This week’s haftorah, read in conjunction with Shabbos Chanukah, teaches us a hidden dimension of Hashem’s compassionate ways. The prophet Zechariah opens by announcing prophecies of the arrival of Hashem’s presence in the near future. He declares in Hashem’s name, “Rejoice and be happy daughter of Zion for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” These words refer to the sudden erection of the second Temple after seventy dark years of exile. In truth, early construction began earlier but our Jewish brethren slandered to the Persian government and brought the development to an immediate halt. This led the Jewish people to total despair and to forfeit all hope of experiencing Hashem’s return. Suddenly and totally unexpected, the prophet Zechariah announced Hashem’s immediate plan to rebuild the Temple.
Zechariah the prophet continues and reveals a private discussion between Hashem and the assigned prosecuting angel. The discussion centered around Yehoshua ben Yehozadak who was designated to serve in the new Temple. Hashem defended Yehoshua and said, “Is he not an ember spared from fire? The prophet Zechariah continues, “And 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.'” (Zechariah 3:4-5) This dialogue reflects that the ordained high priest was seriously faulted for an offense to the priesthood. The Sages explain that Yehoshua was judged for failing to involve himself in his children’s choice of marriage. Unfortunately, the Babylonian exile took its toll upon the Jewish nation and corrupted their moral fiber. Their constant exposure to the Babylonians broke down basic barriers and numerous intermarriages occurred. Yehoshua’s offsprings were party to this mind set and married women forbidden to them according to priesthood standards. (Targum and Rashi ad loc)
Their esteemed father, Yehoshua was unsuccessful in influencing them to choose appropriate wives and was now seriously faulted for this. The prosecuting angel protested Yehoshua’s priestly status because of his inability to properly preserve it. Hashem defended Yehoshua and argued that he deserved special consideration because he was an ember spared from the fire. Yehoshua received a second chance and immediately resolved to rectify his fault and terminate these inappropriate relationships. Hashem responded to this sincere commitment and restored Yehoshua to his prestigious position.
This incident reveals a unique dimension of Hashem’s judgement and compassion. In truth, Yehoshua was at fault for his children’s behavior and conceivably should have forfeited his esteemed position. However, Hashem focused on Yehoshua’s outstanding merit as an ember spared from the fire. The Sages (Sanhedrin 93a) explain that the wicked Nebuchadnezar tested Yehoshua’s faith and merit and casted him into a fiery furnace. Yehoshua was miraculously spared thereby displaying his supreme level of devotion to Hashem. Hashem argued that every fiber of Yehoshua’s being was devoted to Hashem and deserved careful consideration. Although Yehoshua was faulted for his children’s behavior he received a second chance and regained his status of the High Priest.
We learn from this Hashem’s appreciation and response to devotion. Yehoshua totally dedicated himself to Hashem’s service and thereby earned his privileged status. Yehoshua’s devotion brought him into Hashem’s inner circle and earned him special appreciation. Hashem views His close ones through the perspective of devotion and affords them special privileges. After proving their total loyalty to Hashem their subsequent service becomes invaluable. Such pious people bring credit to Hashem by their mere existence and will undoubtedly increase this credit a thousand-fold through their continuous service to Hashem. Although they may be imperfect their quality of devotion surpasses all and renders them the most worthy candidates for his service.
This lesson repeated itself in Yehohua’s offsprings during the days of Chanukah. In the early years of the second Temple the Jewish people were represented by illustrious high priests such as Ezra Hasofer and Shimon Hatzadik. During that period the Menorah’s western lamp burned throughout the day. This constant miracle showed the entire world Hashem’s constant presence amongst His people. However, after Shimon’s passing this coveted priestly position was periodically neglected. It assumed political status and was obtained, at times, through handsome sums of money. Numerous unworthy individuals served as high priests for brief periods of time. Every year Hashem would display their unworthiness and punish them for entering the Holy of Holies without proper preparation. (Mesichta Yoma 9a) After years of mistreating their Temple privileges Hashem responded to this disgrace and permitted the Greek’s to control the Bais Hamikdash. This new development exiled the Jews in their very own land and restricting them for sacrificial service. The Chashmonaim, high priests by rite, took charge of the situation and sacrificed their lives to restore this service. They displayed unprecedented levels of devotion and Hashem responded and returned the Temple to them.
The Chashmonaim overstepped their bounds and declared themselves rulers over the entire Jewish nation a position belonging exclusively to the household of Dovid Hamelech. Although this was a serious fault Hashem focused on their display of devotion and granted them the privilege of the priesthood. (Ramban Breishis 49:10) According to some opinions Yanai (Yochanan) Hamelech served as the high priest for eighty years. (Mesichta Brachos 29a ) The Chashmonaim family proved their devotion and deserved to remain in Hashem’s inner circle. Their total dedication to Hashem created a relationship of fondness and endearment and establish them the most qualified candidates for his service. (see Malbim, Zechariah 3:7)
The Bach sees this dimension of service as the heart of the Chanuka experience. He explains that the Jewish people became lax in their service in the Temple Bais Hamikdash. This sacred and precious opportunity became a matter of routine and was performed without inner feeling and devotion. Hashem responded and removed their privileges to awaken them to their shortcomings. The Chashmonaim, descendants of Yehoshua and Shimon Hatzadik understood the message and resolved to restore Hashem’s glory to His nation. Following the footsteps of their predecessors they totally dedicated themselves to this service and sacrificed their lives on its behalf. Hashem responded to their devotion and led them to a miraculous victory. We kindle our menora as an expression of our devotion to Hashem’s service and resolve to internalize Chanuka’s lesson. After sincerely examining our level of service we dedicate heart, mind and soul to Him and apply our Chanuka experience to our service throughout the year. (comment of Bach O.H. 670)
May Hashem accept our total commitment to His service and grant us the privilege of serving him in His holy abode in the nearest future.
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim of Kiryat Sefer, Israel.