Where Would You Like To Sit, Under My Vine Or My Fig Tree?
This Shabbat, we read from the prophet Zecharaiah, whose prophecy occurred during the time of King Darius of Persia. At this point in our history, some of the Jews who had been living in exile in Babylonia had returned to the land of Israel–rejoining the small remnant that had never left–and begun to rebuild the Beit haMikdash, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.
Chapter 4, verse 6 is a message to Zerubabbel, the leader of the newly returned community, given through the prophet’s vision: lo v’chayal v’lo v’koach, ki im b’ruchi ama Ado-nai Tzva’ot, “Not by might and not by power but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”
Is this an admonition to Zerubabbel, that he shouldn’t get too full of himself in rebuilding the Temple, because it won’t be through his physical efforts? Or, does it refer to the King of Persia, upon whom the Divine Spirit will be placed, and he will not only command the building of the Temple but pay for it as well? Rashi, our great medieval commentator, sees both possibilities. Either way, it will be through Divine will and intervention as opposed to human effort.
Zechariah’s prophecies, like those of his contemporaries, speak of hope and restoration; a messianic time, bayom hahu–n’oom Ado-nai Tzva’ot–tikr’u ish l’ray-ayhu el tachat gefen v’el tachat t’aynah, “On that day (to come) says the Lord of Hosts, a person will invite their neighbor to the shade of vines and fig trees.” (Zech. 3:10) George Washington quoted this in his letter to the Jewish Community of Newport, RI.
Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, wrote a song called “Not By Might” based on this prophecy; “Not by might and not by power but by spirit alone (ruach!) shall we all live in peace.” In my understanding, she’s incorporating the two verses I mentioned into a message for us today, and I mean today.
Recent events in Israel and a significant upswing in both overt and subtle acts of antisemitism have unsettled the Jewish community. I know I feel anxious and concerned. I don’t have a vine or fig tree in my yard, but I do know where the coffee shop is, and whether we agree or disagree, you’re invited to join me there.