V 1: "Gather yourselves together and assemble together O unfeeling nation." The rabbis darshened the phrase HITHKOSHESHOO VA-KOSHOO as meaning "search for your own flaws and those of others in order remove them" (Sanhedrin 18a, Rashi, Metzudas David, RaDaK). Targum Yonasan says the nation is "unfeeling" (LO-NICHSAF) because they do not yearn to return to the Torah.

V 2: The prophet calls on the people to repent before the day of doom arrives.

V 3: The very essence of repentance is to practice justice and to cultivate humility. "When Rabbi Ami would reach this verse he used to break down in tears: 'Seek out justice, seek out humility.' - and after all this, 'PERHAPS you will be hidden [and not die] on the day of God's anger'!?!" (Hagigah 4b).

V 4: "For Gaza shall be forsaken and Ashkelon shall be a desolation; they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon-day." It might appear from a simple reading of the text that the abandonment of Gaza etc. takes place on the day of God's anger. Israel 's ignominious retreat from Gush Katif ( Gaza ) and the continuing daily missile bombardment of the Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod etc. certainly seem indicative of God's anger. However, in biblical times Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron were Philistine towns, and Rashi (on v 4) explains Tzephaniah's prophecy of their future devastation as a promise to Israel that if they will follow the path of repentance explained in the previous verse, God will punish their wicked neighbors, the Philistines, Ammonites and Moabites, as the coming verses elaborate. It would be very beneficial for present day Israel to imbibe this message.

Vv 6-10 thus detail the overthrow of the Philistines, Ammonites and Moabites one after the other, and how the remnant of Israel will take possession of their lands. In the case of the Philistines, the verse states that this will take place "in the EVENING" (v 7). Similarly, the future redemption from the hordes of Gog and Magog is described as taking place "towards the EVENING" (Zechariah 14:7). These verses explain that the nations are punished for their arrogant taunting of Israel and because "they have magnified themselves against their border" (v 8). Metzudas David explains the latter phrase to mean that "they took from the land of Israel to expand and add to their own boundaries". This is exactly what the Arab nations sought to do in 1948, 1967 and 1973 etc. and are still trying to do today - not without the tacit support of the British, who had already subtracted vast chunks of territories from the lands they originally promised in 1917 as the Jewish national homeland and handed them to their Arab protégées.

V 11: The destruction of the nations and their gods will bring them to fear HaShem.

V 12: The commentators indicate that the KOOSHIM mentioned in this verse (and in Tzephaniah 3:10) as a people who come not from Africa, as many believe, but rather from beyond the rivers of India (the Indus ??? see Rashi on this verse and Targum Yonasan on Tzeph. 3:10). This would conform to the opinion in the Talmud that KUSH mentioned in Esther 1:1 was adjacent to India and not in far off Africa (Megillah 11a). It was to Kush that the Ten Tribes were exiled.

Vv 13-15: The catalog of nations to be destroyed when God redeems Israel climaxes with Ashur - who took the Ten Tribes into exile - and their capital city of Nineveh .


V 1: Having suggested to Judah that if the people will repent, God will wreak vengeance on their enemies, the prophet now returns to his reproof against the "filthy polluted oppressing city" - the sinful Jerusalem .

Vv 2-4: But the people have not accepted the reproof. The rulers and judges are self-seeking and corrupt; the false prophets are worthless and treacherous while the priests have polluted the sanctuary and violently perverted the Torah. Unfortunately these criticisms hold until today. The latter-day equivalent of the priests who have perverted the Torah would be those "rabbis" of varying complexions who blatantly or subtly corrupt the true message of the Torah.

Vv 5-7: Despite the backslidings of the people, God has been just and has done no iniquity. He has repeatedly destroyed great nations hoping that Israel would see and draw out and apply the moral to themselves in order to avoid a similar fate so as not to lose all the goodness God has bestowed upon them, "but they rose early and corrupted all their doings" (v 7).

V 8: "Therefore wait for me, says HaShem, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms to pour upon them my indignation, all my fierce anger." RaDaK applies this verse to the war of Gog and Magog, as if God is saying, "Wait until that day, when I will smelt and purify you, because you will not imbibe the lesson until the day I arise for the prey, the day of the coming of Gog and Magog, against whom I shall come forth to take the prey and plunder them" (RaDaK on v 8). We would be well advised not to wait until then to repent.

V 9: "For then I will convert the peoples to a purer language." - "These are the peoples who will remain after the war of Gog and Magog: I will turn their original language into a pure language, so that they will no longer bring the names of other gods on their lips but all will call on the Name of HaShem" (RaDaK; cf. Zechariah 14:9).

V 10: "From beyond the rivers of Kush come my suppliants, the daughter of Putzay." Targum Yonasan explains that "my suppliants" refers to the exiled Children of Israel, who call on God's name and He answers them, while the "daughter of Putzay" alludes to how Israel were scattered (PATZATZ) in their exile.

Vv 11-12: The Day of God will not bring destruction to Israel but rather their cleansing from their previous arrogance so that they will again be fit to celebrate on God's holy mountain - in the Temple .

V 13: "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity." This famous, beautiful verse expresses the high standards of behavior to which Israel will adhere in the time of the redemption, so that "they shall feed and lie down with none to make them afraid".

Vv 14-15 are a short PARSHAH PETHUHAH calling on the redeemed Zion and Israel of the future to rejoice wholeheartedly in God's salvation.

Vv 16-17 begin the closing section of Tzephaniah, prophesying the future security that will replace our present fear: God Himself will rejoice.

V 18: "Those that were far away from the festive assembly do I gather." Rashi (ad loc.) explains this to mean that God will destroy those who took themselves away from His appointed seasons and did not keep His Sabbaths and festivals. It follows that one of the main keys to redemption is observance of the Shabbos and festivals. In the words of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, "If only Israel would observe two Shabbosos they would be redeemed immediately" (Shabbos 118b).

V 20: "At that time I will bring you in and at that time I will gather you." This verse is read in the early part of the daily morning service at the climax of the passages accompanying the first recital of the Shema following the BIRKHATH HASHACHAR (morning blessings), prior to the sacrificial readings and P'sukey DeZimra. Metzudas David states that the two expressions "bring you in" and "gather you" refer respectively to the Ten Tribes, who did not return when the Second Temple was built, and to the people of Judah , not all of whom returned at that time. In the final redemption they will all return without exception. This is surely an excellent thought with which to start the prayer service each morning!



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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