Salvation Without Repentance – Chanukah – Behaalotecha

‘So many miracles happen to us all the time but we are numb to it like dead flesh on a person’s body.’ This is the reason given in the Gemarah for not celebrating every miracle which G-d does for us. Very often G-d overlooks our iniquities and miraculously intervenes on our behalf even though we have not done anything especially good. Such is the discussion in the special Haftarah for Chanuka.

The Prophet Zecharia Painted by Michelangelo
The Prophet Zecharia Painted by Michelangelo

In a famous prophecy before the building of the second Beit Hamikdash Zecharia the prophet sees Yehoshua the High Priest. Standing to his right is the prosecutor (called Satan) waiting to prosecute him [for some unknown iniquity.] G-d hindered the prosecutor saying This is a coal left from the fire. Zecharia saw in his prophecy that Yehoshua was wearing dirty clothing. The dirty clothing represented the unknown iniquity. It was then commanded to remove the dirty clothing and to give Yehoshua clean clothing and to put a pure scarf on his head. The angel who was speaking to Zecharia said to Yehoshua:

This is what G-d, the Lord of Hosts says, If you will follow my ways and if you will watch my guard and will judge my house and guard my court yard, then I will let you walk with these who stand.

The commentaries have explained that Yehoshua was raised to a high level even though he had not yet repented from his sins. This was because he was either the sole survivor of his family or that he was the best of the other unqualified candidates. His position would be guaranteed if he would raise himself up and follow the ways of justice which are learnt from the Torah.

The prophecy continues saying that at the same time the iniquity of the land will be removed. People will be able to relax and invite their friends to sit under the vines and fig trees.

Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory decided that this is the most fitting work of the prophets to be read during Chanukah. Perhaps this is because the miracles related to the this festival were to give the Jewish people a new lease on life. Many Jews in those days were pro-assimilation. In the Al Hanissim prayer we state that a majority fell to a minority. Even among the Jewish people the righteous were a minority. In the absence of the total Jewish autonomy which was when it was theoretically possible that Judaism would disappear. As in our Haftara this autonomy was conditional on the future righteousness of the Jewish people. After a short reign civil war broke out with descendants of the Maccabees fighting each other. This civil war lead to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.

From Zecharaia 4 - And he said unto me: 'What seest thou?' And I said: 'I have seen, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon; there are seven pipes, yea, seven, to the lamps, which are upon the top thereof; and two olive-trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.'
From Zecharaia 4 – And he said unto me: ‘What seest thou?’ And I said: ‘I have seen, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon; there are seven pipes, yea, seven, to the lamps, which are upon the top thereof; and two olive-trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.’

A very important aspect of the miracle of Chanukah is the renewal which the Jewish people experienced. It was the first opportunity which they had for hundreds of years to rule for themselves. The coming into reality of the above prophecy which took place a couple of hundred years earlier did not come close to experiencing the autonomy which was experienced by the Maccabees.

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