Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
HAGGAI CHAPTER 1
Haggai was one of the last prophets of Israel . The identity of his father and tribe are unknown, but he was called MALACH HASHEM, God's "emissary" (Haggai 1:13). He was a member of the court of Ezra the Scribe together with Zechariah and numerous other prophets and sages, who are known as the Men of the Great Assembly. Some say that Haggai received Torah from Ezekiel, but Rambam says that he and the other members of Ezra's court received Torah from Baruch ben Neriah, the student of Jeremiah (Mishneh Torah, Introduction). Haggai is said to have been one of the prophets who was with Daniel when he saw his vision of the angel (Daniel 10:7; Sanhedrin 93b). It is also said that the Targum of Yonasan ben Uzziel on the prophets was received from the mouths of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi (Megillah 3a).
Verse 1: "In the second year of Darius the king." This is Darius king of Persia , who ruled after Ahashverosh, who was killed by one of his servants one year after the Purim miracle. According to Midrash Vayikra Rabbah (13) Darius was the son of Queen Esther. He came to the throne in the year 3406 (=354 B.C.E.). Haggai's prophecy in the second year of Darius' reign came eighteen years after the first wave of Jewish exiles had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubavel son of She'altiel and Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak the High Priest, as narrated in Ezra ch's 1ff. They initially had the blessing of Cyrus king of Persia to rebuild the Temple and they laid the first foundation of the new House, but Cyrus subsequently retracted his permission. Throughout the 14 year reign of his successor Ahashverosh, the building of the Temple was stalled as a result of the letters of denunciation he received from the Jews' adversaries under the leadership of the sons of Haman. The Purim miracle at the end of the reign of Ahashverosh opened the way for the building of the Second Temple, which was resumed in Darius' second year because of the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah that the time was ripe, as we see in our present text (cf. Ezra 5:1).
".in the sixth month on the first day of the month." The prophecies contained in the book of Haggai were all delivered in a four month period beginning on 1 st Elul, a most significant date in the Torah calendar as it marks the start of the days of compassion and repentance culminating in the High Holidays. Haggai's prophecies were directed particularly at Zerubavel and Yehoshua the High Priest, who as leaders of the people were being called upon to take the initiative in acting on the divine call to rebuild the Temple .
V 2: "This people say, The time has not come for the House of HaShem to be built." Haggai's prophetic mission came at a time when the returnees from Babylon had fallen into deep despair. From the time of their return to Jerusalem they had been faced with unremitting opposition from their adversaries to any move to build the Temple , and they had all but given up, wondering if it would ever be rebuilt. Instead they put their focus on restoring and rebuilding their land, which had been devastated for over seventy years since the Babylonian conquest. There is a strong resemblance between the feelings of the people of that time and those of many in Israel today, who after the first exhilaration of the great influx of returnees after almost two thousand years of exile have encountered so many insuperable obstacles to the establishment of a true Torah state that they find it impossible to conceive how the complete redemption of the people in the land will ever be able to take place.
Verse 3: God's answer to the people through His prophet is a resounding YES! Now - when everything seems completely hopeless - is precisely the time to rebuild the Temple . "Is it the time for you to dwell in your well-timbered houses whilst this House lies waste?" The same question might well be addressed today to the many whose primary concern is to build and decorate their own magnificent private mansions.
Vv 5-6: The people of the time were faced with a phenomenon that is all too familiar today. No matter how much effort they put into their livelihood, they always ended up with pathetically little to show for it. Through the prophet, God asks the people to reflect why this is so. "Consider your ways. You have sown much and bring in little." (This is the opposite of how it should be: normally one sows a small amount of seed and reaps a large harvest.) "He that earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes." This will certainly resonate with everyone who has to pay income tax, social security, city taxes, health and education bills, water, electricity, gas and an unending list of other expenses. The rabbis explained that the reason for sowing much and harvesting little was because without the Temple the mitzvah of bringing the BIKKURIM ("first fruits") was in abeyance. The reason why people ate but were not satisfied was because there were no MENACHOS ("meal offerings"). The wine did not lift anyone's spirits because the Temple wine libations were defunct, while people's clothes did not provide genuine warmth because the priestly garments were not in use in the Temple (Rashi on v 6).
