The prophet Zechariah was one of the last biblical prophets (along with Chaggai and Malachi). Living at the time when a group of Jews had just recently returned to Jerusalem and built the Temple, we can appreciate the challenges of the time through the lens of his prophecies. A defining part of the haftarah is his vision of a golden menorah, which makes the obvious connection of this reading to Chanukah.

The reading begins in a style that can be found in many prophets of that time and before: there were great days that yet lay ahead of the Jewish people. G‑d would yet fully return His presence to Jerusalem, and on that day not only would the world not oppose G‑dliness, but it would wholeheartedly join forces with G‑d and His chosen people. After this short introduction, however, the text changes course. We begin by reading a description of a heavenly drama quite surreal in nature. Understanding the scene as described firsthand by Zechariah requires some initial background.

The scorched priest

A common ill in the days of prophecy was the phenomenon of false prophets. In the final years before the Babylonian Exile, there were some very difficult exchanges between true prophets and their false counterparts.1 Two false prophets of those days were named Achav ben Kolayah and Tzidkiyahu ben Maaseiah. G‑d had told Jeremiah that in the end these individuals would fall into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar, who would have them burned at the stake. This was to happen “because they committed a disgrace in Israel, and they committed adultery with the wives of their neighbors, and they spoke false things in My name, which I had not commanded them.”2

The Talmud relates the story of how this indeed came true:

What did they do? They went to Nebuchadnezzar's daughter. Achav said to her, “So said G‑d, ‘Give yourself unto Tzidkiyahu’”; while Tzidkiyahu said to her, “So said G‑d, ‘Surrender to Achav.’” So she went and told her father, who said to her, “The G‑d of these people hates unchastity. When they again approach you, send them to me.” So when they came to her, she referred them to her father. “Who told this to you?” he asked of them. “The Holy One, blessed be He,” replied they. “But I have inquired of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who informed me that it is forbidden!”3 They answered, “We too are prophets, just as they are; to them He did not say it, but to us He did.” “Then I desire that you be tested, just as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were,” the king retorted. “But they were three, while we are only two,” they protested.4 “Then choose whom you wish to accompany you,” he said. “Joshua the high priest,” they answered, thinking, “Let Joshua be brought, for his merit is great, and G‑d may protect us.” So he was brought, and they were all thrown into the furnace. They were burned, but as to Joshua the high priest, only his garments were singed.5

Back now in the haftarah, we find Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of G‑d, while the Satan is standing on his right side, accusing him. Our sages explain that it was not Joshua who was at fault, but his children.6 They were among the Jews at the time who had intermarried with the local non-Jewish women. We read extensively in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that this was a temptation that many Jews could not resist. Satan wanted retribution. G‑d, however, chastises Satan on this very attempt of his: “G‑d shall denounce you, O Satan… is this one not a firebrand rescued from the flames?” Joshua was worthy of G‑d making a miracle for him in causing the fire not to burn him; was this not demonstrative enough of Joshua’s righteousness?!

The verse continues, however, that “Joshua was wearing filthy garments.” True, it was not he who had sinned, but he had not adequately made a stand to discourage his children from doing this. Upon seeing Joshua in this state, the angel calls out to those standing before him, “Take the filthy garments off him.” This statement is understood to be either a promise of Divine aid to his children to give them the strength to separate from these wives, or a confirmation they had indeed done so already.

Zechariah, watching all this unfold, speaks up. He prays for a “pure turban” to be placed on Joshua’s head. The meaning of this request was that Joshua’s high priesthood should continue on to his children and his descendants after them (similar to a crown that would continue on to the son of the ruler). Zechariah’s request was granted. Since his children would (or had already) done teshuvah, a “pure turban” was indeed donned on Joshua.

The angel then proceeded in describing the responsibility the high priesthood carried, and the reward it would come along with it if safeguarded properly. Joshua is also given word of the destined redeemer of the Jewish people, G‑d’s watchful eye over the Temple, and the material and spiritual bounty that will prevail in time to come.7

A golden menorah

“Wake up!” called the angel. As Zechariah awakens in his prophecy, he is shown a pure golden menorah with seven lamps. To each of the lamps there was a tube that was attached to two olive trees that stood above the candelabra. As described in the verses after the haftarah’s ending, the vision also contained a press and vats—the entire process of creating oil. But everything was working smoothly and mechanically without any effort or even intervention: The olives beat themselves off the trees and packed themselves into the vats. From there they made their way into the press to become oil. The oil then poured itself into other vats, then bowls, then into the tubes that poured it into the lamps.

“What is this?” Zechariah asks.

The angel is at first surprised that Zechariah does not understand, but then he explains: Zerubabel was one of the leaders of the Jewish people at the time, and in particular had led the effort to rebuild the Second Temple. (The Talmud8 identifies him with Nehemiah, the statesman who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and set an orderly Jewish life in motion.) What was unique about the entire endeavor was that not only did they have the backing of Darius, the Persian emperor whose domain included the Land of Israel, but the king had the local tax money used to pay for all the daily needs of the Temple.9 Everything went with such incredible ease, just like the oil being produced for the menorah without any effort.

Indeed, it was “not through armies and not through might” that the Temple was built and maintained, but with the spirit of G‑d that enabled the building and maintenance of the Divine service. Although there were those who tried to put obstacles in the way of the building, these were quickly put at bay: “A great mountain would become to Zerubabel as a plain.”

According to the Targum, the interpretation of this vision was more about a descendant and prototype of Zerubabel: the king Moshiach. The rule of Moshiach will not be one of might and warfare; there will be no need for it. Even his initial adversaries will not succeed in blocking his way. He will rather rule with the spirit of G‑d that not only will infuse the entire world at that time, but will indeed define it.