Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ZECHARIAH CHAPTER 11
Verse 1-3: "Open, O Lebanon, your gates and fire will eat up your cedars" Following the previous prophecy of the redemption of Israel and the fall of the nations at the end of days (Zech. 10:3-12), Targum Yonasan and Rashi after him take "Lebanon" as an allusion to the nations, and the destruction and horrified mourning of the trees, shepherds and lions as referring to the fall of their kings and rulers. However the Talmud (Yoma 39b) followed by Metzudas David and RaDaK interprets this short parshah as a prophecy of the eventual destruction of the Second Temple, taking "Lebanon" as an allusion to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem and the Temple itself. The Temple is called Lebanon because it "whitens" (LABEN) the sins of Israel . According to the second interpretation, this parshah is seen as an introduction to the prophecies that follow (Zech. 11:4-17), which all the commentators relate to leadership crisis in Israel that led to the destruction of the Temple (first and second) and the subsequent exile.
Verse 4-5: "Thus says HaShem my God: feed (RE'EY) the flock of the slaughter." The imperative RE'EY is from the same root as RO'EH, the shepherd, whose job is to feed, pasture and protect the flock. In this verse God as it were commands the prophet to prepare shepherds, i.e. to prophecy about the future leadership, which is destined to eat up and destroy the people, whether directly or through causing foreign powers to rise up and conquer them (cf. Rashi).
V 6 depicts the breakdown of the social fabric and the destruction of the country that result from a corrupt and evil leadership.
V 7: "And I fed the flock of the slaughter." The prophet tells how he carried out God's commandment by prophesying about the leadership. ".and I took for myself two staffs: one I called Pleasantness and the other I called Bands, and I fed the flock". The two staffs symbolize two different "styles" of leadership. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 24a) succinctly evokes the distinctiveness of each one in the comment of the sages that Pleasantness (NO'AM) alludes to the Torah scholars in the land of Israel, who enhance one another and make each other pleasant and beautiful through their halachic discussions, while the Bands, (HOVLIM) alludes to the Torah scholars of Babylon (=exile) who beat and injure one another through the halachah. (Rabbi Nachman in Likutey Moharan Pt 2 #68 discusses why it is that on the threshold of the final redemption the mentality of the Babylonian scholars invades Israel as well in order to be rectified.)
These two contrasting styles of leadership typify the leadership of Israel from the time of the split of the kingdoms after Solomon and throughout the Second Temple period. Thus Rashi relates this prophecy about the leadership to the contrasting styles of Yerav'am (Jeraboam=NO'AM), whose policy was to lead the people "gently", giving them what they wanted, and Rehav'am (Rehaboam=HOVLIM), who said he would chastise them with scorpions (I Kings 12:11), i.e. govern very strictly. [I leave it to readers to consider if these contrasting styles can also be discerned in the leadership of present-day secular Israel and reform and conservative approaches to Judaism as opposed to that of those who see themselves as the authentic bearers of traditional Torah Judaism.]
Metzudas David and RaDaK relate the ensuing prophecy about leadership to that of the Second Temple period, during which the early kings of the Hasmonean dynasty ruled with "pleasantness" and fear of God, while the later kings had a destructive influence, until eventually the leadership fell to "foolish shepherds" (v 15ff) - Herod and Aggripas, who brought in Vespasian and Titus, causing the destruction of the Temple.
Vv 8ff: "Three shepherds also I cut off in one month." The Talmud (Taanis 9) darshens this as a reference to the death of Moses, who not only brought the Manna to Israel but also, following the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, channeled water and the protective clouds of glory, so that when Moses died causing the cessation of these gifts, it was as if the three leaders had died in the same month. On the other hand Rashi on this verse explains it as a reference to the destruction of the house of Ahab and the seed of David by Yehu son of Nimshi, while Metzudas David relates it to the deaths of the three good Hasmonean kings and RaDaK to the deaths of King Josiah's three sons (Yeho'ahaz, Yehoyakim and Tzidkiyahu). Other commentators relate it to the deaths of the three last prophets of Israel , Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, which left a vacuum in the spiritual leadership of the people. The various commentators interpret the ensuing verses accordingly.
V 12: "And I said to them, if it is good in your eyes, bring me my reward." Following God's command to the prophet to act as shepherd and "pasture" the people by laying down the foundations of the leadership styles through which they would be chastised when they sinned (v 4ff), the prophet continues the metaphor by now asking for his shepherd's "wages". As in the case of Hosea's allegory of his dowry payment to the wife that God commanded him to take (Hosea 3:1ff), Zechariah's shepherd's "wages" are seen by the commentators as alluding to the "payment" God demands from Israel to ensure good leadership: repentance and good deeds. The "thirty silver pieces" are taken by the Talmud as an allusion to the thirty remaining righteous Tzaddikim found in each generation whose merits have protected the people even during the leadership crisis (Hullin 92a).
V 13: "And HaShem said to me, cast it into the treasury." Metzudas David explains that the merit of these Tzaddikim is guarded throughout the generations to ensure that the Future Temple (="the treasury") will be built.