Vv 7ff: In this new Parshah Pethuhah, God challenges the people to ponder deeply the economic and ecological woes that are afflicting them as long as each one runs to his own house while God's House lies in ruins, and to see the turnabout that will take place as soon as they will start rebuilding the Temple.
V 8: God tells the people to start gathering the materials for the new Temple "so that I may be glorified" - VE-EKAVDA. In the Hebrew scroll this word is written HASEIR, i.e. lacking the final letter HEH that Hebrew grammar requires for the first person singular. The lack of this HEH (=5) in relation to God's glory in the coming Second Temple was taken to signify the five elements that were present in the First Temple but lacking in the Second: the Ark of the Covenant, the Urim VeThumim (prophetic spirit coming through the High Priest's breastplate), fire from Heaven on the Altar, the Shechinah and Holy Spirit (Yoma 21b; Rashi on v 8).
Vv 9-11 depict the lack of blessing in the ecology and the produce of the land as a result of the absence of the Temple . "If the nations of the world knew how much they suffer when Israel sin, they would post two soldiers by the side of each one to guard him from sinning" (Midrash Tanchuma). Unfortunately the nations are mostly unaware of this, and instead vent their frustrations through anger and anti-Semitic outrages against the Jews.
V 12: The greatness of Zerubavel and Yehoshua and the remnant of the nation who were with them lay in the fact that they did indeed heed the prophet's reproof and went into action.
V 13: As soon as the people began to stir, God assured them through his "emissary" or "angel", Haggai, that "I am with you".
Vv 14: ".and they came and performed work in the House of HaShem." The commentators explain that this work was in PREPARATION for the building - hewing stones and sawing beams to provide the materials (Rashi; Metzudas David).
V 15 opens a new Parshah Pethuhah because a new chapter was starting in the history of the people with the beginning in earnest of preparations for the rebuilding of the Temple . Yet this verse is a continuation of the previous Parshah in the sense that it tells us the day on which these preparations started - on the 24 th Elul, another most significant date in the Torah calendar as it is the anniversary of the beginning of the six days of creation (according to the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, Rosh Hashanah 8a).
V 1: "In the seventh month on the twenty-first day of the month." This prophecy came on the seventh day of the festival of Succoth, "Hoshana Rabbah" - one day before the conclusion of the Tishri festival season. Since the actual building of the Temple was set to commence little more than two months later on 24 Kislev (Haggai 2:10), it was necessary to spur the people to throw all their energy and enthusiasm into the preparatory work of assembling the required materials.
V 3: Faced with the devastation all around them in the aftermath of the exile and the opposition of the adversaries, the task of restoring anything of the true glory of Solomon's legendary Temple must have seemed completely daunting (cf. Ezra 3:12f).
Vv 4-5: God urges the people to keep strong in their faith "according to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt " - this refers to the Torah. If the people were to keep the Torah, seeing as God's spirit was standing in their midst - i.e. in their prophets - they had nothing to fear (Rashi).
V 6-7: Since the rise of Assyria , Israel had become accustomed to living under the shadow of colossal empires, but God promises that He will now throw the world into ferment. This is interpreted as a prophecy of the destruction of the Persian empire (which came in the thirty-sixth year of Darius' reign with his defeat at the hands of Alexander the Great), and the overthrow of Greek dominion over the Jews under the Hasmoneans (Rashi on v 6).
V 8: "The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine." - "Rabbi Meir says, A person should always teach his son a clean, easy craft and beg mercy from Him to whom wealth and possessions belong, for poverty is not the result of one's profession nor is wealth the result of one's profession by only because of Him to whom wealth belongs, as it says, The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine" (Kiddushin 82b).
V 9: "The glory of this latter House shall be greater than that of the former." Some said that this is because the Second Temple , particularly as embellished by King Herod, was physically grander than the first, while others said that it is because the Second Temple stood for 420 years while the first stood only for 410 years (Bava Basra 3a). "This LATTER House." Since the building was ready to go up in front of them, it would have been sufficient to refer to it simply as THIS House. The apparently redundant word ACHARON (="latter" or "last"), thus alludes to the Third Temple (may it be built quickly in our times), which will be the greatest of all.
