed, and it disappeared. But the Menorah remained, and we continued to demonstrate our part of the relationship by lighting the candles, for G-d.
When Shlomo built the Temple, the cloud of G-d’s Presence appeared again to signal G-d’s acceptance of it as His House. At the time of Zechariah, the prophet of the Haftarah, the second Temple was being rebuilt, but the visible sign of G-d’s Presence did not appear. One of the fears of the Jewish People was that G-d did not accept this new Temple. That is why the Haftarah goes out of its way to reassure the Jewish People that G-d would indeed dwell in their midst. It is also why Zechariah is shown a vision of the Menorah. Even when the cloud is not visible, the light of the Menorah affirms G-d dwelling in our midst. The Menorah represents our role as His people, to do what He asks of us, not because He needs us to, but because it binds us to Him.

PDF for printing, 2 pages
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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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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