V 14: "Then I broke my second staff, the Bands, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel ". Rashi and RaDaK refer the breaking of the "Bands" to the exile of the kings of Judah to Babylon , which caused the people to realize that they were being punished for the idolatry they had adopted through the influence of the Ten Tribes. This broke the "brotherhood" (of sin) between Judah and Israel . On the other hand, Metzudas David refers the breaking of the Bands to the collapse of the Hasmonean dynasty, which "broke the brotherhood" between Judah and Israel in the sense that the subsequent kings (Herod and Aggripas) were not from Israelite seed (Bava Basra 3a).
Vv 15ff depict the final destruction of the people at the hands of the foolish, voracious, useless idol shepherd. Metzudas David identifies this as Aggripas, the last king of Judah , who joined with the Romans thereby causing the destruction of the Second Temple .
During the expulsion of the Jewish settlers from Gush Katif in 2005, a number of embittered contemporary Bible students identified the foolish shepherd depicted in these verses with the then Prime Minister of Israel, whose government was the first in the history of the state to order the demolition of thriving synagogues and study houses. The Prime Minster in question actually had a large sheep farm, and the title of his main Hebrew language biography is in fact "HA-RO'EH", the "shepherd".
After completing his prophecies about all of the empires that have "eaten" Israel and about the period of the Second Temple and its eventual destruction and the subsequent exile, Zechariah turns now until the end of his book to the End of Days and the war of Gog and Magog. While the war of Gog and Magog is alluded to in many of the prophets, the most explicit prophecies about it are contained here in Zechariah (chs 12-14) and in Ezekiel chs 38ff.
V 1: "The burden of the word of HaShem concerning Israel , says HaShem who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundation of the earth and forms man's spirit within him." - "As if to say, since all this is so, everything belongs to Him and it is in His hand to do everything according to His will" (Metzudas David).
Vv 2-3: "Behold I will make Jerusalem a cup of poison to all the people round about. And on that day I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all the peoples." The merest glance at the world today, where there is practically universal agreement that the Arab-Israel conflict and the dispute over Jerusalem are the key to everything, should be sufficient to convince anyone that this prophecy is now being fulfilled to the letter.
".and also against Judah ." (v 2). Targum here states that the nations besieging Jerusalem will also force members of the house of Judah to take part in the siege. It is noteworthy that in our times, the some of the chief agents that are executing the international plot to undermine the Jewish settlement of Israel and Jerusalem are in fact Jews or Jewish apostates, whether in the government of Israel or in the service of foreign governments. The Israeli police and soldiers who were forced to physically carry out the expulsion of the Jewish settlers from Gaza were also in most cases Jewish, and many of them did what they did with tears and great psychological trauma.
V 4: "I will strike every horse." - "belonging to those campaigning against Jerusalem, and I will strike their riders with madness, but as to those of the House of Judah who have been forced to take part in the siege, I will keep My eye open to protect them from this blow" (Rashi).
V 5: "And the leaders of Judah will say in their hearts, I will take strength in the inhabitants of Jerusalem through HaShem of Hosts their God". Rashi states that when the Jews forced to join in laying siege to Jerusalem will see the plague afflicting the armies of Gog and Magog, they will put their hope in the prayers of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, "who know that we are coming against them against our will". In times of crisis in Israel it often becomes apparent that some of the most secularized members of the population betray a deep awareness that the destiny of the country depends on the prayers and devotion of those loyal to the Torah.
V 6: Metzudas David states that the Jews who come against Jerusalem together with the nations will be the very ones who will become the fiery torch that will actually turn against the nations and destroy them when they see that the hand of HaShem is against the nations. This implies that at the climax of the war of Gog and Magog there will be a Jewish rebellion against the nations, and that this is what will turn the scales.
V 7: God will first save the unwilling Judean besiegers and only afterwards the residents of Jerusalem , in order that the latter will not be able to say that the former were saved only in their merit (Rashi). Could this imply that God will arrange the redemption in such a way that those who remained loyal to the Torah will not be able to claim that the salvation of those who strayed came about in their merit?
V 10: "And I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplications." - "It will come into their minds that they should pray and appeal to Me, and they will find favor in my eyes" (Rashi). The key to the entire redemption is prayer.
".and they shall look to Me on account of the way the nations stabbed them." - "they will look to God and mourn over those of them that were killed by the nations during their exile" (Rashi). It is noteworthy that awareness of and mourning over the Holocaust have been a key theme in Jewish culture in our times. The sages darshened this verse as an allusion to the killing of Mashiah son of Joseph (Succah 52a).
Vv 11ff: "On that day there will be a great mourning in Jerusalem ." These verses prophesy that mourning and eulogies over the war casualties will be a prominent feature of the war of Gog and Magog. Unfortunately in our times funerals and eulogies over the latest victims of terror attacks and warfare follow one another with horrifying frequency, just as prophesied in these verses.
MAY GOD TURN OUR HEARTS TO HIM IN COMPLETE REPENTANCE AND SEND US MELECH HAMASHIACH AND REBUILT THE TEMPLE QUICKLY IN OUR TIMES. AMEN.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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