Avraham ben Yaakov
ZECHARIAH CHAPTER 7
A HALACHIC QUESTION
Vv 1-3: "And it was in the fourth year of King Darius." With this begins a new prophecy that runs until the end of Chapter 11 and consists of 21 sections or paragraphs of a few verses each.
The previous prophecy (Zechariah 1:7-6:15) had come to Zechariah two years earlier in Darius' second year, when the building of the Second Temple was just beginning. Now, nearly two years later, with the building work still in progress, came a new prophecy prompted by a halachic question that had been addressed to the priests of the new Temple and the prophets (=Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi) by leading members of the community of Jews that still remained in exile in Babylon. Since the destruction of the First Temple seventy years earlier they had each year been marking its anniversary on the ninth day of the fifth month (=Av) with the fast of Tisha b'Av, and they wanted to know if they should still continue to do the same now that the Temple was being rebuilt.
"For they still did not believe that the building work would succeed because of the adversaries who had succeeded in holding it up for many years, and even though they had now heard that the building work was again in progress, they lacked faith and were unwilling to come up out of exile from Babylon because they did not believe that the Temple would be completed and be able to stand against those adversaries" (RaDaK).
Somewhat similarly, many Jews in the Diaspora today also wonder if they should make Aliyah to Eretz Israel considering that the country is beset by enemies from outside and within, and they question whether the steadily increasing ingathering of exiles that has been witnessed over the last few centuries until today is really the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.
Just as such doubts are very discouraging to those who have settled in the national homeland in order to rebuild and restore its glory, so the niggling halachic question about whether it was still necessary to fast on Tisha B'Av was also very discouraging to the brave pioneer returnees from Babylon to Jerusalem who were working hard to rebuild the Temple against fierce opposition from the gentiles all around.
Vv 4ff: The prophecy is not even addressed directly to those in the community of Babylon who had put the actual question (who, having remained in exile, were as if excommunicated by God), but rather to "all the people of the Land" (v 5) - i.e. the inhabitants of Jerusalem, whom it was necessary to encourage in order to rid them of any doubts about the matter (Metzudas David).
Before coming to the specific answer to the question (which does not come until ch 8 vv 18-19), the prophet begins with a rebuke designed to show that the question essentially missed the point. The people were asking what they should do on Tisha b'Av as if fasting were a religious duty that somehow benefits God. The prophet tells them that the reason why they had to fast was only in order to repent of their own sins, which had led to the destruction of the First Temple and the exile: fasting in itself was no more pleasing to God than their eating and drinking, which was only for their own pleasure and benefit.
[The prophet's answer also contains another implicit rebuke, because the people had only asked whether they should continue fasting on Tisha b'Av, whereas Zechariah (v 5) also adds the fast of seventh month (=Tishri), which was established to commemorate the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed Jewish governor of Judea, Gedaliah son of Ahikam, which spelled the end of the last vestige of Jewish independence there after the destruction of the First Temple. Here Zechariah teaches that the death of a Tzaddik is as disastrous as the destruction of the Temple - Metzudas David.]
The real point is not to carry out a ritual fast but rather to be aware of the sins that caused the destruction of the Temple in order to correct them from now on: these were the sins for which all the "first prophets" in the time of the First Temple had reproved the people prior to the destruction. They were the very opposite of the pathway of true justice and kindness to one another that Zechariah beautifully depicts in vv 9-10.
Vv 11-14: In order to succeed in building a new Temple that would endure, the people had to take to heart that it was precisely because of the earlier generations' refusal to listen to the voice of the prophets and follow the Torah sincerely that the destruction and exile had come about. The people themselves were responsible for turning the "pleasant land to desolation" (v 14).
Vv 1ff: Beneath the surface of the halachic enquiry sent by the Diaspora community in Babylon lay an implicit lack of faith in the Temple rebuilding project. The prophetic response is a most emphatic rejection of any notion that God has somehow abandoned Zion and Jerusalem : "I have been zealous for Zion with great zeal."
V 3: "I have returned to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem ." Zechariah's prophecies of the glory of Jerusalem were addressed to encourage those who were rebuilding the Second Temple . Many aspects of these prophecies were indeed fulfilled for lengthy periods during the Second Temple era, which saw great blessing in the Land (v 12) and many prominent converts to the Torah, such as Queen Helene (Yoma 37a etc. cf. Zech. v 21f). Yet eventually the Second Temple was destroyed, leading to a possible question as to whether Zechariah's prophecies also relate to the Future Temple . As if to answer this, Metzudas David comments on verse 3 that God's promise to return to Zion with the building of the Second Temple was conditional on the people's willingness to heed the message of the prophets (cf. Zech. 6:15) and that if they were to do so, the complete redemption would come about in their days. This implies that each generation has the ability to bring about the complete redemption if they rise to the challenge and repent sufficiently, but if not, the final redemption is deferred, though not forever, and when it comes, all the promises in the prophets will be fulfilled.
V 4: "Thus says HaShem of Hosts." This and similar phrases are repeated again and again in the coming verses of consolation (6 7 9 11 14 & 17) in order to strengthen the consolation, for no matter what, the promised goodness will come (RaDaK).
"Old men and women shall YET AGAIN dwell in the streets of Jerusalem ." - "the phrase YET AGAIN ('OD) emphasizes that the future redemption will indeed come. The old men and women will be in the streets because they will not be homebound on account of weakness (Metzudas David).
V 5: "And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets." Streets in many present-day neighborhoods of Jerusalem testify to the fulfillment of this prophecy nearly 2,500 years after it was delivered.
V 6: "In time to come God will bring the evil inclination and slaughter it in front of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it will seem like a tall mountain, while to the wicked it will seem like a thread no wider than a hairsbreadth. The righteous will weep saying: How were we able to conquer such a tall mountain? The wicked will weep asking: Why couldn't we overcome this thread of no more than a hairsbreadth? And the Holy One blessed be He will also be in wonderment with them, as it says, 'If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, it will also be marvelous in My eyes'" (Succah 52a).
Vv 9-13: God encourages those building the Temple by pointing to the fact that from the time of the commencement of the work the previous lack of blessing and peace had been reversed, and in future prosperity will reign.
Vv 14-17: The prophecy emphasizes that the foundation for success lies in truth between man and man in their mutual dealings: everything depends upon justice.
Vv 18-19: The prophecy could only specifically address the Babylonian community's question about whether to continue fasting on Tisha b'Av and the other fast-days commemorating the destruction of the Temple after having first corrected their various misconceptions. The actual answer is a resounding affirmation that with the rebuilding of the Temple , what were once fast-days will turn into festivals. The fast-days enumerated in verse 19 are the four mandatory public fast-days in the Torah calendar besides Yom Kippur. The "fast of the fourth (month)" is 17 th Tammuz commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem and other calamities. That of the fifth month is Tisha b'Av commemorating the actual destruction of the Temple . The fast of the seventh month (3 Tishri) commemorates the assassination of Gedaliah son of Ahikam (II Kings 25:25), while the fast of the tenth (10 Teves) commemorates Nebuchadnezzar's laying siege to Jerusalem .
Vv 20-23 prophecy how after the future redemption of Israel many nations will come to seek out HaShem in the Temple in Jerusalem .
"And ten men from all the languages of the nations shall take hold and seize the corner of the garment of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you." (v 23). Since there are seventy nations, the verse teaches that seven hundred men will take hold of each corner, and since there are four corners, each Jew will have 2,800 men hanging onto his Tzitzith! (Talmud Shabbos 32b). This requires merit.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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