The opening verse of the prophecy of Tzephaniah traces his lineage to Hezekiah: according to the biblical commentator Ibn Ezra, this was King Hezekiah of Judah . Tzephaniah received the Torah from Habakuk and was the teacher of Jeremiah. As stated in verse 1, Tzephaniah prophesied in the time of Josiah, who was the last righteous king of Judah a generation before the destruction of the First Temple . Our sages teach that Tzephaniah was a Tzaddik and the son of a Tzaddik (Megillah 15a) and they counted him with eight "princes of men" together with Adam, Jesse, Saul, Samuel, Elijah, Amos and Mashiah (Succah 52a). Prophesying at the same time as Tzephaniah were Jeremiah and Huldah the Prophetess. According to our sages, Tzephaniah prophesied in the synagogues and study halls, Jeremiah in the streets and markets and Huldah to the women. The destruction of the Temple was very imminent and God sent prophets to all the people in the hope that they would repent and avert the decree, but each person went his own way and did not pay attention, and the prophecies of doom were fulfilled.

Tzephaniah's prophecies are mainly about "the Day of HaShem" - the harsh Day of Judgment that was coming on account of the people's idolatry and corruption - and Tzephaniah appeals to the people to repent. He also speaks of God's vengeance on the nations surrounding the Land of Israel , and prophesies that a remnant of Israel will finally dwell securely in the Land and God will rejoice in them and all will know and recognize His greatness.

Vv 2-3 prophecy the ravage and devastation of the Land, which will affect the people and the very animals, birds and fish (the ecology) as well as the "stumbling blocks" of the wicked" - i.e. their idols (Rashi).

Vv 4-6: God's hand is stretched out specifically over Judah and Jerusalem, and specifically over the idols and their priests and ministers, those who worship the heavenly hosts and swear by God but back up their oaths by invoking their "king"=idol (Rashi), and those who have fallen away from God's Torah or who have failed to search Him out.

Vv 7-8: "The Day of HaShem is near." God is preparing a "sacrificial slaughter" and sanctifying the "guests": it is "holy war" (Jihad). This is the punishment of the princes and governing classes "and ALL WHO WEAR FOREIGN APPAREL". [In the early days of the State of Israel, the political leadership went Israeli-style in shirtsleeves and without neckties, but today almost all the males go in the best tailored suits and expensive ties though rarely with any head covering, while female political fashion has become the height of chic.]

V 9: "And I will punish all who leap over the threshold." Yonasan translates this as "all who follow the customs of the Philistines" (see Rashi; cf. I Samuel 5:5). "They fill their masters' house with violence (HAMAS) and deceit".

Vv 10-11: "The sound of crying from the Gate of the Fish. from the Second Gate. from the Hills. from Makhtesh". Rashi brings the simple PSHAT that the Gates are those of the Fish and Fowls in Jerusalem while Makhtesh refers to the Kidron valley east of the Temple Mount, but he also brings the Midrash (from Psikta Rabasi) that the Gate of the Fish is Akko (the port town of Acre, the "key of the Land of Israel"), the "Second Gate" is Lod (which was the second city after Jerusalem and a major center of learning in the time of R. Akiva and is a thriving town until today), "the hills" allude to the town of Tzippori (Sepphoris) in the hills above Tiberias (Megillah 6a), while Makhtesh (=a bowl) refers to Tiberias itself, which is in the "bowl" or "navel" of Israel. All these have historically been locations of strategic importance.

V 12-13: From God's "search" through Jerusalem "with lamps" our sages learned out that the search for Chametz (leaven) on the eve of the 14 th of Nissan in preparation for the Pesach festival of redemption must be conducted with a candle (Pesahim 7b). This verse shows that purpose of God's search is to punish the people who are the Chametz of the nation, those who "are settled on their lees [living in tranquility and at ease, like wine on its lees, Metzudas David], who say in their hearts, HaShem does not do good [to the Tzaddikim] or evil [to the wicked, Rashi]". The real Chametz is thus APIKORSUS, the belief that there is no judgment and no Judge. Those who embrace this will be devastated. The positive message of this verse is that just as Chametz is removed but everything that is not Chametz remains, so God will remove the wicked but save the righteous.

Vv 14-16: In these verses alone the DAY of HaShem is mentioned EIGHT TIMES besides the four mentions earlier in verses 7, 8, 9 and 10. This emphasizes the imminence of the coming doom.

V 17: "And I will bring distress upon ADAM" - "this means Israel , who are called ADAM" (Rashi). There can be no mistaking against whom Tzephaniah's reproof is directed: you and I should take careful note. "They will go like the blind": The apparent blindness on the part of many Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora as to what is going on today in the world around us is also very noteworthy.




By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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