Haftarat Behaalotecha: An Historic Opportunity

[Ashekenazim/Sefardim: Zechariah 2:14-4:7

Yemenite Jews: 2:14-4:9]

The Second Temple Period has many similarities to our period.  The words of the prophets of that time reverberate in ours and teach us the path to follow.

 "Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion, for I come and I will dwell in your midst, says Hashem" (Zechariah 2:14).

Together with Chagai and Malachi, Zechariah was one of the last three prophets of the Second Temple Period.  Our Sages point out that there are different levels of Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Divine Spirit) and prophecy, and that the prophecy of the Second Temple was at a lower level than during the First Temple (Yoma 9b).  But even though the revelation of the Divine Presence was less noticeable during this time, the message that the Redemption of the Nation of Israel was actually occurring was still conveyed.  It was time to leave the Exile and return to Eretz Yisrael, and to rejoice over it.

This call came not only from the prophets.  It also came from two great leaders: Ezra and Nechemiah.  Ezra was a spiritual giant, and according to our Rabbis he was also the prophet Malachi (Megillah 15a).  He was called "Malachi" in the realm of prophecy and "Ezra" in the realm of being a sage.  He, along with the other Rabbis, fixed the order of the prayers (Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 1:4).  Our Rabbis thought so highly of Ezra that they stated: "Ezra was worthy of having the Torah given through him, but Moshe preceded him" (Sanhedrin 21b).  Ezra dedicated his entire life to explaining the Torah and helping it to penetrate into the hearts of the Nation.  "For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Torah of Hashem, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).  He was both a man of spirit and a man of action, who stood at the forefront of the return to Zion.

Ezra called for the Jews of the Exile to make Aliyah with him, but only a small portion of the Nation followed him (Mishneh Kiddushin 4:1).  The situation was similar to our period.  Despite the many calls to make Aliyah, many Sages did not heed the call, since the return to Zion did not look like the cherished Redemption.  Similarly, when the Second Temple was built, Elders who had seen the First Temple in all of its glory, scorned the new structure, which seemed comparatively small and unimpressive (Ezra 3:12).  Zechariah was highly critical of this response: "Who scorns the day of lowliness?" (Zechariah 4:10).  Our Sages explain: "Who scorns the day of lowliness? Who causes the table (reward) of righteous to be disgraced in the World to Come?  It was due to their smallness that they did not trust in Hashem" (Sotah 48b).  Rashi explained that "smallness" meant that they were of little faith.  Since they had little faith and therefore did not make Aliyah, their reward was lost.

Our Sages relate that one day Reish Lakish, one of the great Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael, was swimming in the Jordan River, which at that time was the border between Eretz Yisrael and the Exile.  One of the Sages of Babylonia came along and put out his hand to say "Shalom."  Reish Lakish refused to shake it and said: "I hate you Babylonians because you did not make Aliyah!" (Yoma 9b).

In our day as well, many Rabbis and G-d-fearing Jews look negatively upon the events of our time.  If only they were able to see the finger of Hashem in this amazing return to Zion, they themselves would make Aliyah, and our spiritual and physical state in Israel would be improved beyond measure.  The ancient opposition to Aliyah is rooted in spiritual blindness to the great occurrences of Redemption.

This prophecy applies equally to us.  Our Sages inform us that many prophets appeared throughout the ages, but only prophecies that were meant for Jews were recorded (Megillah 14b). 

"Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion, for I come and I will dwell in your midst, says Hashem" (Zechariah 2:14).  This verse, which begins our Haftarah, is mentioned by Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Levi, when the King of Kuzar faults the Nation of Israel for failing to make Aliyah.  The sage replied: "In truth, you have located the place of my shame, King Kuzar" (Kuzari 2, 24).
Even though they recognized the value of Eretz Yisrael, only a small handful of Jews, forty thousand (Nechemiah 7:26), agreed to forsake their homes and businesses, and leave the Exile (Kuzari ibid.).  The Sages and the majority of the Nation chose to remain under foreign domination (see Rashi on Kiddushin 69b).  Only a small fraction of the Nation responded to the call.  "If they had been willing to come close to the G-d of our ancestors with a full heart, then He – the Blessed One – would have redeemed us as He redeemed our ancestors in Egypt" (Kuzari).