Themes and Ideas in the Haftara
Yeshivat Har Etzion
This haftara series is dedicated in memory of our beloved Chaya Leah bat Efrayim Yitzchak (Mrs. Claire Reinitz), zichronah livracha, by her family.
HAFTARA FOR Shabbat Chanuka
Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein
Two reasons for reading the Haftara of chanuka
Reading Zekharya's vision about the menora (Zekharya 2:14-4:7) as the haftara for Shabbat Chanukah is mandated by talmudic law (Megila 31a). Establishing that vision as the haftara of Shabbat Chanuka even when it coincides with Rosh Chodesh is, however, not self-evident, for the haftara that is ordinarily read on Rosh Chodesh is also mandated by talmudic law. The Talmud (Megila 29b) deals with the confluence of Chanuka and Rosh Chodesh with respect to the Torah reading, but it does not relate to the issue of the haftara that must be read on such a day. It was only in the post-talmudic period that the halakhic authorities were asked to address this question, the Geonim and the Rishonim issuing rulings on the matter. The Geonim ruled that we read the haftara from Zekharya, without explaining the grounds for the custom, whereas the Ashkenazi Rishonim had doubts about the matter, and some even suggested that the haftara for Rosh Chodesh be read in its place. In the end, the position of those who advocated reading the haftara for Chanuka was accepted, with two main arguments presented as justification:
1) The Torah reading concludes with the reading for Chanuka, and on Shabbatot when there are multiple Torah readings, the haftara is supposed to relate to the last reading.
2) The haftara for Chanuka constitutes a publicizing of the miracle ("pirsumei nisa"), and publicizing the miracle overrides all other possible considerations.
These two explanations give expression to the two approaches toward the haftara that we presented in our introduction to this series. As may be remembered, we noted there one position that sees the haftara as a continuation and expansion of the Torah reading, and another position (that we support) that sees the haftara as an independent unit that relates to the human condition and guides man in light of his existential and religious needs. The first argument proposed above, which prefers the haftara for Chanuka because of its connection to the Torah reading, sees the haftara as a continuation of the Torah reading, and therefore it must be connected to the last reading. In contrast, the argument that preference is given to Zekharya's vision because it constitutes pirsumei nisa, is not concerned with the connection between the haftara and the Torah reading, but with selecting the more important existential message from among the alternatives, and fixing the haftara in light of that consideration.
It should also be noted that from the position of Tosafot (Shabbat 23b, s.v. hadar) that gives precedence to the Chanuka-related haftara because of the consideration of pirsumei nisa, we learn that reading the haftara involves a publicizing of the miracle. Nowhere in the Gemara is the haftara or the Torah reading defined as a fulfillment of pirsumei nisa. And logically speaking, this is certainly not self-evident, for neither reading relates to the miracle of Chanuka, but to other events, and so the position of Tosafot is novel.
Let us now examine the contents of the haftara. Zekharya prophesies during the period of the return to
The common denominator between the two is the absence of hope of repairing the situation and the spiritual and national paralysis that such feelings can give rise to. This is the situation which Zekharya confronts from the very beginning of the book, which opens with the simple description of the situation as "The Lord has been much displeased with your fathers" (1:2). Zekharya's mission is to raise the people's spirits so that they may engage in repentance and return to God, and not fall into the depths of despair.
Peace of the nations and distress of
This is accompanied by another problem, namely, the state of the nations who continue to provoke
At this point in Zekharya's prophecy, we reach the section constituting our haftara, which opens with words of consolation. The initial verses are directed toward the nations and constitute a continuation of what had been stated previously regarding the feeling of the nations that God had abandoned and forsaken
Sing and rejoice, O Daughter of Zion; for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be My people: and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And the Lord shall inherit Yehuda as his portion in the holy land, and shall choose
The main point is that God has returned to dwell among
[Another interesting point that is included in these verses is the impression that
and their redemption Israel
This is the first half of the haftara, which is directed toward the nations and their challenge to
1) The prophecy to Yehoshua the High Priest.
2) The word of God to Zerubavel.
Thus, the haftara is divided into three sections, each section being separated from the next by means of a parasha setuma.
The prophecy to Yehoshua deals with the cardinal problem of the period. On the one hand, redemption is the need of the hour, so that
And God is asked, as it were, to decide between Satan and the angel, and He accepts the argument that Yehoshua, and the people that he represents, are not worthy of redemption. The verse itself describes Yehoshua as "clothed in filthy garments" (3:3), which is clearly a metaphor for sins (as it is explicitly stated later, that removal of the filthy garments is equivalent to removal of the sins) and his inability to stand before the king as a worthy servant. God, however, agrees to redeem
And the Lord, said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their masters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of Egypt, and to bring them up out of that land. (Shemot 3:7-8)
So too Yirmiyahu prophesies about "the people who were left of the sword who found grace in the wilderness; when
Unlike that prophecy of Yirmiyahu, however, Zekharya is not satisfied with redemption that comes to
And the angel of the Lord forewarned Yehoshua, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts; If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My charge, and you will also judge My house, and will also guard My courts, then I will give you access among those who stand by. Hear now, O Yehoshua the High Priest, you, and your fellows who sit before you: for they are men of good omen: for, behold, I will bring my servant Tzemach. (3:6-8)
Here we have come to the heart of the matter.
The assumption that during the period of the return to
"If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar" (Shir ha-Shirim 8:9). Had you made yourselves like a wall, all of you ascending in the days of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver which is not subject to decay. But now that you ascended like doors, you are compared to cedar which is subject to decay."
