This week’s haftorah gives us a special insight into the spiritual climate of our present exile and our final redemption. The prophet Zecharya beholds a vision wherein the ordained High Priest, Yehoshua, was brought to a serious trial regarding his esteemed position. The prophet says, “And he showed me Yehoshua, the high priest standing before Hashem’s angel and the prosecutor was standing to the right in order to accuse Yehoshua.” (3:1) The reason for this prosecution is stated shortly thereafter wherein the prophet says, “And Yehoshua was clothed with soiled garments.” (3:3) Our Chazal explain that these garments refer to the wives of Yehoshua’s family members. Although Yehoshua was a very pious individual some of his children were affected by their foreign environment. They strayed from their rich heritage and married women prohibited to them according to their lofty status of priesthood. Now, Yehoshua’s personal status of High Priest was being questioned in light of the offenses to the priesthood committed by his children.
Suddenly the angel of Hashem interceded on behalf of Yehoshua and denounced the prosecuting angel with the following statement of defense. “Is Yehoshua not an ember rescued from the fire!? (3:2) The response to this defense was quite favorable and Yehoshua was immediately restored to his lofty position. The angel responded and said, “Remove the soiled garments from upon Yehoshua… see that I have removed your sin from you… Dress him with new garments… And they placed the pure priestly turban on his head.” Yehoshua was granted the opportunity to rectify his sons’ behavior and he successfully influenced them to divorce their wives and choose more appropriate partners for life. Now that Yehoshua’s garments had been cleansed Hashem clothed Yehoshua with the priestly garb and restored him the position of Kohain Gadol.
What was the angel’s powerful defense that produced such immediate favorable results? After disgracing the priesthood, what outstanding merit could Yehoshua have possessed that could secure his lofty destiny. The angel said that Yehoshua was “an ember rescued from fire.” The Radak understands this to mean that Yehoshua had been previously thrown into a fiery furnace. He sacrificed his life for the sake of Hashem and was miraculously spared from the fire. Yehoshua had demonstrated complete self negation for the sake of Heaven and offered his life for the glory of Hashem. Such individuals deserve to serve Hashem and the Jewish people. Such devotion and commitment must be inculcated into the blood stream of the Jewish people. Although Yehoshua’s children veered from the direct path there remained much hope for them. The shining example of their father would surely inspire them to return from their immoral ways. They too could develop into devout servants of Hashem and would one day attain the lofty level of the High Priest. Given the proper direction they could also rise above their physical and immoral pursuits and even develop the pure qualities of their father. In fact, Yehoshua was told by Hashem that his children could even perfect themselves beyond the normal level of human expectancy. Hashem said, “I will establish them superior to these angels standing here.” Yehoshua’s self negation could produce indescribable results and even possessed the potential for a total comeback from immorality to perfect spirituality.
This same lesson is taught to us in this week’s sidra. The Jewish people strayed from their perfect path and demonstrated serious interest in the physical and immoral practices of life. They disgraced the Heavenly manna bread delivered to them on a daily basis and expressed their physical urge for onions and garlic. They even complained about the Torah’s prohibition against incest and sought freedom from their taxing and demanding life. Hashem responded with a severe punishment which killed many thousands of people. But Hashem also instituted a new judicial system wherein seventy elders were chosen to share the judicial burden with Moshe Rabbeinu. During this process these hand-picked judges experienced an indescribable transition. The Torah states, “And Hashem increased the Divine Spirit which rested upon Moshe Rabbeinu and He placed it upon the seventy elders.” (Bamidbar 11:25) In addition to their new position of judges, the elders experienced prophecy and even merited to become a sanctuary for the Divine Presence. Rashi (ad loc. 11:16) reveals to us the secret identity of these elders. Rashi says, in the name of Chazal, “These were the Jewish policemen in Egypt who were beaten mercilessly in place of their Jewish brethren.” They refused to force the Jews to fulfill the unreasonable Egyptian demands and opted to accept the Egyptian blows on their brethren’s behalf. This self negation now became an important merit for the Jewish people. Recently the Jews embarked upon a path towards immorality, focusing on self pursuit. Hashem responded and elevated some of their own peers to the position of leadership. These elders were not ensnared in self pursuit but were instead perfect role models for self negation. Their interest lay in spiritual association and their efforts brought them to the lofty level of personal sanctuaries for the presence of Hashem. Their self sacrifice could and would secure the Jewish survival and would, hopefully, constantly remind the Jewish people never to plunge into self pursuit and immorality.
In our present times we hear repeated sounds of these physical calls to immorality. Our predecessors were also embers rescued from the fiery furnaces of Europe and their self sacrifice for the sake of Hashem should and will serve as an everlasting merit for us. Recollection of their total devotion to Hashem is a factor in producing the indescribable transition for many from total physical pursuits to a sincere yearning to become the sanctuary of Hashem. May this new development quicken the arrival of Mashiach we so anxiously await.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chesed of Skokie.
Rabbi Siegel’s lectures are available through the Kollel’s Tape-of-the-Month Club.
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