V 10 begins a new Parshah Pethuhah with a new prophecy that was delivered in the same year on 24 Kislev. This was when the work on the actual building of the Temple began - appropriately this was on the eve of what would later become the Festival of Hanukah, the celebration of the re-inauguration of the Temple by the Hasmoneans after the overthrow of the Greeks.
Vv 11-14: Just as the work of physically rebuilding the Temple commenced, it was necessary to show the priests who would be responsible for conducting all the services that they had to have complete mastery of all the complex Torah laws which they involved. God instructed Haggai to "test" the priests in order to show them that they needed to "brush up" on their Mishneh!
A full understanding of Haggai's two questions to the priests and the various ways they were interpreted by the commentators requires a detailed knowledge of the laws of TUM'AH and TAHARAH (ritual impurity and purification). Each of the main sources of TUM'AH is called an AV ("father"), such as a dead lizard (SHERETZ), a lump of carrion meat (NEVELAH), spit of a leper (ROK), etc. while something that was originally pure but became defiled by one of the above is known as a VLAD ("child" or "derivative"). The laws of Tum'ah involve a kind of domino effect whereby an AV causes the VLAD it touches to become a RISHON (first degree derivative), while the RISHON causes the food it touches to become a SHENI ("second derivative"). If a SHENI comes in contact with priestly Terumah or sacrificial Kodoshim food, it turns them into a SHELISHI ("third derivative"), which in turn has the power to render Kodoshim (but not Terumah) a REVI'I ("fourth derivative"). Haggai's first question to the priests (v 12) was precisely whether one of the kinds of AV TUM'AH listed above had the power to cause such a domino effect to the fourth degree. His second question (v 13) was about the what domino effect caused by TEMAY NEFESH, i.e. blood, flesh or bones from a dead human body, which is called AVI AVOS HA-TUM'AH ("the father of the fathers of impurity"), because its ritual impurity is so intense that it causes even what it touches to become an AV.
What exactly Haggai was asking and whether the priests did or did not know the correct answers are subjects of extensive discussion by the commentators (see Rashi, Metzudas David and RaDaK on these verses). RaDaK concludes his discussion by saying that even if the priests did know the correct answers, the lethargy they had displayed until now in rebuilding the Temple meant that anything they offered on the Altar would be considered ritually impure. This may be seen as a dig at those who are willing to study the Temple laws in great depth but show no enthusiasm about doing anything to actually rebuild it.
Vv 15-19: The prophet challenges the people to take careful note of how from the very day that they would start to throw themselves fully into the building of the Temple God would send blessing and prosperity.
Vv 20ff are a prophecy addressed to Zerubavel, who was not only the governor of the Persian imperial province of Judea but also heir to the kingship of David, which had very nearly been wiped out completely since two out of the last three kings of Judah had left no heirs - Yeho-yakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar exiled and tortured to death, and Tzidkiyahu, all of whose sons were slaughtered in front of his eyes. The last surviving member of the Davidic dynasty, Yeho-yakim's son, King Yechoniah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile in Babylon prior to the destruction of the Temple, also had no heir and was unlikely to have one since he was cruelly imprisoned in solitary confinement in a deep narrow pit. Eventually Nebuchadnezzar's wife prevailed upon him to agree to let Yechoniah's wife be lowered down by rope into his prison pit cell, but she then discovered that she had a flow of blood, which meant that relations were forbidden. Yechoniah had been wont to ignore the laws of NIDDAH and ZIVAH when free in Jerusalem prior to his captivity, but, chastened by his sufferings in exile, he had repented and now heroically refused to have relations. His wife was hauled up again and mercifully was allowed to purify herself from her flow, after which she was once again lowered down. And through their coming together standing in this cramped dark pit, the House of David was saved from extinction (Vayikra Rabba 19:6). The child born of that union was She'alti-el, father of Zerubavel.
Prior to Yechoniah's repentance, Jeremiah had prophesied that even if he was as close to God as His very signet ring on His right hand, He would cast him away (Jeremiah 22:24). But after his repentance, God restored his seed and promised that He would make Zerubavel "like His signet ring" (which a person normally never removes). "For I have chosen you" - "I have chosen the seed that will issue from you to be King Mashiah!" (Metzudas David).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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