This appears to be the metaphoric meaning of the stone mentioned in the prophecy: "For behold the stone that I have laid before Yehoshua: upon one stone are seven facets: behold, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts" (3:9). The stone symbolizes the potential of the building; on the physical level, the stone is connected to the building of the
Priesthood and monarchy
At this point, the haftara moves on to discuss Zerubavel. The connection between Yehoshua and Zerubavel is clear, explicitly stated in the book of Chaggai (2:2). Yehoshua is the High Priest, whereas Zerubavel is the political leader ("the governor of Yehuda"). The message given to Zerubavel at the end of the haftara that the political leadership must subordinate itself to the spiritual leadership, and that the essence is not physical strength, but spirit, is a fundamental message of Judaism and the essence of the prophecy, so basic that there is no need to expand upon it.
The vision that Zekharya sees in this context is that of the menora with the seven lamps and two olive trees. The two olive trees serve as receptacles for oil that stand above the menora and drip oil into it. As the commentators explain in light of the verses in the continuation that are not included in the haftara, the two "benei yitzhar" (4:14), that is, the olive trees, refer to the monarchy and the priesthood, namely, to Yehoshua and Zerubavel. Both the political leader and the High Priest are anointed with oil, and therefore the metaphor is aptly applied to them. The meaning of the vision is that they are meant to cooperate with each other in order to achieve a common goal. Just as the two olive trees that stand on the two sides of the menora and together feed it with oil, so the priesthood and the monarchy are supposed to work together in harmony and without tension. Not separate centers of power, but cooperation between two leaders. So too Chaggai in his prophecy (chap. 2) sees the two as working together and prophesies about them in the same prophecy.
Now, if we examine the objective toward which the two leaders are working, both in the prophecy of Chaggai and in that of Zekharya, we will see that their joint objective is the construction of the
The essence of the redemption - in the
Attention should also be paid to the fact that it is only this objective that appears in connection with their work. Indeed, the construction of the second
The beginning of the redemption
Thus, we have reached the end of the haftara, but we must still take a quick look at the verses that immediately follow the haftara:
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, The hands of Zerubavel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things? For those seven shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubavel; the eyes of the Lord, they rove to and fro through the whole earth. (4:8-10)
We pointed out earlier that Zekharya sets before Yehoshua the challenge of realizing the full possible potential of the redemption of the second
Thus, we have arrived at the connection between Chanuka and the haftara. In addition to the immediate connection of the menora, there are essential connections between the two periods. First, the haftara tells us of the people's need to choose the identity of closeness to God, to remove their filthy clothes (which Chazal understood as an allusion to assimilation) in favor of clean white garments, and this choice is placed in the hands of the High Priest as spiritual leader. The connection to Chanuka, the essence of which is the choice between Jewish identity and cultural assimilation, and the decision of "Matityahu son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons" in favor of Jewish identity is clear.
Second, even in Chanuka there existed a great potential which could have been realized and risen to great heights. The challenge placed before Yehoshua and Zerubavel was also set before the generation of the Hasmoneans, and they too were given the opportunity to build an everlasting building out of the redemption that they brought about, had they and their generation merited.
Third, just as the returnees from Babylonia did not merit to realize this achievement, so too the Maccabees were forced to be satisfied with a partial achievement and see in the rededication of the Temple and its purification its primary achievement for later generations. However, just as the achievement of the returnees from
The difference between the Ramban and the Rambam
One last point that should be discussed in the context of the haftara and Chanuka is the relationship between political leadership and the priesthood. The haftara depicts the model of two olive trees working together toward a joint goal. The Hasmonean monarchy created a situation in which the priesthood and the monarchy no longer constituted two olive trees feeding the same menora, but rather they blended into a single unit, and as a result, there arose contradictory appraisals among the sages of Israel regarding their monarchy. The Ramban (Bereishit 49:10) rejected their monarchy, sharply condemning them for not preserving the separation of powers ("the olive trees"), whereas the Rambam saw in their kingship one of their principal achievements, and as helping them achieve their objectives as priests, and thus was realized the vision of a kingdom that combines the two "benei ha-yitzhar."
(Translated by David Strauss)
 See Otzar ha-Geonim, Megila 29b, and sources cited in Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 10, s.v. haftara, note 305.
 See Or Zaru'a, II, no. 394, and Shibbolei ha-Leket, no. 190.
 The laws of Chanuka that the Gemara associates with "publication of the miracle" are lighting the Chanuka candles (Shabbat 23b), reciting "Al ha-Nissim" (Shabbat 24b), and reciting Hallel (Berakhot 14a).
 These issues are discussed in the first two chapters of the book, which precede the haftara. The most striking verses in this context are: "And they said, We have walked to and fro in the earth, and, behold, all the earth sits still, and is at rest. Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long will you not have mercy on
 The word "od" in the promise, "And He shall choose
 Chazal even assert that the filthy garments are a metaphor for Yehoshua's children who married non-Jewish women. See Sanhedrin 93a, and Radak on our verse.
 Beli neder, we will deal with this idea at greater length when we discuss the prophecy of Yirmiyahu which serves as the haftara for the second day of Rosh Ha-Shana.
 See Sanhedrin 20b.
 It should be added that the Rambam in his remarks about Chanuka emphasizes the troubles that preceded the Hasmonean victory – "And Israel was exceedingly distressed by them and they greatly oppressed them, until the God of our forefathers had compassion upon them and saved them from them and rescued them" – and the redemption having the dimension of brands plucked out of the fire.
 In truth, the Rambam's position requires more precise examination and additional distinctions between different models and objectives and also between the ideal situation and post facto recognition. All this, however, goes well beyond the framework of this series. I merely wish to present the Rambam as disagreeing with the Ramban, to stimulate thought on the matter, and to note that this matter constitutes another connection between the haftara and Chanuka. A careful analysis of the Rambam's positions on political issues may be found in Prof. Y. Blidstein's, Ekronot Mediniyim be-Mishnat ha-Rambam.