This week’s Haftorah, read in conjunction with Shabbos Chanukah, reveals to us a hidden characteristic of Hashem’s compassionate ways. The prophet Zechariah opens by predicting the construction of the second Bais Hamikdash and says in the name of Hashem, ” ‘Rejoice and be happy daughter of Zion for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst.’ ” These words refer to Hashem’s consent to dwell amongst His people in the second Temple, a phenomena which was finally becoming a reality after seventy dark years of exile. In truth, early construction of the Temple had begun before but, due to the slander of our own Jewish brethren all construction had come to a halt. This resulted in the Jewish people’s total despair, forfeiting all hope of ever experiencing Hashem’s glorious return. Suddenly, out of nowhere the prophet Zechariah appeared and announced plans for the immediate rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash.
The prophet then revealed an important discussion which took place between Hashem and the prosecuting angel. It revolved around Yehoshua the son of Yehotzadok, who was being considered for the position of High Priest in the new Bais Hamikdash. Hashem said, “Is he not an ember spared from the fire?” (3:2) The prophet continued “But Yehoshua was wearing soiled garments and standing before the angel. And the angel responded, ‘Remove the soiled garments from upon Yehoshua’…and they placed the turban upon his head.” (3:3-5) This concerning dialogue indicates that Yehoshua, the future Kohain Gadol was being seriously faulted for some of his actions. Our Chazal (see Targum Yonasan ad loc.) explain that Yehoshua was being judged for neglecting to forcefully involve himself in the lives of his children. They were presently married to women who were forbidden to them according to the high status of priesthood and their pious father Yehoshua had failed to interfere in this matter. In response to the prosecuting angel, Hashem defended Yehoshua and argued that he deserved special consideration, being an ember spared from a fiery furnace. Yehoshua was granted this consideration and given the opportunity to influence his children to immediately terminate their inappropriate relationships. Yehoshua’s efforts were successful and in response to this, Hashem elevated Yehoshua to the prestigious position of High Priest.
The above incident reveals to us a special characteristic of Hashem’s judgment and compassionate ways. In truth, Yehoshua was seriously at fault for his children’s violation of their priesthood and did not really deserve to be the Kohain Gadol. However, Hashem directed His focus on a special merit of Yehoshua, his being an ember spared from the fire. In explanation of this, our Chazal (see Sanhedrin 93a) inform us that the wicked Nebuchadnezzar once tested the faith and merit of Yehoshua and ordered him to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Yehoshua was miraculously spared which publicly demonstrated his supreme level of devotion to Hashem. In view of this, Hashem argued that the tzaddik Yehoshua whose every fiber was devoted to Hashem, deserved review of status. Although a serious fault had presented itself Yehoshua received a second chance and, after rectifying his children’s conduct, was elevated to the lofty status of the High Priest.
This lesson rings with a familiar tone when we review the famous story of Chanukah. In the early years of the second Temple the Jews were privileged to be served by the illustrious Shimon Hatzaddik as their High Priest. During his days the Ner Maaravi (western lamp of the menorah) consistently burned, indicating Hashem’s continuous presence amongst His people. However, as years went on, the priesthood assumed a shameful form of mockery. It became a prestigious political position and was obtainable through handsome sums of money. The miraculous experience of the Ner Maaravi began to fluctuate and Hashem’s presence in the Bais Hamikdash came and went. The High Priests in those days served very short terms, most of them not living through the year after entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. (see Yoma 9a) This mockery of the priesthood reached such proportions that it eventually resulted in the Greek’s tight control over the Bais Hamikdash and brought all Temple service to a halt.
The Chashmonaim who were from an illustrious family of High Priests took charge of the situation and risked their own lives to restore the service in the Bais Hamikdash. They demonstrated unprecedented levels of devotion to Hashem and in their merit Hashem performed open miracles and restored service to the Bais Hamikdash. Although, historically speaking, the broader family of the Chashmonaim maintained certain serious faults, Hashem overlooked them and focused instead upon their unbelievable display of devotion. In their merit, the Jewish people were continuously granted the privilege of Hashem’s presence because, after all weren’t the Chashmonaim “embers miraculously spared from the fire”!? They, like their predecessor Yehoshua, deserved a fair chance to rectify their faults and in their merit the Jewish people regained the Bais Hamikdash for an additional two hundred years. (see Malbim, Zechariah 3:7)
We learn from this the incredible merit of devotion and sacrifice and how Hashem responds to such pious acts. We pray to Hashem that in the merit of the past sixty years of our Jewish people’s devotion to Hashem and their true sacrifice of all for His Name that we, “embers miraculously spared from the fire” also be privileged to experience the return of Hashem to His people and the final rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash which will remain erect for eternity.